The Psychology of Improvisation

Wearing both hats of his dual career as a world-renowned jazz pianist and composer and highly respected practicing psychiatrist and Denny Zeitlin Clinical Professor at the University of California in San Francisco, Denny Zeitlin invites his audience into the psychological terrain where the deepest levels of creativity can be experienced.

Using jazz improvisation as a model, he describes and illustrates at the piano the artist’s challenge: to integrate the more “Western” traditions of aesthetics, technical skill, and intellectual appreciation of the art form with the more “Eastern” ecstatic traditions which focus on merging with the activity and being “ in the moment.”

Dr. Zeitlin draws on decades of personal experience—as a musician and composer; as a collaborator with other musicians; and as a psychiatrist helping people liberate their creative spark. He describes methods of ushering oneself into deeper levels of creativity, and how to understand and deal with psychological “blocks” to that process. Questions from the audience are welcomed.

This lecture-demonstration has been presented in the United States, Canada, and Europe—to musicians, artists, mental health practitioners, students, and lay audiences interested in creativity in their everyday lives.

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Click here to read Denny's summary article in The New York City Jazz Record, November, 2011.

“Denny Zeitlin's ‘Unlocking the Creative Impulse’ was one of the highlights of our year. It combines his potent musical magic with his valuable verbal insights into the world of improvisation. The students were focused from the start and came away with some great new ideas ranging from overcoming creative blocks to better and more intuitive communicating with their fellow musicians during performance. Denny relates wonderfully to students of all levels. He also listens and critiques the students' playing with the same rapt attention to detail he demonstrates in his own trio music. His own substantial and integral contribution to the jazz piano world is indispensable, and he brings the same musical weight to his clinic. I wholeheartedly recommend it to any jazz program.”

—Bevan Manson, Director of University of California Jazz, Berkeley, California

“Your clinic, ‘The Psychology of Improvisation,’ was a tremendous success…your participation was a highlight of this year’s festival.”

—Susan Muscarella & Jeff Brain, Co-Chairs, Pacific Coast Collegiate Jazz Festival

“In my twenty plus years of directing the four year jazz degree program at Sonoma State University, we have presented hundreds of workshops and concerts. Denny Zeitlin’s ‘Unlocking the Creative Impulse’ workshop was certainly one of the very best. Denny’s genius crosses many fields and he definitely inspires students to think about many issues important for the creative musician. These kinds of ideas are rarely explored in most workshops. We have had Denny Zeitlin for this workshop twice and are booking a third this coming school year. He has also played some very memorable concerts at school. I would certainly give this workshop presentation my highest recommendation. It is the kind of experience that can forever change a young musician’s life no matter what his level of musical development. Do not miss a chance to connect with this extremely unique musician and human being.”

—Mel Graves, Professor of Music, Director of Jazz Studies, Sonoma State University, California

“Denny proved to be an absolutely superb, inspiring and thoroughly engaging presenter in our program…Denny remained absolutely clear and focused, even though his presentation, on this day, included responding to questions or ideas throughout the session. Although his presentation is indeed intellectually stimulating and thought-provoking, not once did Denny speak “above our head” as might a presenter with such experience and background…Denny sent our teachers off feeling renewed and reflective.”

—Mitchell Loch, Program Coordinator, San Francisco Unified School District, Center for the Advancement and Renewal of Educators

“It was an incredible evening. Dr. Zeitlin’s talk and piano playing were thrilling, informative, and exciting. Those of us present left feeling highly stimulated intellectually, emotionally, and aesthetically.”

—Steven Walsh, M.D., President, Northern California Psychiatric Society

“Denny Zeitlin’s joint vocations as psychiatrist and as jazz pianist served him well in the lecture/discussion on creativity he gave at Westminster College, in Fulton, Missouri. His ‘two eyes make one in sight,’ as Robert Frost wrote in one of his poems. Speaking mainly with undergraduate English majors, Zeitlin took an interdisciplinary approach in suggesting fascinating parallels between jazz and poetry, using aspects of improvisation to link the meters and rhythms of poetry with jazz. We found him equally at home with students and faculty. In conversation he is as eloquent as he is at the keyboard.”

—Wayne Zade, Professor of English

"I want to thank you on behalf of the University of Redlands Studio Jazz Band for a wonderful presentation and performance.  The lecture on the creative process inspired everyone lucky enough to attend.  Since your visit, I’ve found myself in a number of student-initiated conversations about improvisation and creativity.  At the rehearsal that followed your visit, students had a lot to say about how the positive energy you brought to the rehearsal and performance affected them. The clinic, rehearsal and concert sparked a revelation in many regarding what it takes to achieve excellence as a musician.  I would add, your understanding and sensitivity to where we are at as students of this music was greatly appreciated.  It was a real treat having you on campus!  We are looking forward to the day when we can bring you back to the University of Redlands."

—Dan Murphy, Director, University Jazz Ensembles 

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