Creativity     Spirituality     Diversity     Sustainability    Peace  

A Project of the International Society for Improvised Music
Ed Sarath, Project Director

Mission Statement

The Jazz, Creativity, and Consciousness Initiative promotes understanding and practical application of the creative, transformational, and unifying aspects of jazz in education and society.


Long acknowledged for its richly creative musical horizons, jazz in recent years has been increasingly acknowledged as a model for creativity across fields.  Inspired by the idiom’s improvisatory core, practitioners in areas as diverse as business, communications, education, ecology, law, medicine and sports have begun to recognize that the capacities to spontaneously invent, interact, and synthesize influences from diverse sources are as essential to optimal performance and progress in their disciplines as they are in music.   
The Jazz, Creativity, and Consciousness Initiative takes this thinking a step farther—into the interior dimensions of consciousness that underlie creativity, and which when enlivened, provide a foundation for wide-ranging transformation and growth. Described by psychologists as “peak experience” and “flow,” by athletes as “the zone,” and by mystics through the ages by the many names for transcendence, episodes of heightened consciousness are characterized by enhanced mental clarity, well-being, mind-body integration, ease of performance, noetic experience, and dissolution of boundaries between self and surroundings.  Jazz musicians report some of the most vivid instances of these peak episodes and the jazz tradition boasts a long legacy of artists, including John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Herbie Hancock, Paul Horn, Charles Lloyd, and John McLaughlin, who have fathomed this level of the creativity-consciousness relationship, often by complementing their artistic activity with engagement in meditation and other contemplative disciplines, to generate work and thought that transcends stylistic, ethnic, cultural, disciplinary, and spiritual boundaries.        
The interplay of improvisation and meditative practice exemplifies central precepts of an emergent worldview called “Integral Theory,” among the most promising blueprints for individual and collective transformation and growth in our times.  Central to the integral vision are that the human being spans interior and exterior dimensions and that human development involves the synthesis of these realms through diverse forms of engagement.   The empirical and analytical methodologies of science, the creative and aesthetic richness of the arts, the trans-disciplinary and trans-cultural perspectives of sociology, anthropology, and cultural studies, and the interior penetration fostered by spiritual practice are among the varied perspectives that the integral framework unites within a dynamic, synergistic system.   New perspectives are unearthed into the most pressing challenges of today’s world, revealing that their solutions—e.g. growth from egocentric and ethnocentric tendencies toward a world-centric awareness, from ecologically destructive to sustainable behaviors, from outmoded efforts toward peace that often exacerbate patterns of violence and war to new approaches that are predicated on global rather than strictly local interests—will require both interior and exterior approaches.  Cutting-edge research in consciousness studies, including empirical support for a field aspect of consciousness that interconnects all of humanity—comparable to the interconnectedness experienced by improvising musicians and their audiences—is among the most compelling examples.   
At the present juncture in history, when the need has never been greater for a new vision of human nature and evolutionary potential to guide education and society, the arts have the capacity to assume an unprecedented role as transformational catalyst.  The Jazz, Creativity, and Consciousness Initiative illuminates the rich integral principles inherent in the improvised musical art form of jazz—America’s primary contribution to world culture—as uniquely equipped for this role

What JCCI will do

JCCI activities will span four core areas: education, performance, research, and consortia building for paradigmatic change.   

Education: Music and Beyond

JCCI’s educational initiatives will span a wide range that begins with jazz studies, expands to overall musical studies, and extends to education at large.   

Jazz Studies reform 
Musical styles from an integral vantage point are not self-confining destinations but self-transcending tributaries that flow into the broader musical ocean.  The central pulse of the musical world resides not in the separate categories  that prevail in academic and commercial circles, but in their melding.   While this self-transcending capacity has been exemplified in the jazz tradition, it has not been prominent in conventional jazz studies, where replication of past practices has prevailed at the expense of creative exploration.  An integral unites both, celebrating the treasures of the past along with the exploratory thrust of the present that has driven the evolution of the idiom since its inception.  It is this synthesis that is key to jazz’s global infusion as well as access to its transcendent dimensions, as exemplified in the work of John Coltrane, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, the Creative Music Studios, and many other artists and movements within this tradition.  

Musical Studies reform

Conventional musical studies, long focused on interpretive performance and analysis of European classical music, has suffered from even more compromised self-transcending capacities as found in conventional jazz studies.  Whereas it is well known that the European masters were improvisers, composers, and performers, conventional practice has succumbed to a division of labor in which the improvisatory core has become virtually extinct, composition relegated to a distinct minority, and interpretive performance deemed the task of the majority.  In no way is this to denigrate interpretive performance or question the greatness of much of the repertoire, but simply to note the limited creative horizons that have overtaken this musical lineage.  Not only does the approach confine the artistic opportunities for many practitioners, but it also perpetuates notably ethnocentric tendencies at a time when the need for cultivation of diversity awareness in all sectors of life—a contribution that the arts, and particularly music, are uniquely positioned to make—has never been greater.

An integral approach to musical study situates jazz in a prominent, though not exclusive role, due to its creative and self-transcending breadth, allowing the idiom to restore comprehensive musicianship, particularly the improvisatory foundations of musical creativity, to the center of musical practice and thus enable musicians to navigate their ways through the infinite diversity of the 21st century musical landscape.   The need for this is particularly urgent in the case of aspiring K-12 music teachers, for the vast majority of whom hands-on engagement with jazz or other music outside of the European tradition is minimal if not altogether absent in their training—a deficiency that is particularly conspicuous for American music teachers.   

JCCI will promote the much needed overhaul of music curricula from the core level on up to harness the creative and inclusive aspects of an integral approach that is inherent in the jazz idiom, particularly when viewed from a self-transcending perspective. 

Educational reform

Knowledge of jazz is not only important for aspiring musicians and music teachers, it is also important to all individuals in society at large given the cultural, cross-cultural, creative, and spiritual richness inherent in this art form.  Describing the rationale for jazz as a central topic in Columbia University’s liberal arts core curriculum, part of what is sometimes called the “New Jazz Studies”, Robert O’Meally writes:  “What is new here is the conviction that jazz is not just for players and aficionados who can count the horns and the boxes of the music ‘from Bunk to Monk,’… but that knowing about jazz and its cultural settings is part of what it means to be an educated man or woman in our time—this regardless of a student’s own specific major or field.”

Jazz also, as noted above, embodies the interior-exterior synthesis characteristic of integral education.  Whereas increased emphasis in recent years on standardized testing has marginalized the arts and creativity, the challenges of times call for a much-expanded approach that is more than simply juxtaposing science, art, and spirituality, but in fact integrates them in all facets of study.  Here the ground-breaking BFA in Jazz and Contemplative Studies curriculum at the University of Michigan may be seen as an important precedent and embodiment of the jazz-inspired integral vision.  While the curriculum is open to practicing jazz students, many of its courses are open to students from all majors.  The BFAJCS template may inspire similar bridging of exterior and interior domains in other educational disciplines.     

JCCI will advocate these and other kinds o fjazz-inspired educational innovations at all levels of education, with a particular emphasis on projects that impact today’s youth.     


An important aspect of addressing the cultural crisis that afflicts much of the world is exposing large segments of society, and particularly the younger generations, to live performance of music of their own cultures.  JCCI will promote performances of jazz that are interactive and illustrate not only the depth of jazz’s traditional roots but also its capacity of jazz to transcend its horizons and serve as a global gateway.  JCCI will also promote initiatives that engage listeners as music-makers rather than confine them to passive roles.  

Within the JCCI vision are plans for a large improvisers orchestra that consists of musicians from around the world and which harnesses the inherently self-transcending and trans-cultural capacities of jazz to create expressions that draw from highly diverse sources, thus embodying the capacity of the arts to inspire and inform a sense of global unity.


JCCI will promote research into the creativity-consciousness relationship that is exemplified in jazz and the many related areas.  Improvisation remains a marginalized and under-represented research topic in conventional musicological circles, particularly when it comes to investigation of the inner workings of the improvisation process.  A rich slate of research possibilities further unfolds, moreover, when consciousness comes into play, a particularly promising example of which involves the idea of a field aspect of consciousness that is enlivened in collective improvisation.  Improvisers, in other words, commonly describe an intimate merging of players and listeners into a unified wholeness.  As trombonist Melba Liston describes it, “you breathe together, you swell together, you know what each other is thinking.”  New research into consciousness suggests that there may be empirical support for this phenomenon, including studies that show large groups of meditators generating harmonizing effects on the environment that result in decreased violence and accidents.

Paradigmatic Change  

While there is no dearth of talk about the need for need for unprecedented kinds of transformation in a wide-ranging areas of life—including economic, environmental, educational, and foreign policies—the inertia of conventional approaches is often overwhelming.  Jazz has important insights to offer in this regard.  First involves distinctions between horizontal change—which is confined to an embellishment of the reigning approach— and vertical, paradigmatic change, and the need for the latter to be grounded in the interplay between tradition and innovation.   The idea of enlivening collective consciousness noted above represents a paradigmatic departure from conventional solutions.  JCCI will make available a framework for individual and collective dialogue and growth called Deep Inquiry, which aids in the identification of unexamined assumptions and patterns and the receptivity to entirely new ways of thinking about particular issues.  The establishment of a Deep Inquiry Group (DIG) within corporate or educational environments, for example, can vitalize the culture of a given community or institution while rendering it more fertile to innovation. 

A second jazz-inspired contribution to understanding and approaches to change involves the galvanizing of the many voices that recognize the need for paradigmatic change into a unified voice, a coherent ensemble.  This will be done through the JCCI Paradigmatic Change Consortium.  As long as these voices remain separate, their power will remain limited; when unified, this power is magnified exponentially. 

Following is a preliminary list of organizations, dialogues with some of which have already begun toward these ends, that are possible members of the JCCI/PCC:

Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians
Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education
Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Business as Agent for World Benefit
Center for Contemplative Mind in Society
Consortium for Consciousness Studies in Higher Education
David Lynch Foundation
Institute of the Noetic Sciences
International Association of Schools of Jazz
International Center for Research in Consciousness
International Society for Improvised Music
International Society for Music Education
Integral Institute
Jazz and Mindfulness Project
Mind and Life Institute
National Center for Institutional Diversity
Positive Organizational Scholarship
Spiritual in Education Network
Society for the Investigation of Human Ideas on Ultimate Reality and Meaning
Society for Scientific Exploration
Scientific and Medical Network