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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin




Saturday night there was a tribute for Marcus Belgrave. A deserved recognition to a life well lived. Detroit’s jazz community rose to the occasion at the Max M Fisher Center as part of the Annual Concert of Colors. So many gifted musicians came forward  that reflected Marcus’s rich and gracious spirit of giving. This event reminded me of Satchmo’s thought that: “JAZZ IS PLAYED FROM THE HEART- YOU CAN LIVE BY IT. ALWAYS LOVE IT.”


From 8to 10 PM you can often find me in my garage /studio listening to music and painting. It is not the same as hearing live music at the Dog , but there is not much else in life that can match this time. My choice for music usually is to lock into 89.9FM for two hours of jazz on CBC’s program Tonic. It is masterfully curated and  there is consistently more music than talk. Why Tonic? I never thought about the program’s name until recently when we all were focused on our friend Marcus Belgrave’s fight with his declining health. His best medicine was a shot of playing or talking jazz. His music was indeed an amazing tonic.

At the time when we were pulling for Marcus’ well being I happened to watch the poignant documentary, Keep On Keeping On, the story about trumpet player Clark Terry’s struggle with diabetes. He did keep on keeping on , thanks to music and to those good friends who kept jazz in his life.


What Jazz Music Can Do for the Brain 

My friends explained jazz and what was going on, usually opening with the tune’s melody line, then improvising on that melody line, and then gracefully finding the way back home to the tune’s opening statement. And I didn’t need to know musical details to appreciate the rhythms that flowed through my body like honey on a warm biscuit.really big things are happening in the brain’s mental biology as one listens to or plays jazz.First the listening: the most obvious effect is stress reduction. Stress,  is the arch-enemy of memory ability.

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. Think about Preservation Hall in New Orleans. There and elsewhere around the country, 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, especially for youngsters in early stages of learning music. Early middle school is a particularly time-sensitive period for mental development, and I suspect that middle school jazz bands can have disproportionate beneficial effects on brain development.Learning jazz may be the ultimate in training young minds to think critically and creatively. An earlier blog post after my fist trip to the Katy festival focused on the exceptional teaching skills of jazz band directors. Many teachers protested, saying in essence that anybody can teach good students. Regular teachers get stuck with so many underachievers. Maybe we should consider the possibility that jazz-band students are such high achievers because their jazz training has trained their brains in invaluable learning capacities for hand-eye coordination, the ability to memorize, discipline, patience, critical and creative thinking, high-speed intellectual engagement with the ideas of others, and self-actualization and confidence.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that mental challenge develops new connections in the brain and with it, new biological capabilities. In jazz, such mental enrichment enhances the ability to memorize, 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.

by Kenneth R. Klemm PhD 2014

Smooth Recovery: Jazz Music Lessens Anxiety In Patients Undergoing Surgery

Listening to a little Miles Davis post-surgery can lower heart rate, pain, and anxiety.

New research presented at the American Society of Anesthesiologists’ annual meeting, Anesthesiology 2014, found patients who listen to jazz music once out of surgery experience lower heart rates and anxiety.

Music is one of the few activities that involves using the whole brain. It is intrinsic to all cultures and has surprising benefits not only for learning language, improving memory and focusing attention, but also for physical coordination and development.

During jazz improvisation, the brain lets self‐expression flow, thus turning up creativity and conveying individuality.

Music is a gift when something is wrong in your life. It may just be in the background at home or have all your attention at the Dirty Dog. There are many studies that confirm the recuperative effects that music provides. I believe that the rhythm and structure reflective of a healthy life is the ingredient in music that we sometimes desperately need.

by  Dr. Charles Lamb, john Hopkins Universiy  Dr Allen Braun NIH

Something to think about. Do something kind for your mind and body, come on out and catch Duane Parham this week at the Dirty Dog for some tonic.

John Osler

#JAZZMUSIC #MarcusBelgrave

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