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Music and the Spark of Spontaneity

Date & Time

Saturday, June 4, 2011
8:00 PM - 9:30 PM
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The Great Hall, Cooper Union

Music. Improvisation. Spontaneous creativity. How does the brain do it? In the world of improvised music, eighteen-time Grammy award-winning jazz guitarist Pat Metheny is a legend. We took a live tour of his masterful musical mind at work as he performed and engaged in discussion with leading scientists who are also all musicians—Jamshed Bharucha, whose research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience will serve to explore the biological centers of creativity; Charles Limb, an otolaryngologist, surgeon, and neuroscientist who uses fMRI to study musicians while they improvise;  Gary Marcus, a developmental psychologist who taught himself to play guitar at age 40 in order to examine the process of learning music; and Aaron Berkowitz, author of The Improvising Mind: Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment. Through performance and conversation, the program explored the neurological processes underlying improvisation and what they tell us about human creativity and the structure of the brain.


  • John Schaefer

    John Schaefer is the host of WNYC’s innovative music and talk show Soundcheck, which features live performances and interviews with a variety of guests. More »


  • Pat Metheny

    Musician Pat Metheny was born in Kansas City on August 12, 1954 into a musical family. Starting on trumpet at the age of 8, Metheny switched to guitar at age 12. By the age of 15, he was working regularly with the best jazz musicians in Kansas City, receiving valuable on-the-bandstand experience at an unusually young age. More »
  • Jamshed Bharucha

    Cognitive Neuroscientist Jamshed Bharucha conducts research in cognitive psychology and neuroscience, focusing on the cognitive and neural basis of the perception of music. He is a past editor of the interdisciplinary journal Music Perception. More »
  • Charles Limb

    Otolaryngologist, Neuroscientist Charles Limb is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in the Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, where he specializes in neurotology and skull base surgery. He is also a faculty member at the Peabody Conservatory of Music. More »
  • Aaron Berkowitz

    Author, Neuroscientist, Physician, and Musician Aaron Berkowitz is the author of The Improvising Mind: Cognition and Creativity in the Musical Moment, which explores improvisation from the perspectives of cognitive neuroscience, musicology/ethnomusicology, and music pedagogy, drawing connections between language learning and how musical improvisation systems around the world are taught and learned. More »
  • Gary Marcus

    Psychologist Gary Marcus studies evolution, language, and cognitive development at New York University, where he is professor of psychology and director of the NYU Center for Child Language. Marcus received his Ph.D. from MIT at the age of 23. More »