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Jazz Cosmos: Music and Modern Physics

By Published: November 19, 2013
The capstone on this cross-comparison of jazz and modern physics is a relatively recent point of view that seeks to integrate various findings and explanations from relativity theory and quantum physics into a unified "theory of everything," including the smallest and largest aspects of matter and energy, the origin of the universe, the "whole deal." Guitar and bass players will revel in the fact that this new theory is called "string theory!" This theory completely rejects Newton's idea of the universe as particles in collision. Instead of thinking of the smallest most fundamental units as particles, it says that the smallest units of the world are vibrating strings! These "strings" (of course, here we are talking about very complicated mathematical equations that are not quite like guitar strings) resonate in many more dimensions than the 3D world we live in, and some physicists even think the "strings" generate multiple universes each time they vibrate. In string theory, the entire cosmos could be compared to an infinite number of jazz ensembles making a kind of cosmic noise and music, as if the cosmos tuned into many radio stations at the same time. Ornette Coleman's free jazz "harmolodics" and John Coltrane's seemingly chaotic Meditations (Impulse! 1966) have striking parallels to contemporary string theory in physics, a theory which is still unproven but shaking up the world of the physics quite a bit by its intriguing possibilities.

The point of this discussion of the relationship between jazz and modern physics is that music reflects the underlying structure of the universe we live in, as we understand it during a particular time in our history. Modern physics shows how awesome, complex, and surprising the world can be, and jazz musically portrays the firmament in ways that we can grasp not only with our minds, but with our bodies and our emotions—our hearts. The best jazz musicians are always reaching for this level of expression. When we listen to them play, we should give them the respect such a striving deserves. If the Grammy Awards for jazz had the same criteria as the Nobel Prize in physics, the choices might be very different.

Notes: Thanks to Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller
, drummer and CEO of Dreambox Media, for his helpful ideas and comments.

The author would like to know if readers would like to see other articles relating jazz to ideas from science, psychology, philosophy, and similar subjects. Please give your feedback in the "Comments" section below. Thank you.

Photo Credit
John Kelman

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