Jazz improvisation is a catalyst for transcendent states of mind
Jazz improvisation has long been a catalyst for transcending barriers, whether cultural, racial, or geographic. It is also commonly recognized as a means to transcend barriers of mind between musicians and to enable what can be characterized as transpersonal states beyond the normal sense of self. Interviews with musicians and writings on the subject provide evidence of the phenomenology of altered states of consciousness associated with jazz improvisation. This paper presents that evidence as well as research on the neuroscience of music, and jazz in particular, which gives insight into why this may be the case. Music engages multiple areas of the brain, including centres hypothesized to be involved in mystical experience, based on research with meditation and psychedelics. Characteristics of the jazz process, including the simultaneous focus on internal creativity coordinated with external awareness of other musicians, may be ideally suited to generating transcendent states.
I study the relationship between music, mind, and brain. My research has explored how seeing and hearing interact in the experience of music, how music can facilitate recovery from neurological disorders, how rhythm engages the motor system, and the epi-genetics of music learning. I hold a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from McGill University, an MBA from the University of Oxford, and a Bachelor’s in Cognitive Science from the University of California, Berkeley. I pursued post-doctoral research at Harvard Medical School and the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain, and was a Research Associate and Lab Director at the University of British Columbia Department of Psychiatry. I am also a saxophonist with training in jazz improvisation, including studies at the William Paterson University Jazz Program.