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A Musician is a Musician

Apr 12, 2014

As a scientist, you get to know a lot of scientists. I see them at work, at science meetings, at research talks. It's true of most professions. Lawyers know a lot of lawyers, and musicians end up knowing a lot of musicians.

I came to know a lot of musicians during the years when I played in a rock band and in some jazz groups in Philadelphia. I want to tell you something that surprised me about rock musicians, jazz musicians, and rap and hip hop artists.

In terms of personality, they're all very similar. I know fewer classical musicians, but I suspect they're pretty much the same as the others.

Their audiences aren't very similar. Different kinds of people go to hear rock, jazz, and rap. But the ones on stage usually have this musician-type personality, a kind of sensitivity that transcends the musical form. Of course, like any group of people, some are a pain in the ass. But they're the minority.

It doesn't surprise anyone that neuroscientists and anatomists and evolutionary biologists have personality traits in common. It's somehow more surprising to find that this is true for jazz and rock and rap musicians. I think it's because of the very different images that they project on stage. My experience has been that the image is almost always a fa├žade, an act, completely unrepresentative of the person.