Jazz & Mental Health

Discussion in 'Off Topic [DB]' started by Sam Sherry, Oct 11, 2005.

  1. Sam Sherry

    Sam Sherry Inadvertent Microtonalist Supporting Member

    Sep 26, 2001
    Portland, ME
    Euphonic Audio "Player"
    Here, for what it's worth, is an interesting academic look at the question of whether the leaders on the be-bop movement were certifiably insane.
  2. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member

    This is an interesting subject that comes up frequently at Jazz Summerschool...

    So I know that one or two of the Tutors had "hell-raising" pasts - might have been addicts or alcoholics - but are now reformed - in fact this was mentioned directly, on a talk given this Summer on Charlie Parker.

    But most of the well-known players in UK Jazz today, are straight ahead, family-oriented people - although very creative!

    I think the difference is economic circumstances - as hinted at in that article (linked to by Sam) ...

    So - now, most good Jazz musicians can actually make a living from teaching - things like that - whereas in the 40s,50s, 60s - Jazz was very much an underground music that wasn't taught in schools and it was about hustling gigs or starving!!

    The latter, saw Jazz musicians moving in the circles of drug dealers and getting drawn in ....:(
  3. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Some of that cut a little close to home.... Good read, though. It's been my experience that most of the best players that I've known run 'a little hot'.
  4. Interesting though this is, and even if it seems to be backed up by other studies, a sample of 40 interogated by examining biogaphical data that was written for other purposes just is'nt accademic rigour.

    In other words, it might tell you something about the people in the study but you shouldn't generalise any of the points to the jazz community on the basis of this study alone.

    Also - the majority of successful people at the top of any tree (and these are now known asthe top players of their time) are unusual and often have pyschological problems and suprisingly often a family background of such. After all, you need a singlemindedness of aproach and focus that is abnormal, if not downright antisocial, to be the best. There are always exceptions - but I doubt not too many.

    It can be a price of raising the bar - having higher standards - so that a world is only open to the disfunctionally talented. This applies to sport in particular. I think the myth of the tortured artist has been given too much milage - usually by artists themselves.
  5. anonymous0726

    anonymous0726 Guest

    Nov 4, 2001
    Read the article as he clearly addresses all of this.
  6. FredH

    FredH Supporting Member

    I didn’t see any speculation on whether the nuttiness was part and parcel of to artistic/creative abilities, or it was caused by the lifestyle; late nights, drugs/alcohol and lack of exercise…
    Be interesting to do the same research using bartenders, waitresses and regular club goers as the subject group.
  7. Damon Rondeau

    Damon Rondeau Journeyman Clam Artist Supporting Member

    Nov 19, 2002
    Winnipeg, baby
    This one hit pretty close to home here, as well. On both sides of the equation, I'm afraid.

    Anyhow, those who read this article and put it aside on methodological grounds might want to read the last article cited in the original article's bibliography. It's here. Another jazz-playing psychiatrist has offered some editorial comments on methodology, validity, etc.

    Keep in mind that psychiatry is a medical discipline. Psychiatrists are interested primarily in helping individual humans get better. Consequently, their take on things is sometimes a bit different than psychology in general. Generally in medicine, it is not always possible to accumulate a sufficient number of cases to satisfy statistical investigation via traditional inferential methods. Sometimes you have to work with bad data and few cases because it's all you've got -- you can't walk away from important problems strictly because of that. You can't ignore methodological difficulties, but you do have to find a way to carry on while the larger scientific project proceeds.

    Think what you want about either psychiatry or the British people, but I say when you've got something under consideration by The British Journal of Psychiatry, you're not dealing with a bunch of dopes. These folks know their way around science.

    I found Poole's final three summary sentences in his editorial to be quite moving and exactly on the mark:

    "The scientific lesson here is that people cannot be suppressed completely by a mental disorder or fully described by a diagnosis. The human spirit can defy all types of adversity and the mentally ill can produce great art that communicates meaningfully to the rest of us. We should feel humbled by such findings."

    The human mind is still very much on the frontier of any scientific discipline that seeks to deal with it. Very, very early days indeed.

    P.S. -- you folks might want to re-consider your use of terms like "nutty" and even "insane". They really aren't very useful for talking about what's really going on. They say more about the experience level of the person using them than they do about the actual content being discussed.
  8. Alexi David

    Alexi David

    May 15, 2003
    From my own personal experience, I have a few of the things written there, mainly depression/mood swings and I've been a junkie. Does it add to the music? Yes. Does it get in the way? You betcha. .....Just in case someone starts saying again that the best musicians are always high, or crap like that.
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Excellent observations. I think my favorite part of the whole article was where the author said, "Wills explores issues of social environment and personality, and this broader perspective is welcome. What he has not considered is the possibility that life as a jazz musician might actually cause mental disorder. " I think there's some real meat to that, especially for those who make their entire living playing (I did that for several years back in the day, but couldn't keep my dark side at bay. I also started to rhyme all the time...). Basically, what you have with a person making their entire living playing jazz is a person who aspires to a drastically different standard of "normal" than what society itself provides. This can be a good thing and a bad thing: in the best case, it can cause a person to set their sights much higher than they normally would and aspire to greatness, which can be an incredible spiritual journey; in the worst, it can result in the feeling or "fighting the law" all of the time, which can be dismally depressing and exhausting.

    Great topic, and great discussion!
  10. Alexi David

    Alexi David

    May 15, 2003
  11. That was really cool, thanks for posting it. Was there anyone that completely checked out? I didn't see anything there about Ray Brown with mental illness or stustance abuse but did I just miss that?
  12. christ andronis

    christ andronis

    Nov 14, 2001
    I've been thinking of this topic for quite some time now, even before this thread started. In learning about my diabetes (non-insulin dependent for now) it's made me acutely aware of cognitive impairment. Bad diet and lack of exercise, etc. all contribute to this condition. In reading this report and listening in on the discussion I wonder how many of these various artists' maladies can be traced to a lack of adequate health care, even at the most basic level. As I said, my diabetes is not severe, but left unchecked I feel like I'm losing my mind. In fact, before I was diagnosed I thought I WAS losing my mind. For an especially creative person I can see where this could be a HUGE factor in their behavior, particularly when you don't know what's happening to you.

    great thread...