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The rest of that jazz

By John Published: April 20, 2011

 Here's a video I shot while reporting about Barberton jazz students working with member of the Brad Wagner Sextet in preparation for a concert that evening. A $1,000 grant from PPG and $800 raised by the Barberton band boosters made the day possible.

These are the 8th graders (plus senior MarQuis Brown on piano) rehearsing a variety of jazz standards including "Take the A Train," "Lester Leaps In" and "All of Me."

Video by Akron Beacon Journal education reporter John Higgins

Scientists and educators collaborating to better understand learning and teaching are interested in understanding how the mind and brain make creativity possible. The current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Mind, Brain and Education is devoted to the topic.

A 2008 brain imaging study of a jazz musician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine showed different brain activations based on whether the musician played a memorized piece of music or was spontaneously composing music, known as improvising. Charles Limb of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins and Allen R. Braun of the National Institutes of Health put a jazz composer inside an MRI tube and had him play a miniature electronic keyboard flat on his back with mirrors to see his fingers.

"During improv, the brain deactivates the area involved in self-censoring, while cranking up the region linked with self-expression," Limb explains. "Essentially, a musician shuts down his inhibitions and lets his inner voice shine through."

That sounded about right to Brad Wagner, band leader of the Brad Wagner Sextet. He remembered his first times up on stage improvising. It's hard to let go of those inhibitions and expose your mind to an audience.
"You're thinking out loud with your instrument and it's extremely hard to start off doing that as a beginning improvisor," Wagner said.

MarQuis Brown, the 19-year-old Barberton senior playing piano in the video must of had lunch in mind when he told me this:
''When I think of Improv I think of some good food that I want to eat and not stop eating,'' Marquis said. ''It's kind of like a burrito. You start with the rice and then you add some beans and then you  add more and more and make it good. It's like some good soul food.''

For some more thoughts about the brain and music, check out this piece in ScienceDaily about the correlation of music training with cognitive functioning later in life.
The study recruited 70 healthy adults age 60 to 83 who were divided into groups based on their levels of musical experience. The musicians performed better on several cognitive tests than individuals who had never studied an instrument or learned how to read music. The research findings were published online in the APA journal Neuropsychology.

and finally, this from the New York Times about how musicians communicate emotions.
Research is showing, for example, that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.
And what really communicates emotion may not be melody or rhythm, but moments when musicians make subtle changes to the those musical patterns.
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