Music on the Brain: Defying Expectations

Expectations, patterns, and novelty shape the learning and storage of long-term memories by the hippocampus. Similarly, when improvising, jazz musicians navigate between setting up expectations and defying them with creative spontaneity. When musicians play jazz standards, they generally begin with tried and true patterns with variations. Great music emerges when they defy these patterns. By shattering expectations through innovative reinterpretations, they create something profoundly new and distinct. 

Join multi-instrumentalist jazz musician, composer, and educator T.K. Blue, pianist James Austin, Jr.,  and Zuckerman Institute PhD student and NSF Fellow Abhishek Shah for a jazz concert and dialogue exploring the fascinating parallels between neuroscience and jazz improvisation.

Music on the Brain is a collaboration between the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute with the support of Jazz Foundation of America.


T.K. Blue

Talib Kibwe, or T.K. Blue, is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and educator. He has appeared on over 85 recordings and has performed with a vast array of jazz greats over the years. He is committed to music education. Having received a Bachelor’s Degree in Music and Psychology from NYU and a Master’s Degree in Music Education from Teachers College Columbia University, Blue has taught at every level from pre-K to the graduate level and served as the Director of Jazz Studies at Long Island University. TK’s 2017 release, Amour, his 11th CD as a leader, was cited as one of the best jazz recordings of the year by Downbeat Magazine. His latest album, The Tide of Love, a recording of beautiful ballads and songs of romance, was released in 2023 on Arkadia Records and reached #11 on the jazz charts.

Abhi Shah

Abhi Shah is a third-year PhD student and National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellow in the neurobiology and behavior program at Columbia University. At the lab, Abhi is interested in using experimental approaches to probe how the brain learns, stores, and retrieves memories, as well as computational approaches to develop models of how the brain functions. Abhi is also passionate about science outreach and making cutting-edge science accessible and engaging to the public, as well as building bridges between science and the arts and humanities. In his spare time, Abhi spends most of his time making or spinning electronic music.

James Austin, Jr.

James Austin, Jr. is an accomplished jazz pianist and bandleader who hails from Chicago, IL. He has honed his craft under the tutelage of a number of legendary jazz musicians including extensive study with Barry Harris, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest jazz educators of all time. James’ musical achievements include being honored as a featured performer and semifinalist in the prestigious Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition. In recent years, James has performed alongside an illustrious list of singers and musicians in diverse settings throughout the world. He recently served as pianist and arranger for several star-studded concerts at Carnegie Hall under the baton of esteemed musical director, Ray Chew. James is regularly featured in the New York City area as a pianist and bandleader for various live concerts, theatrical performances, and civic and charitable events. He has curated and led the NJPAC Jazz Jam Session series since its inception. Songs in the Key of Wonder, James’ debut album, showcases his tasteful instrumental arrangements of a selection of classic compositions from the songbook of the great Stevie Wonder.

Thu, Mar 28
7:00 pm

National Jazz Museum in Harlem

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