Your Brain on Jazz Improvisation

Amateur saxophonist and Johns Hopkins surgeon Charles Limb has an abiding interest in the neuroscience of creativity. He’s also an unabashed fan of music – Mahler, the Beatles, Miles Davis, whatever. And he heard things most of us don’t. “I was fascinated by this question of how sound can make you feel something,” says the Johns Hopkins otolaryngologist. “If you think about it from a kind of abstract philosophical level, it’s unusual that acoustic vibrations in the air can make you feel deep emotion, something that can affect your life.”

In one study Limb talks about in this marvelous TEDx talk, he has his patients play spontaneous variations on a MIDI keyboard in a functional MRI tube in order to study blood oxygen levels in various parts of their brains.

But he also gets to hang out in the technologist’s booth, ”trading fours” with captive musician Mike Pope, whom he describes in his TED Talk, above, as “one of the world’s best bassists and a fantastic piano player.”