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Jazz and the Integral Vision

The Jazz Creativity and Consciousness Initiative (JCCI) has been launched to promote awareness of the intrinsic aesthetic richness and transformational capacities inherent in America’s indigenous musical art form.  This document provides a brief overview of basic principles of the emergent worldview called Integral Theory that jazz embodies and in which JCCI is based.

Integral Theory is an emergent worldview that provides among the most promising blueprints for human development and sustainability of our times.  In the words of philosopher Ken Wilber, largely regarded as the primary contemporary exponent of integral thought, Integral Theory draws from the “wisdom of all the world’s cultures—from the insights of the ancient shamans to cutting-edge developments in cognitive neuroscience” to offer entirely new approaches to the challenges of our times.

Central to the integral framework is that human nature and potential span interior and exterior dimensions and that engagement with diverse processes—which is where jazz excels—is key to inner-outer integration.  Integral theorists commonly analyze this in terms of first-person/subjective, second-person/interactive, and third-person/objective dimensions—which correlate with spirituality, art, and science.  Jazz is unmatched in its synthesis of the three domains.  The rigorous technical and theoretical demands of the idiom comprise a significant scientific/objective component.  The robust creative, cross-cultural synthesis that renders jazz a truly global art form exemplifies the artistic/interactive aspect.  Atop its deeply spiritual roots, moreover, jazz has evolved interior, consciousness-based connections that both unify the above facets and are key to the genre’s broader transformational potential.  Two of these are central to JCCI.

First are the transcendent states of consciousness—also called flow, peak experience, or “the zone”—that jazz artists commonly invoke in their creative excursions and which many individuals cite as among the most inspiring, meaningful, and transformative moments of their lives.  Characterized by a host of personal and transpersonal benefits that include heightened mental clarity, self-awareness, well-being, intuition, communion with surroundings, and mind-body integration, these experiences have inspired a long legacy of jazz innovators to engage with meditation and related practices to more fully integrate this experience in their work and lives. A growing body of scientific research provides objective support for the many benefits associated with these practices, lending further credence to the jazz-inspired, improvisation-meditation template.
That this research reveals not only individual but also societal benefits resulting from these practices points to a second consciousness-based area illuminated by an integral understanding of jazz.  This involves the idea of a collective, field aspect of consciousness to which all living beings are connected that can be enlivened to radiate a harmonizing influence in society.  Just as improvisers commonly report a profound merging of musicians and listeners in peak performances, meditators report a similar phenomenon when practicing in groups, with a small but promising body of findings suggesting that large group meditation practice may result in reduced crime, accident, and illness rates in the surrounding population.  Although application and research of this possibility is in its embryonic stages, it has the potential to be one of the most extraordinary discoveries of our times. 

In catalyzing this kind of far-reaching exploration, the jazz-inspired integral framework expands the lens through which a range of global challenges may be understood and addressed.  Racial tensions and discrimination, ideological conflicts between scientific and spiritual perspectives, clashes between different spiritual/religious denominations, divisive political orientations, international tensions, and even environmental devastation—all of these can all be seen as rooted in weak improvisatory functioning that is confined to exterior, fragmented modes of perception and action.  Educational and societal models centered in the jazz-inspired, creativity-consciousness relationship are capable of uniting the best of conventional approaches with an expanded spectrum of strategies for optimal progress. 

Humanity has reached a crossroads where a new vision of human potential is needed for a sustainable future.  The Jazz Creativity and Consciousness Initiative looks to America’s indigenous musical art form as a catalyst for this vision. 

For further information, contact Ed Sarath.

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