Tag Archives: Wayne Shorter

Jazz and unexpected stimuli

Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.

One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.

Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.

Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.

This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).

Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.

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Wayne Shorter’s punishment

Wayne Shorter

In a 2012 interview, Wayne Shorter described a life-changing incident.

One day when he was in high school, Shorter, who was not a musician at the time, was called to the vice-principal’s office, “and there’s my mother and father, and they had all the forged letters I wrote, signing a doctor’s name, my parent’s name, and everything like that.”

“I was put in the music [theory] class because I played hooky, and the teacher was a disciplinarian—when people were talking in the back of the room, he took the chalk and threw it at them.”

“This teacher said that music could take form in three avenues. He had a record of a lady from Peru named Yma Sumac; she had that range—high octaves and all that stuff. Then he brought out another record, Igor Stravinsky’s The rite of spring, which is happenin’. The third record he pulled out was Charlie Parker. And then, when he was talking, I was thinking of a movie unfolding. And I was like, ‘I want to be in that movie.’”

This from “Moment to moment: A conversation with the Wayne Shorter Quartet” by Renee Rosnes (JazzTimes XLIII/2 [March 2013] pp. 22–27).

Today is Shorter’s 80th birthday! Above, a portrait by John Abbott. Below, performing in 1986.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues