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October 06, 2005

Mental health in eminent jazz musicians

Surprise, surprise...

Wills GI. Forty lives in the bebop business: mental health in a group of eminent jazz musicians. The British Journal of Psychiatry. 2003;183:255-259. [Free full text]

Background: Above-average levels of psychopathology have been demonstrated convincingly in groups of outstanding individuals working in the arts. Currently, jazz musicians have not been studied in this regard.
Aims: To investigate any evidence of psychopathology in a group of eminent jazz musicians.
Method: Biographical material relating to 40 eminent American modern jazz musicians was reviewed and an attempt was made to formulate diagnoses using DSM–IV.
Results:Evidence was provided of levels of psychopathology in the sample of jazz musicians similar to those found in other previously investigated creative groups, with the exception of substance related problems. An interesting connection between creativity and sensation-seeking was highlighted.
Conclusions:The link between psychopathology and creativity in the arts was given further weight. Future studies of jazz musicians using larger samples and making comparison with groups from different eras of music would give greater clarification to this area.

[Via Onion AV Club.]

Disclaimer: The author of the study no doubt intended his research as a serious contribution to the scientific understanding of psychopathology. I, however, have cited his work for entertainment value only. I make no claims about the soundness of the study's methodology, the wisdom of undertaking such a project in the first place, or any correlations between the study results and my own field observations.


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» Plus, Wayne Shorter even wrote a tune called "Schizophrenia" from Darcy James Argue's Secret Society
Since our own philosophical operative linked to this study in the British Journal of Psychiatry -- Forty lives in the bebop business: mental health in a group of eminent jazz musicians -- I'm pretty much obliged to comment. Lindsay linked [Read More]


speaking of jazz and insanity, the following popped up this afternoon in my company's in-house newsletter (which steals a "today in history" blurb from somewhere or other; note that I have no idea where this came from, and take no position on its credibility)

"1917: A new word cropped up in the American lexicon: jazz. The Literary Digest described jazz as music that caused people to "shake, jump and writhe in ways to suggest a return to the medieval jumping mania."

My personal theory is creative people are just driven mad by the little insanities that others choose to ignore.

There may be some truth to the premise, but this study, at least, is quackery. Being a trombone player, I noticed that the author cited only three trombonists, two of which committed suicide (one was a murder/suicide). I can name at least 50 trombonists off the top of my head, and 48 of them have so far managed not to kill their children or themselves.

I like said. I'm not vouching for that study. I just thought it was amusing. I'll see if the resident jazz musician thinks its as funny as I do. He's napping and can't be reached for comment right now.

Well, being a professional musician myself, I can relate to Coltrane's search for a perfect mouthpiece. Nothing crazy about that. But historical diagnoses are rarely exact, and the author would have done much better to deal with still living "name artists". Besides, Clifford Brown was a teetotaller and he blew Miles right out of the designation of Dizzy's heir when he came to New York. Ah well, what might have been if he had lived to see his 30th birthday. Sigh.

A few random thoughts on psychiatry---

Psychiatry is not a science-- it is a socialization technique.

The old joke: a neurotic builds castles in the air
a psychotic lives in the castles in the air
---- and the psychiatrist collects the rent.

If your child is restless and unfocused in class--and you can afford to pay me
what I deserve- then your child is abnormal--he has attention deficit disorder.
If you can't afford my fee, well then he is just a restless kid.

Freudian logic: If you deny that you are neurotic, this just proves that you are

Psychiatrist: " I may not be able to clearly define schizophrenia, but I know it
when I see it." (less than an exact science)

Some fairly consistent percentage of male psychiatrists (shamelessly) seduce
their women clients ----- the therapy session becomes a PSYCHIATRYST-------ha!

I misspelled schizophrenia-- there! I did it again!

Hmmmm. Lots of depressives among the jazz musicians. That might explain the effect jazz has on me.

A good book along this line is Kay Redfield Jamison's Touched by Fire which explores the link between mood disorders and creativity.

As for the veracity of such studies, let me say this: when I mention that I am bipolar in a circle of poets, several of them pipe up with "Oh, let me tell you about the time I had to be hospitalized for that...."

Wilven wrote:

"Psychiatry is not a science-- it is a socialization technique."

I tend to agree with this.

The only techniques used by the therapists that seem to work, in my opinion, treat phobias and PTSD. They are (1) systematic desensitization and (2) flooding. Where I grew up, these were called (1) "baby steps" and (2) "just throw 'em in the pool." Professionals gave them better names and a price tag.

I was listening to The Infinte Mind (NPR's psychology show) last week or the week before when they discussed a similar topic. According to the psychiatrist being interviewed, the connection is not between artists and psychopathology in general so much as it is between artists and bipolar disorder specificly.

I think that there's a connection between excessive normality and lack of creativity. People are picking things up from the wrong end. Various sorts of things which extrude people from the world of normality make it possible for them to be creative.

Except for the poorest of the poor (and a few people who hit the jackpot young) none of the arts is a good career choice; you have to have something wrong with you in order to choose that direction.

Most of the body works by scientific principles. The heart pumps the blood, the kidneys and liver perform filtration, the pancreas regulates blood suger etc. When something goes wrong, the functioning of the body is hampered. Medical science may be used to intervene to alleviate or correct the problem, sometimes it fails.

However, those portions of the brain which control behavior work entirely by magic. It doesn't matter if anything goes wrong with these, you should still have perfectly normal behavior. If you don't, it is YOUR FAULT that your magic isn't working properly - probably some kind of character flaw. Anyone who tells you different is probably one of those psychiatrists who just want to steal your money.>My response. Snark aside, even if there is a connection between creativity and mental illness, this ridiculous "study" does absolutely nothing to support that hypothesis.

pansauce- gee, fucking thanks. So I have something wrong with me, just because I chose a career in the arts? As does my wife? And most of my friends? Somehow, I really don't think so. Maybe you should get out more often. The correlation between the arts and people who are "different" is most likely due to the simple fact that at a young age they can find a sense of community and acceptance that is denied them by their "normal" peers due to their "differences". As for me, aside from any "differences" the simple fact of the matter is I would rather get paid a little less to do something I love, than get paid more to do something I hate. A choice
I would encourage others concerned with their happiness to make as well.

Love it. Whenever the topic of brain disorders comes up, you can rest assured that all the backdoor stimatizers flow out of the cracks and leach into consciousness.

Can psychiatrists treat brain disorders? The Tom Cruise wannabes say "It's all in your head!" Which is true. And God help us! How can someone with a brain disorder possibly make a useful contribution? And don't trust those psychiatrists when they prescribe medications....

I have come to make a division between those of us who suffer from brain disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and schizophrenia and those who suffer from personality disorders. The latter, I dare say, are truly mentally ill. Of course, they got that way because of their thinking and they just won't let go of it....

If you want an accurate description of brain disorders and mental illness, visit Internet Mental Health at It is one of many fine sites on the topic.

I think it's very hard to diagnose and study mental health disorders.There are so many types that scientists can specify.

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