By Caleb Hsu
Bill Harrison, CEO of PlayJazzNow (PJN) and creator of JazzPlayer, saw a void in the market for quality educational material available to jazz musicians back in 2006. Understanding the need to bridge the gap between technological innovation and contemporary education, he conceptualized the PJN site to provide great-sounding, affordable backing tracks for all instrumentalists and vocalists. Since then, the JazzPlayer app integration was developed, and the desktop version was released about a year ago, transforming Bill’s vision into a reality.
Aside from managing his company, Bill is an active bassist who has many credits performing both solo and collaborative works. We asked what his inspiration about jazz was, and Bill stated that “[jazz] is America’s premier art form, calling for personal expression. It’s democratic. It’s creative. It’s fun.”
The dedicated app is an extension of the concept behind the backing tracks Bill created since the inception of PJN. Bill explained that “the main innovation in both the desktop and mobile apps is to give users a way to mix the tracks any way they like with a user interface that resembles a small studio mixing console.” The basic idea, he continues, is “to give musicians a way to practice with whatever combinations of instruments they prefer in their rhythm section.”
JazzPlayer uses a backing track format called AppTracks. Each one of these play-along MP3s contain four instrument channels – keys, bass, drums and guitar – for a complete rhythm section sound. AppTracks are basically pre-recorded live accompaniments for aspiring jazz musicians. Each track leaves musical space for the user to fill in or play along with. For example, if you are a pianist, you can practice with bass and drums; if you play the saxophone, you can work with a jazz trio rhythm section (piano, bass and drums). You are in complete control of the volume and stereo pan of each instrument. Additionally, you can mute one or more instruments, or hear each channel by itself by using the solo button.
Watch how the JazzPlayer app works here. All you have to do is download tracks, allow them to load, set the levels of individual instruments, and you’re ready to play along with the rhythmically-unwavering tracks – you can even view the lead sheets right on your mobile device!
The Website – PJN
PlayJazzNow has downloadable tracks for purchase to be used by all instrumentalists and singers. Its play-along tracks are great for helping musicians master the fundamentals of jazz improvisation by allowing them to play with a world-class professional rhythm section accompaniment. The website not only has hundreds of digital tracks (recorded with top-notch musicians and minimal compression for maximum fidelity), it has a great search feature enabling you to quickly sift through offerings based on your individual needs (e.g. by categories based on genre or level). By popular demand, the site now includes a small selection of tracks as physical CDs via CD Baby.
The pairing of PlayJazzNow with JazzPlayer is a phenomenal representation of musical innovation with entrepreneurial expertise. The simple user interface allows for quick browsing, and play-by-play instructions leave no questions unanswered. Though we’d love to see a few free play-along tracks for beginners and additional user functionality (such as tempo adjustment capabilities and progress/accuracy tracking), the site and its sister app offer a great combination to achieve proficiency in jazz performance efficiently.