William P. Gottlieb a famous photographer sold his collection of photos of the jazz scene in New York and Washington DC during the 1930′s and 1940′s to the Library of Congress. This period is also named “the Golden Age of Jazz”
Improvisation is the main feature of Jazz that distinguishes it from other forms of music making. Improvisation is the spontaneous musical performance within a relevant musical context. It consists of novel melodic, harmonic and rhythmic musical elements. This unique feature of jazz offers the opportunity for neurobiological research or even creativity. What they did was do a functional MRI brain scan on 6 highly skilled professional jazz musicians.
These jazz musicians had to play a simple musical tune and an improvisation on this tune with the restriction to the use of C major scale quarter notes within the same octave of the simple tune. Next they had to play a memorized original jazz composition with the accompagnement of a pre-recorded jazz quartet followed by an improvisation of the memorized composition. In order to compare brain activity during these two conditions. Everything was recorded, the music and finger/hand movements. The participants used a keyboard in the fMRI without iron.
Spontaneous improvisation was in each case associated with a highly congruous pattern of activations and deactivations in prefrontal cortex, sensorimotor and limbic regions of the brain. In addition, the majority of these regions showed functionally reciprocal patterns of activity. That is, activations during improvisation were matched by deactivations during the control tasks, and vice versa, when each condition was compared to the resting baseline.
The prefrontal cortex was characterized by a deactivation during improvisation, sensorimotor activity in the sensory cortex area were mostly activated, and a widespread deactivation of the limbic and paralimbic region during improvisation. These deactivation of limbic and paralimbic regions were seen in the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus and other structures of this region.
The changes in the prefrontal cortex consisted of a deactivation in the lateral parts and activation in the medial parts of the prefrontal cortex. The medial part is thought to play a role in the complex phenomenon of the self, internally motivated self generated content and as such this activation can be explained by the fact that improvisation is also a way of expressing one’s own musical voice or story. The deactivation of the lateral part is explained by the occurrence of free floating attention, permitting spontaneous expressions without interference of self-monitoring.
Activation of the sensorimotor regions is explained by the complex acoustic and sensory stimuli during improvisation on the keyboard. The hardest to explain is the widespread deactivation of the limbic structures who are associated with emotions. Deactivation of amygdala and hippocampus has been associated with the perception of music that is nice to the ears or elicits intense pleasure. This doesn’t explain the deactivation in other limbic structures.
Limb CJ, & Braun AR (2008). Neural substrates of spontaneous musical performance: an FMRI study of jazz improvisation. PloS one, 3 (2) PMID: 18301756
DIETRICH, A. (2004). Neurocognitive mechanisms underlying the experience of flow Consciousness and Cognition, 13 (4), 746-761 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2004.07.002
In this second post about jazz and health we focus on the literature regarding somatic illness instead of mental illness. In the previous post we already mentioned drug use as one of the major hazards for jazz musicians. Drug use by jazz musicians can have all sorts of reasons such as the enhancement of creativity, boredom and isolation especially during long road trips or being on tour.
According to a recent article in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology: The lost years: the impact of cirrhosis on the history of jazz, this drug and alcohol abuse is probably the reason why the prevalence of liver cirrhoses among jazz musicians is so high. Sometimes in combination with hepatitis B and C or liver cancer. For some name dropping follow the link for the full article above. Among them are Charlie Parker who died at 35 years of age with clinical symptoms of cirrhosis, John Coltrane died at the age of 41 years due to liver cancer and hepatitis B. The authors do have an optimistic suggestion:
This is a changing scene, with improvements in working conditions for some jazz musicians and advances in prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis.
Another risk factor for an untimely death in saxophonists and other woodwind instrument players is the technique of circular breathing. This is a breathing technique in which the artists inhales trough the nose while simultaneously inflating the cheeks and neck with air in order to produce seamless air streams.
Why is this dangerous?
Raised pressure in the neck region can increase mortality either by reducing blood supply to the brain (cerebrovascular ischaemia) or venous stasis (thromboembolism).
Instruments of musicians can also provoke skin disorders. They can provoke a variety of allergic contact sensitizations due to e.g. nickel and exotic woods. The clinical presentation and localization are usually specific for the instrument used: fiddler’s neck, cellist’s chest, guitar nipple, and flautist’s chin. For some more explanation of these skin disorders please read another summary of this meta analysis, I liked the guitar nipple:
“Guitar nipple” was described in the cases of three grammar-school girls who experienced swelling and inflammation of one nipple only. All were learning to play on full-sized guitars. Evidently, the girls were pressing the edge of the soundbox against their left or right nipples, depending on whether they played right- or left-handed. Temporarily discontinuing practice sessions and obtaining the proper size instrument was all that was needed to clear their conditions.
From reading all this research it seems that in different articles different diseases are claimed for one and the same jazz musician. Jazz legends also had neurological problems. In a series of cases an article in Journal of Child Neurology the relationship between the neurological disorder and musicianship is explained. Biographies of eminent jazz musicians are used to discover the history of neurology, and enhance music appreciation by combining live performance with the artists’ biographies. Charles Mingus, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker and Earl Powell are discussed in this article: Neurological Problems of Jazz Legends.
Pearl, P. (2009). Neurological Problems of Jazz Legends Journal of Child Neurology, 24 (8), 1037-1042 DOI: 10.1177/0883073809332765
Kinra S, & Okasha M (1999). Unsafe sax: cohort study of the impact of too much sax on the mortality of famous jazz musicians. BMJ (Clinical research ed.), 319 (7225), 1612-3 PMID: 10600961
Gambichler, T., Uzun, A., Boms, S., Altmeyer, P., & Altenmüller, E. (2008). Skin conditions in instrumental musicians: a self-reported survey Contact Dermatitis, 58 (4), 217-222 DOI: 10.1111/j.1600-0536.2007.01310.x
This post was inspired by two recent visits to jazz clubs in Paris. It’s the first in a series of three. The others are: Medical Dangers of Jazz and The neuroscience of Jazz.
What do we know about the relationship between mental illness and creativity, more specific about the relationship between mental illness and jazz. Other art forms and mental illness are discussed elsewhere on this blog.
It will be particularly valued by that group of psychiatrists who prefer to frequent jazz clubs rather than conference gala dinners (those who prefer gala dinners are advised to obtain a copy of the CD reissue of Kind of Blue by Miles Davis).
A review of biographical material of 40 famous jazz musicians of the period from 1945 to 1960 excluding those who were still alive, was studied and rated for psychiatric diagnoses according to the DSM IV classification.
The categories used were: heroin-related disorder, alcohol-related disorder, cocaine-related disorder, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, mood disorders and anxiety disorders. The categories of family background, sensation- seeking, late-life deteriorations and suicides also were added.
10% (4) had family psychiatric disorder
17,5% (7) had unhappy or unstable early lifes
52,5% (21) were addicted to heroin some time during their lives.
27,5 (11) were dependent on alcohol and 15% (6) abused alcohol
8% (3) were dependent on cocaine
8% (3) had psychotic disorder
28,5% (11) had mood disorders
5% (2) had anxiety disorders
17,5% (7) had sentsation seeking tendencies such as disinhibition and thrill and adventure seeking. This has been linked to borderline personality disorder
2 killed themselfs later in life
These results are comparable to the results in composers and musical performers, with the exception of a higher drug use in jazz musicians. The results were higher compared to general population as researched in the Epidemiological Catchment Area study in the beginning of the nineties. Much later than when these jazz musicians were living.
The trouble with this kind of research is the lack of prospective design and relying on probably biased information from non scientific information written by biographers. The selection of participants could also be biased. Those considered famous now would be judged otherwise in earlier days. The group of jazz musicians was small and there was no control group living in the same day and age. more discussion on the short comings of this kind of research can be read here and here.
To maintain a sense of perspective in the present study, it needs to be stated that many of the sample were exemplary, well-balanced human beings.
WILLS, G. (2003). Forty lives in the bebop business: mental health in a group of eminent jazz musicians The British Journal of Psychiatry, 183 (3), 255-259 DOI: 10.1192/bjp.183.3.255
Poole R (2003). ‘Kind of blue’: creativity, mental disorder and jazz. The British journal of psychiatry : the journal of mental science, 183, 193-4 PMID: 12948989
As written elsewhere on this blog: Dr Shock is a musical omnivore. He likes hip hop, reggae but also Jazz. One of his favorite jazz musicians is Bill Evans. Mostly because the piano is Dr Shock’s favorite instrument. Not that he can play the piano but these vibes get down all the way.
Bill Evans was a gentle, honorable and extraordinarily intelligent musician, who strived for high standards and aesthetics in his musical idiom. He was also a master of words, analytically talking about music leaving an amount of quotes and statements. He was engaged in philosophy and had a fabulous knowledge of English literature. But Bill Evans, bespectacled, shy, soft-spoken and vulnerable was also a modest, introverted and embarrassed man with little self confidence, believing he lacked talent.