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…
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!