I don’t remember the exact circumstances that lead to my reading Carl Jung’s “Memories, Dreams and Reflections” in the early 1980s. Jung’s book played right into that part of my personality that wanted to understand on a personal level, beyond career challenges and even the technical aspects of the music itself, why jazz and me. What was there in the improvisational process that reflected who I was as a thinking/feeling being? My book “Self Portrait of a Jazz Artist” (Advance Music) was written during this reflective period.
Much research has gone on in the intervening years from so-called Mozart effect to the extraordinary book by Daniel Levitin titled “This Is Your Brain on Music.” Interest in the psychological aspects of the artistic process has increased. On one occasion I was invited by the neurological department at Harvard to explain the workings of improvisation. Now with such sophisticated ways of measuring brain waves, the time is coming that whatever an improviser is cognizing in the very moment of playing will be recognized. Students always ask this question: “What are you thinking when you play?” A lot of thoughts invariably might cross one’s mind at one point or another during the heat of battle, from the sublime to the ridiculous: What are we eating after the gig; what did my girl friend mean by that statement or who is that young lady sitting in front; how bad my reed is; the sound system is no good and so on; let alone what is that chord change and why is the drummer playing that rhythm behind me? This list of distracting thoughts can be a bit overwhelming, but the mind is a complex machine. Would answers to these questions affect one’s performance? Can you imagine if one could trace their thoughts as you play? This all remains to be seen as technology advances but as an intellectual curiosity there is certainly a lot of potential information to decode concerning the link between music making, especially spontaneous improvisation, and the mind/body.
Addressing this area concerning the relationship between the psyche and jazz improvisation, Daniel Sapen explores how some of the natural attributes inherent in the language of jazz music can be useful in understanding and implementing psychotherapeutic theory and technique. Mr. Sapen has the proper credentials for addressing this subject, equipped with a deep understanding of the
complexities of jazz along with the intricacies of his field of expertise as a practicing psychotherapist. Anyone attempting to address these types of complex issues must love and admire jazz along with being an experienced listener (and probably at least an amateur practitioner of the art as Daniel is). I have no doubt that this book will be considered a major contribution towards understanding relationships that exist between jazz and the psyche which though upon first impression may seem disparate, are closer than previously considered and can be useful for diagnostic purposes in patient/doctor encounters towards understanding diverse levels of communication.
There is no question that music has a distinct relationship with the self and can be seen as a reflection on one’s inner life. Sapen writes: “The affective qualities of the subject’s experience, including both its degree of cohesion and plasticity, the capacity to vary, respond, endure, imagine, carry contrapuntal themes, resolve, contextualize, or its falling into static repetition and discord, are either musical by analogy, or are representable literally as music, whether composed or improvised. Heard as analogy only, this life-music describes the ways in which our patients live our lives and handle our crises, whether in the hum, clatter and throb of daily business, or the grand themes erupting into the ordinary over the course of a lifetime in which affective life swells into romance and tragedy.” (Pg 173). These words describe some of the emotional dynamics of life and how music can inform our lives.
As to what it is in jazz that makes it particularly relevant to this discussion, here’s a sampling of Daniel’s descriptions concerning notable jazz musician’s styles that goes directly to the heart of the matter: “Charlie Parker’s alto, fleet and asymmetrical, is the ornate obbligato to a phrase of deep concern and wishfulness; Miles Davis’ softly-blown, vibrato-less trumpet is the plaintive, vulnerable, yet subtly resolved voice of a man who wants to find a direction, is haunted by regret and lost love and seeks to reclaim lost opportunity.” (Pg 177)
Quite imaginative descriptions!! Sapen’s observations throughout the book are detailed yet always described in humanistic terms. The subject matter is after all the human mind and mental health. Intersections between psychoanalysis and jazz improvisation can in Daniel’s view lead to new approaches towards
deciphering the inherent mysteries in both spheres. (I look forward to a summary of the book for jazz musicians, couched in our language.)
Historically, classical music has been the point of reference for delving into matters involving psychology and musical creativity, most notably through analyzing (more speculation) about the psychological state and inner life of a given composer. One of Daniel’s main points is that the jazz process reveals much more about the mind on many levels, if only because of the emphasis placed on spontaneous improvisation. Even the most naïve of laymen when exposed to authentic jazz will recognize the basic scenario. That is establishing a workable dynamic between the individual and the group, all spontaneously improvised in the moment like the music itself with more than likely the scantest of guidelines decided beforehand. The typical jazz group scenario features each musician in a solo spot enjoying their “day in the sun” but with an understanding of one’s responsibility as part of the greater collective to be called upon for support of the other musicians when their solo time arrives.
Jazz is the ultimate model of democracy at work while at the same time the improvisatory process itself demonstrates how creative tension between the self and group can lead to high art and deep personal insight. Daniel Sapen explores the ramifications of this model both musically and psychoanalytically with a clear eye towards deepening our understanding of how the mind and jazz music interact to illustrate and offer specific practical benefits for use in psychoanalysis.
April 2012 Stroudsburg, PA USA
David Liebman’s career has spanned over four decades, beginning in the 1970s as the saxophone/flautist in both the Elvin Jones and Miles Davis Groups, continuing as a leader since. He has played on nearly three hundred recordings with over one hundred under his leadership or co-leadership. In jazz education he is a renowned lecturer and author of several milestone books: Self Portrait Of A Jazz Artist, A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony
And Melody, Developing A Personal Saxophone Sound, translated into several languages, in addition to teaching DVDs, journalistic contributions to periodicals and published chamber music.
He is the Founder and Artistic Director of the International Association of Schools of Jazz (IASJ) existing since 1989. Awards include the National Endowment of the Arts Masters of Jazz (2011); the Order of Arts and Letters (France 2009); Jazz Journalist’s award for Soprano Saxophone (2007); Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Solo (1998); Honorary Doctorate from the Sibelius Academy (Finland-1997). He is currently Artist in Residence at the Manhattan School of Music and has consistently placed in the top three places for Soprano Saxophone in the Downbeat Critic’s Poll since 1973, winning first place in both the Downbeat and Jazz Times Critic’s Poll in both 2011 and 2012.