Dr. Judith Schlesinger

Author of "The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the myth of the mad genius," Dr. J combines her love of jazz and her fascination with psychology, focusing on where they overlap: in celebrating the individual spirit.

About Me

Starting with the latest and working backward: in the fall of 2017, I began hosting a jazz and interview show on our local radio station, pawlingpublicradio.org. Broadcast live on Wednesdays at 7-8 p.m. EST, “Dr. J's Jazz Emporium” is one hour, live, focusing on one guest at a time: we play his/her music and talk about it. It's relaxed, fun and informative, and repeats four times after its live recording: the next two Thursdays at 11 a.m., and the next two Sundays at 9:30 a.m. It's also archived on Mixcloud, and guests receive downloadable MP3s for their Web sites.

Guests so far have included: Gene Bertoncini, Chris Brubeck, David Finck, Bill Mays, Sean Smith, Paulinho Garcia, Kim Nazarian, John Clayton, Peter Eldridge, Taylor Eigsti, Jay Leonhart, Lorraine Feather, Lynn Seaton, Marlena Shaw, uber-publicist Ann Braithwaite, Jacky Ryan; Heleen van den Hombergh, calling in from Amsterdam to premiere a new CD; Paul Meyers; Neil Tesser, uber-critic and author of “The Playboy Guide to Jazz”; David Budway and Ken Needleman (who run Maureen's Jazz Cellar and the Jazzmasters series at Sarah's Wine Bar, respectively); Sean Smith representing The Humanity Quartet (composed of Smith, Joel Frahm, Peter Bernstein and Leon Parker); Ted Rosenthal, and Eliane Elias.

“Dr J's Jazz Emporium” is booked into the fall of 2019. Already scheduled: Wycliffe Gordon, Lukas Rande (from Copenhagen), Martin Wind, Darmon Meader, Maucha Adnet, Leslie Pintchik, Terell Stafford, Susan Pereira, Todd Strait, Mike Metheny, Don Braden and Paquito d'Rivera.

I'm in the midst of updating my 2012 book, “The Insanity Hoax: Exposing the Myth of the Mad Genius.” A rare breed of serious scholarship and humor, “Hoax” examines the toxic notion that great creativity must be linked to some kind of mental disorder. The myth began with a misunderstanding of Plato and traveled through the centuries to today, where there's a vague public notion that it's been ”scientifically” proved. Hogwash!

Despite being self-published, with no academic affiliation, agent, mainstream PR machine, or any social media whatsoever, news about The Insanity Hoax somehow reached the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. In 2016 they invited me to join a group of 30 experts who were to determine whether Vincent was “crazy”—and if so, what kind. So they flew me over there for the meeting, which was fascinating (the final consensus: no, he wasn't). My brief, invited speech to the public is even on YouTube (search Schlesinger and Amsterdam). “Hoax” has also been a textbook at both Temple University and the Royal College of Music, in London.

I was also invited to contribute a chapter to a psych textbook on “Creativity and Mental Illness” (Cambridge U Press, 2014). Out of 17 international experts, I seem to be the only one who doesn't believe that people need to be crazy to be creative. As the book's summary states, “we have to agreed with Schlesinger that the myth has been seriously oversold.” And now the editor tells me that the field of psychology is finally turning away from the myth. HUZZAH!

For more, including a free pdf download of my much-quoted 2009 journal article on the subject, please visit theinsanityhoax.com.

Another central passion is helping musicians (why else write for AAJ for free?). In 2011, I co-executive-produced the CD “Trust” for the Sean Smith Quartet [superb bassist/composer Sean, with John Hart (guitar), John Ellis (sax), and Russ Meissner (drums).] In 2014, I helped the fine Brazilian guitarist/vocalist Paulinho Garcia produce “Beautiful Love,” which turned out to be his best-selling album.

And now (if you're still reading!), the backstory—i.e., some things I've done and been: earned a PhD in psychology from NYU, toiled as therapist, school shrink, crisis counselor, university professor, and college administrator. Authored a biography of Humphrey Bogart (Metro Books) and the psychology chapter for Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook (Garland Press) called “Psychology, Evil, and Sweeney Todd, or Don't I Know You, Mister?”

Back when it had a real opinion and book page, The Baltimore Sun paid me for many book reviews and invited ramblings about psychology, education, and general cultural idiocy. I am/have been a writer, consultant, and/or editorial board member for a number of psychology journals, including the Journal of Creative Behavior. I was also the humor columnist for “Topia,” a glossy national magazine about artists that lasted three whole years before going belly-up.

Other work has appeared in The American Psychologist, The National Psychologist, The Counseling Psychologist, The British Journal of Psychiatry, the Journal of Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, The Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, The Skeptical Inquirer, and the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity (no kidding - my article called “Free the DSM IV” was even re-published in “More Oral Sadism and the Vegetarian Personality” (Brunner/Mazel).

My music writing has been in the All Music Guide, The Jazz Institute of Chicago, The Sondheim Review, The Jazzletter, jazz.com, the Encyclopedia of American Studies, and of course the best of all: Allaboutjazz.com, where since 2002 I've been reviewing music and creating two columns: Shrinktunes and Nite & Disk. I have another column on CreativityPost.com called “The mad genius and other follies.”

I do liner notes as well, but selectively, in line with my policy of never doing bad or even blah reviews; if I don't genuinely love a CD, I just won't cover it. Let someone else pour negative ink on somebody's dream. Artists whose CDs I've ”linered” include Don Friedman, Shelly Berg, and Frank Vignola.

Finally, I'm also a musician. Trained as a classical pianist, not a bad folk guitarist in my hippie days, I spent many years doing avocational jazz singing and drumming — even got paid for singing and playing djembe at a wedding. For three years, I was the “chick singer” in the JS Fourtet, until I disbanded it.

I also love traveling, gardening, long walks on winter beaches — oops, wrong site!

My Jazz Story

Published on: 2018-02-06

I love jazz because when it's done right, there is no music more personal, joyful and engaging. I was first exposed to jazz by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto in 1963-4.

My House Concert Story

Hosted two house concerts with Gene Bertoncini playing solo. My house is small, and far from so-called "civilization," so the guest lists only had about 14 people each. But they were chosen well: they were mesmerized by his playing, and enjoyed his jokes (!) and warm, relaxed personality. It was catered by the local Italian deli. Not a pretentious afternoon; very family-like.

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