Pain Relief Beyond Belief





From Blakey to Brown, Como to Costa, Eckstine to Eldridge, Galbraith to Garner, Harris to Hines, Horne to Hyman, Jamal to Jefferson, Kelly to Klook; Mancini to Marmarosa, May to Mitchell, Negri to Nestico, Parlan to Ponder, Reed to Ruther, Strayhorn to Sullivan, Turk to Turrentine, Wade to Williams… the forthcoming publication Treasury of Pittsburgh Jazz Connections by Dr. Nelson Harrison and Dr. Ralph Proctor, Jr. will document the legacy of one of the world’s greatest jazz capitals.


Do you want to know who Dizzy Gillespie  idolized? Did you ever wonder who inspired Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey? Who was the pianist that mentored Monk, Bud Powell, Tad Dameron, Elmo Hope, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme? Who was Art Tatum’s idol and Nat Cole’s mentor? What musical quartet pioneered the concept adopted later by the Modern Jazz Quartet? Were you ever curious to know who taught saxophone to Stanley Turrentine or who taught piano to Ahmad Jamal? What community music school trained Robert McFerrin, Sr. for his history-making debut with the Metropolitan Opera? What virtually unknown pianist was a significant influence on young John Coltrane, Shirley Scott, McCoy Tyner, Bobby Timmons and Ray Bryant when he moved to Philadelphia from Pittsburgh in the 1940s?  Would you be surprised to know that Erroll Garner attended classes at the Julliard School of Music in New York and was at the top of his class in writing and arranging proficiency?


Some answers  can be gleaned from the postings on the Pittsburgh Jazz Network.


For almost 100 years the Pittsburgh region has been a metacenter of jazz originality that is second to no other in the history of jazz.  One of the best kept secrets in jazz folklore, the Pittsburgh Jazz Legacy has heretofore remained mythical.  We have dubbed it “the greatest story never told” since it has not been represented in writing before now in such a way as to be accessible to anyone seeking to know more about it.  When it was happening, little did we know how priceless the memories would become when the times were gone.


Today jazz is still king in Pittsburgh, with events, performances and activities happening all the time. The Pittsburgh Jazz Network is dedicated to celebrating and showcasing the places, artists and fans that carry on the legacy of Pittsburgh's jazz heritage.






Duke Ellington is first African-American and the first musician to solo on U.S. circulating coin



       In Her Own Words

Creativity and the Brain: What We Can Learn From Jazz Musicians

 | April 11, 2014">


Listening to jazz musicians improvise, how the piano player’s chords toy with the sax player’s runs and the standup bass player’s beats, it may seem like their music-making process is simply magic. But research of jazz musicians’ brain activity as they improvise is helping shed light on the neuroscience behind creativity, and it turns out creating that magic is not as serendipitous a process as we might think.

“I started looking at jazz musicians playing the blues as a way to understand how the creative brain emerges from a neuroscience perspective,” said Charles Limb, associate professor of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at John’s Hopkins University.

Limb, jazz musician and music lover, and his team designed a plastic keyboard that jazz musicians could both play and hear while they were inside an MRI machine. Limb asked the musicians to play a memorized piece of music, then improvise with another musician in the control room. Limb captured images of their brains as they played.

When musicians go to an improvisation, the brain switches, Limb said, and the lateral prefrontal lobes responsible for conscious self monitoring became less engaged. “Musicians were turning off the self-censoring in the brain so they could generate novel ideas without restrictions,” he said. Interestingly, the improvising brain activates many of the same brain centers as language, reinforcing the idea that the back and forth of improvisation between musicians is akin to its own language.

“When you’re trying so hard to come up with ideas you can’t do it, you can’t force it.”

The same principle applies to something like writer’s block. “When you’re trying so hard to come up with ideas you can’t do it, you can’t force it,” Limb said. “Then at another time, some flip switches and you’ve got this flow going on, this generation of ideas.” When the stakes are higher and the brain is actively over-thinking something, it can interfere with processes that have become routinized, causing behavior or performance to suffer.


Luckily, creativity isn’t an unknowable, mystical quality. It can be developed. “You have to cultivate these behaviors by introducing them to children and recognizing that the more you do it, the better you are at doing it,” Limb said. The problem is a lot of kids don’t get much unstructured time either in school or out of it. School is often based on right or wrong answers, leaving little room for students to come up with ideas that haven’t been taught to them before.

“It doesn’t have to be so directed all the time,” Limb said. “We’ve taken a lot of the joy out of things that used to be joyful.” Even a lot of music lessons have become about the discipline of learning to play well, not the joy of creating the music. Children should have part of every lesson reserved for improvisation and free form play, Limb said. The same could be said for free play on the playground and experimentation with new ideas in the classroom. Unprogrammed time is necessary for students to practice using their creativity.

In recent years many schools have cut their art programs as non-essential subjects. At the same time, leaders are crying for more creative thinking in students. “We tend to look at education of creative aspects of children as something that happens incidentally and that is entertainment-based,” Limb said. But that misses the connection between creativity and the idea generation necessary for strong problem solving skills. “Art may be one of the best ways to train the brain to have this kind of creative fluency,” Limb said. He believes art is as central to education as math and reading, especially when created in collaborative environments like band or orchestra.

Limb is working to set up an experiment testing his theory with kids who have never had drawing or music lessons before. He’d like to see what’s going on in their brains when first allowed to improvise. Capturing the brain as it begins to create could help deepen an understanding of how to support creative growth.

Creativity may even be hardwired into human brains, an essential feature that has allowed the species to adapt repeatedly over the course of history. “Very early on there’s this need for the brain to be able to come up with something that it didn’t know before, that’s not being taught to it, but to find a way to figure something out that’s creative,” Limb said. “That’s always been essential for human survival.”

Creating is core to the human experience throughout time, Limb says. “The brain has been hard wired to seek creative or artistic endeavors forever,” he said. “We don’t need it to survive, you wouldn’t think, and yet the brain wants it and seeks it.”

Interestingly, the creating brain looks a lot like the dreaming brain, one of the most creative states humans can enter, but one associated with unconsciousness. Similar to what Limb observed in jazz musicians, when people dream the self-monitoring part of the brain is suppressed and the default network in the brain takes over. This is the introspective part of the brain, as well as the autobiographical part. That’s why dreams feel so personal, pulling from experiences or recent worries. “The brain is an organ and some of its functions are geared toward generation of unpredictable ideas,” Limb said. That’s just how it’s meant to function.

Listen to a Science Friday interview with Charles Limb for even more about his interesting research.

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