The accidental jazz fan

The mental health benefits of music therapy

Shamontiel L. Vaughn
Jan 20 · 5 min read
Photo credit: Shots by Priiincesss

In a list of my favorite five genres, jazz would’ve never been considered before 2010. I became an accidental jazz fan just trying to keep my career intact, and it may have been one of the best decisions I ever made for my mental health.

After I resigned from a newspaper as an entertainment reporter and web editor, I missed interviewing music artists. I didn’t expect to though. As cool as it is to meet and talk to people who you are a fan of, entertainment reporters also have to deal with a few cons — meeting your favorite artists who turn out to be nothing like you expected, haggling for interview times with their publicists, and cringing while asking some of the more awkward and newsworthy questions.

But you can’t beat how much fun it is when the press receives free tickets to music concerts, live musicals and music charity events. And meeting celebs who turn out to be even more amazing people in person is a win-win!

But honestly, I didn’t miss working for that particular newspaper; I just missed the job. And I still wanted to keep my ear to the street of the local music scene. So when I saw an ad for a jazz concert volunteer, my first thought was, “I love the idea of being a concert volunteer … but does it have to be for elevator music?”

Photo credit: Jupiter Images/Picspree

I knew I wanted to find another entertainment writing gig. Filming and editing videos of live performances and interviewing jazz artists sounded like a great way to keep my resume up to par.

Even though I wasn’t getting paid for this volunteer work, I was still gaining marketable skills and getting eyes on my name from people who otherwise wouldn’t know who I was. But it wasn’t until I walked into the first chapel and heard the blast of a saxophone that I realized I was an accidental jazz fan.

Music is therapeutic regardless. According to TIME, studies have shown that music can cheer you up and fend off depression. It improves blood flow in ways similar to statins and lowers stress-related hormones. It can even ease pain.

While I don’t have depression nor was I in any pain, I am someone who spends a lot of time overthinking everything and can get lost in my own thoughts. And listening to these jazz musicians jamming out live onstage cleared my mind in a way different than any other outlet.

When I wasn’t showing people to available seats and checking jazz passes for front-row occupancy, I zoned out to the mesmerizing sounds of violins, guitars, drums, saxophones, and flutes. I heard the sounds of melancholy lyrics, scatting, and soprano and falsetto notes.

And I met a countless amount of fascinating workers from around the world — Peace Corps volunteers, priests who turned their lives around, mothers who needed a “life” outside of home, married couples who needed “date nights,” retirees who missed their jobs and some who didn’t, and plenty of in-betweens.

But what caught my attention the most was the number of people who were younger than I was (in my late 20s) who were musicians and attendees. I’d always considered jazz to be for folks who were my grandfather’s age. Boy, was I wrong.

Thirteen hours of jazz. Thirteen venues. Two-day festival. And I bounced from one jazz band performance to the next to the next — even when I wasn’t on the clock as a volunteer. The next year, I invited my parents out to a few sets and volunteered all over again. Ten years later, I still occasionally volunteer for this same jazz fest. And when I need to clear my mind at home, the first station I go to is commercial-free jazz.

Benefits of music therapy

Photo credit: Jupiter Images/Picspree

Maybe jazz isn’t your first choice, but there’s something special about music in general.

  • Maybe hip-hop is therapeutic for you, giving you an outlet to initiate engaging conversations that build a bridge between people’s lives and topics that are usually too risque to talk about.
  • Maybe rock music helps you let out all the anger built up inside so you can calm yourself down and get back to a happy place.
  • Or maybe the simplicity and soul in country music is your thing. I can’t knock it. I’ve made it pretty clear how much I love anything that mentions dogs and road trips, and there are plenty of those songs on country stations.

Regardless of where your music taste lies, it’s all about how the songs and instrumentals make you feel. This especially comes in handy for caregivers.

Countless studies have been done confirming that music touches parts of the brain that haven’t been affected by Alzheimer’s and other memory-related diseases. Hospital staff members spend less time working on behavioral issues and see a reduction in psychotropic drugs when music gets involved.

Although writing is my first love and dogs are a close second, I can’t deny music’s way of steadying my mood when I’m at my most frustrated and even at my happiest. While our tastes may differ, I do encourage you to give other music genres a chance. You just never know what else you’ll find to add into your mental health Rolodex should you try another station. In the meantime, I’m disappointed when my elevators don’t come with instrumentals.

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Shamontiel L. Vaughn

Written by

15-year vegetarian journalist/editor; part-time dog walker and dog sitter; Toastmasters member and 5x officer; WERQ dance and yoga enthusiast;

Live Your Life On Purpose

Get Purpose. Get Perspective. Get Passion.

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