Brandon Royal’s photo of Herbie Hancock, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Wayne Shorter.
Brandon Royal’s photo of Herbie Hancock, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Wayne Shorter.

Cosmic Jazz, with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock, Neil deGrasse Tyson and Wayne Shorter. Credit: Brandon Royal.

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About This Episode

Sit back, relax, and let the sounds of sharp notes and smooth vibes take over as Neil deGrasse Tyson chats with jazz legends Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock about the art and science of jazz music. Along with comic co-host Chuck Nice, musician and “bad-ass science groupie” Sean Ono Lennon, and artist and jazz enthusiast Stephen Tyson (Neil’s brother), Neil dives into the creative process behind those symphonic melodies. You’ll hear about Wayne and Herbie’s first steps on their path in music, the importance of having great mentors, and why jazz may not be as popular as it once was. You’ll learn about the art of tinkering: why Herbie used to take apart watches and clocks, how Sean self-taught himself piano and guitar, and how you can “intellectually tinker” in science and music. You’ll also hear about Wayne’s cosmic inspirations, including a space adventure comic book he drew in 1949, and some of Sean’s lyrics that have been shaped by the language of the cosmos. You’ll also learn about how Wayne and Herbie would describe jazz music to an alien visiting from Mars, the improvisational nature of jazz, and why Stephen thinks jazz is an expression of the human spirit. Charles Limb, neuroscientist, surgeon, and musician, stops by to talk about what playing jazz looks like in the brain. Our panel also discusses the relationship between rules and creativity, and Mona Chalabi delivers some data about music, math, spatial reasoning, and Mozart.  All that, plus, Chuck visits the Columbia University Jazz House, we answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries about the physics of jazz, and Neil asks Wayne to play astrophysical sounds from the universe on his legendary saxophone.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Cosmic Jazz, with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock as well as Neil’s extended interview with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter right here.

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  • John Sandlin

    Herbie Hancock and Neil talked about Tinkering and the lack of it today. I’d like to point out the HackaDay (hackaday.com) folks. They are encouraging exactly that kind of tinkering among young people. It is still alive.

  • Sharp notes and good vibes indeed. A beautiful tour de force around all things jazz.

  • ¡Thank all you! ¡Nice talk!

  • Patricia Mercer

    I would have to respectfully disagree that tinkering is going the way of the dodo-bird. My brother who just graduated with his law degree (nothing to do with IT) grew up tinkering with electronics such as computers and game consoles. He would, at the age of 10, pull apart game consuls to upgrade, learn about and even fix these things, just for fun. It was amazing! In another instance, my husband went into medical IT technology because of his fascination with the same thing, tinkering with computers in his room growing up. I would say that “Tinkering” is just evolving into a different animal.

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