How can imitation lead to free musical expression? This article explores the role of auditory imitation in jazz. Even though many renowned jazz musicians have assessed the method of imitating recorded music, no systematic study has hitherto explored how the method prepares for aural jazz improvisation. The article picks up an assumption presented by Berliner (1994), suggesting that learning jazz by aural imitation is “just like” learning a mother tongue. The article studies three potential stages in the method, comparing with imitative, rhythmic, multimodal, and protosymbolic behavior of infant perception (building on the works of Stern, Trevarthen, and Merleau-Ponty). The demonstrations of the aural-imitation method draw on pedagogic experiences accumulated since 1979 in the Jazz Program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. By analyzing structures of behavior suggested by the method, the article indicates key traits that render aural jazz improvisation possible, such as a fundamental sense of rhythm, formation of symbolic behavior, joint musical attention, and the facility to “hear via the other.” In conclusion, we critically address a frequent theoretical model describing musical improvisation as a synthesis of discrete elements or building blocks.