Music and The Human Brain

We lost Barry Harris just recently, he lived a rich and full life of dignity, a true Jazz Warrior.  I always noticed that Barry sung things to his students.  I just had a long talk with Dr. Nelson Harrison and we were talking about something that I had noticed a long time ago.  I realized that it seemed a different part of the brain was used when I read music than when I was just listening to music, and learned it by my ear, by aural methods.  I've known Nelson for many years, and we had a wonderful Zoom, later I will post segments on my Youtube, and he broke it down for me.  The Left Brain is digital, it classifies items, performs functions, runs things, but it can't hear music.  It is the Brain that we use when we read music.  The Right Brain is the part that HEARS music and actually remembers all the music we have ever heard, like a super computer of music.  The Right Brain, is really the creative component which does all the real thinking, and processes complex concepts and ideas.  The Creator if you will.  

That explains my personal feeling about reading music and learning music by ear.  I found when I learned a Charlie Parker solo by ear, never reading it from the Omnibook, only picking notes off and playing with Charlie, I really KNEW it, it became a part of my playing.  I started telling musicians who asked me that reading solos from a Transcription book will only make you a better music reader, but you will learn nothing about jazz and improvisation, or how to phrase, or how to play in a sax section.

I began Classical Clarinet studies at a young age, but a door broke down for me when I was in high school.  I was playing lead alto in my high school stage band, and I had a jazz solo to play, but I didn't know anything about how to solo on those funny chords on the paper!  I had been listening to Jazz, and learned a couple of chords but that was it.   So I decided to  record the band playing my solo tune and I went home and sung along with the cassette tape things that I heard in my head!  In another words, music I thought I could play on the solo.   I would listen, then sing, then stop the tape.  I would figure out what I sung on my alto, and then wrote it down!   It took some hours but I eventually wrote out a whole solo from my singing.  During our performance at a Big Band Contest at Duquesne College, (which my father attended), I ended up winning the award for Best Soloist!  It wasn't until I started studying with some jazz players, that I was told, my method was exactly right, we must learn to sing and hear.  Once that begins, a teacher can begin to give materials to the student to advance.  

Inside of our are endless melodies, theme songs, TV commercials, pop songs, memories all triggered by music.  For further exploration of this miraculous discovery I suggest watching the movie "Alive Inside".  Social worker Dan Cohen, through his nonprofit organization Music and Memory, discovers that Alzheimers patients who haven't spoken for years and feel lost, when given the music THAT THEY HAD LISTENED TO AT ANY TIME IN THEIR LIFE, that suddenly they woke up, suddenly they spoke, they smiled, they even danced.  I recommend this movie to everyone, musicians and non-musicians that shows how important music is to the human experience.

"Alive Inside"

Big bands were originally complete with master improvisors, and much of big band dance music was made of “riffs” or jazz playing.  A lot of the first Basie music was based on riffs, a riff is a jazz phrase that we just play, not using music.

I’ve studied jazz harmony and saxophone with George Coleman (Miles Davis alumnus), Dr. Nathan Davis, Mark Kirk (Phil Woods), Dave Tofani, Lee Konitz, Frank Foster, Bob Mintzer, and Joe Lovano.  Clarinet Studies with Thomas Thompson, Principal of The Pittsburgh Symphony, William Balawajder, Professor Carnegie-Mellon University,  Nestor Koval, Professor Duquesne University (First American to Graduate from The Paris Conservatoire of Music). 

But the greatest lessons that I have learned is to use your ears and play.

Music is a language, we have to use the written notes to improve our craft, but I make note that Wolfgang Mozart could sit at the piano and "Spontaneously Compose" for hours.  



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