Thursday, 5 May 2016

What Jazz Music Can Do for your brain


This is what people need: more jazz!

In his new book Mental Biology, psychologist and jazz fan William Klemm cites “overwhelming scientific evidence” that the mental challenge of listening to jazz “develops new connections in the brain and with it, new biological capabilities.”

In jazz, such mental enrichment enhances the ability to memorise, not only directly in terms of having to learn a large musical vocabulary and the rules of jazz, but also in terms of basic mental biology…

How so?

First the listening: the most obvious effect is stress reduction. Stress …is the arch-enemy of memory ability…
    Listening is also fun, probably less so than playing jazz, but still a lot of fun…. Think about where jazz came from. It is uniquely an American
innovation, beginning as emotional relief for slaves who found comfort in the blues, which eventually spawned jazz in its happier forms. Wholesome fun promotes happiness. Happy brains learn better. They can also often live longer … many jazz artists are still performing sophisticated music in their 80s.
    As for mental biology, a jazz player experiences enormous mental stimulation, Even as a listener, after a concert my untrained brain churns out a continuous stream of improvisation in my mind's ear that can include multiple instruments that I have no idea how to play. A player has to engage the brain in multiple ways that classical musicians do not. First, there are added technical requirements, such as playing blue notes, swinging eighth notes, and unusual time signatures like 12/8 and 5/4 or complex African or Latin rhythms.  Then there is the huge challenge of improvisation, which is basically composing on the fly.
    When improvising, there is a safety net of knowing the proper chord structure and melody, but players have to have a huge musical vocabulary and realize in milliseconds what new notes will fit. They also have to listen hard so they can interact properly with what others in the band are playing. The "call and response" paradigm in jazz is actually musical conversation. I can't think of anything more mentally demanding….
    Learning jazz may be the ultimate in training young minds to think critically and creatively … [training] brains in invaluable learning capacities for hand-eye coordination, the ability to memorise,
discipline, patience, critical and creative thinking, high-speed intellectual engagement with the ideas of others, and self-actualisation and confidence.  

So, turns out a jazz album a day might keep the mental wolves at bay!

Here’s Dizzy Gilespie.

.And here’s a 70-year-old Duke Ellington and the older stars from his orchestra killing it in Berlin … and Sarah Vaughan …

… and more, all at a similar age, all still killing it!


  1. 10 Must Have Jazz Album's for newbies to the genre:

    Sonny Rollins- Way out West & Saxophone Colossus
    Miles Davis- Kind of Blue ,Tutu
    Lee Morgan- Sidewinder
    John Coltrane- Giant Steps & Blue Train (I don't get all the fuss with 'A Love Supreme- I find that album depressing).
    Art Pepper- Meets the Rhythm Section & + Eleven
    Joe Henderson- Double Rainbow


    1. Now there's a great discussion to have!

      Top of my head, these would be my top album choices for anyone who thinks jazz is just the elevator music you listen to over brunch:

      Miles Davis: 'Kind of Blue' & 'Sketches of Spain'
      John Coltrane: 'My Favourite Things''
      Duke Ellington: 'Far East Suite' & the 'Blanton Webster Band
      Count Basie: Atomic Swing
      Thelonious Monk: Thelonious Monk Trio
      Louis Armstrong: Complete Hot 5 & Hot 7 & Ambassassador Satch
      Dave Brubeck Quartet: Time Out
      Fats Waller: Handful of Keys

      I reckon a listener could pretty much start with any of those and get hooked!

      PS: Yes, know what you mean about 'A Love Supreme.' But I still reckon that will grow on most listeners...

    2. A great selection Peter- Time out was my 11th Pick. Have listened to Fats Waller: Handful of Keys so I'm off to Real Groovy on Saturday to pick it up- vinyl copy of course.

      Then next 10 Jazz Albums I would recommend:

      -Cannonball Adderley - Somethin' Else (this should have been in my top 10 in place of Miles Tutu!!
      - Grant Green - Shades Of Green
      - Bill Evans Trio - Oslo Concerts
      - Don Wilkerson - Preach Brother!
      - Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers - The Big Beat
      - Earl Klugh - Late Night Guitar
      - The Horace Silver Quintet - Song for my Father
      - Dexter Gordon - Go!
      - Herbie Hancock - River: the Joni Letters
      - Hank Mobley - Roll Call

      Sunday is Jazz day at my Home- from Dawn to Dusk, nothing but Jazz on Vinyl.

      What is your next 10 Peter?


    3. Looks like our enthusiasms are from different eras. Good for me, because I can check out some of those I haven't heard yet.

      Like the Cannonball. I quietly enjoy his African Waltz. Some days it really hits the spot.

      Re 'Tutu': I remember the day I realised Kontiki bus trips around Europe would not be my thing. A few years ago. It was about two hours up the M1 from London to Edinburgh on the way to the Tattoo when I suggested they put on my new cassette tape of Miles's latest album. 'Tutu.' It lasted about ten minutes, until Jimmy Barnes got thrown back on. :-/

      PS: I checked last night when I got home, and the actual Fats album I meant was called 'Piano Solos, Vol 1.' I reckon his solo piano is far more interesting than his band.

      Will 10 albums? Will think on it. Looks like my era is

    4. So, nice challenge, my own next 'ten' for newbies new to the genre (crikey, you think they're gonna like 40 albums!). Anyway, not all original albums, a few compilations, because my favourite era was before albums were even invented.

      The Okeh Ellington
      Ellington/Strayhorn: And His Mother Called Him Bill
      Artie Shaw: Big Man in a Small Band
      Robert Parker's Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo: New York
      Robert Parker's Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo: Chicago
      Monk plays Ellington
      Dizzy Gillespie - Diz's Big 4
      Ella Fitzgerald sings Cole Porter
      Gerry Mulligan Quartet: With Chet Baker
      Benny Goodman: Small Combos, 1935-1941 (shout out too to the 1938 Carnegie Hall Concert album)
      Wynton Marsalis: Black Codes From the Underground

      PS: If anyone wants to sample these, I've added these albums to a Spotify playlist. But then, when you've found your own favourites, get hold of them on vinyl!

    5. Go Peter!!
      I have only 1 of the above albums (Ella)- Real Groovy will be making money from me when I present them with this list- I hope they are on Vinyl!!

      My Next 10:

      Ellington At Newport - Duke Ellington
      Getz/Gilberto - Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto
      Mingus Ah Um - Charles Mingus
      The Blues and The Abstract Truth - Oliver Nelson
      Count Basie, "Count Basie and the Kansas City 7
      Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, "Free For All"
      Joshua Redman, "Freedom In The Groove"
      Keith Jarrett, "The Koln Concert"
      Dexter Gordon, "Our Man In Paris"
      Concord Jazz Super Audio CD Sampler 1- ok this is on SACD not vinyl- but its awesome! The track Watermelon Man - Poncho Sanchez With Special Guest Mongo Santamaria- just makes you want to dance!!


    6. Thanks Ivan. Haven't played Keith Jarrett's Koln COncert for years! And to be fair, it never really worked for me until now, when you inspired me to try it again. So thanks for that.

      I like your other choices here too: big ticks especially for the Ellington, Basie, Mingus and Art Blakey. Always good. (Getz and Gilberto however a bit too much like elevator music for me. Sorry.)

      So, since you want another top ten records for newbies (or have we finished with that?), here's a few others that I started with, and that stayed the course:

      *Art Tatum: 'Solo Piano'
      *Thelonious Monk: Tribute album; 'That's the Way I Feel Now.' (Who would have thought that both Peter Frampton AND Joe Jackson could produce good stuff!?)
      *Coleman Hawkins, I have a rumpty old compilation I like, but the Ken Burns Jazz set would be a good start. (Same for Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, really. Just don't bother with anything Parker plays live--too tedious.)
      *Django Reinhardt, 'Gypsy Jazz' (a 2-CD set, to be fair, but better than all the vinyl compilations I've listened to.)
      *Duke and Johnny Hodges, 'Side By Side'
      *Jazz at the Philharmonic, first JATP concert w Dexter Gordon, Les Paul, Billy Holiday etc.
      *Six volts: 'The Hills Are Alive' (NZ group, who even manage to make Led Zeppelin sound interesting!)
      *Duke Ellington: 'Concert of Sacred Music'
      *Various, 'Lush Liife, The Billy Strayhorn Songbook'
      *Sidney Bechet: 'Jazz Classics in Digital Stereo'

      So, see how any of those grab you!

  2. PS: Have to note the passing of Joe Temperley, baritone sax player with Mercer Ellington's band, and with Ellington revival bands under John Barry & Wynton Marsalis. (He played on the 'Cotton Club' soundtrack album, which was my own first fortuitous introduction to Duke's music, so I have a very soft spot for him.) We met him briefly when he was out here with the LCJO a few years ago; he was a perfect gentleman, and a great ambassador for jazz.
    I'm listening now to his 'Double Duke,' a great interpretation with modern jazz masters of Duke's canon, and a few others.
    A great man.

  3. a jazz player experiences enormous mental stimulation, Even as a listener, after a concert my untrained brain churns out a continuous stream of improvisation in my mind's ear that can include multiple instruments that I have no idea how to play. rock music blogs


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