Jazz Prayers


Explore the connections between jazz and psychiatry.




As I was about to write my column today on a winery and mental health (and will come back to that unusual connection), I was redirected by another daily column source.

Yesterday, my own column was on compassion and jazz, at least as it is expressed by the pianist Vijay Iyers. Once again in my writing, this morning serendipitous inspiration came into play.

For years, upon awakening, I have been reading “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditations.” They are Christian-oriented, and I am a Jewish psychiatrist, but when they are general enough, they touch my heart. Today was a case in point.

Their column this morning is titled “The Jazz Gospel.” Here are some quotes of their points that seem to have positive psychiatry implications, along with some brief comments of mine.

“Jazz helps us be sensitive to the whole range of existence.” - Alvin L. Kenshaw

Amen. Does not being a psychiatrist do the same thing if we are open to it?

“When Miles Davis blows the cacophony that can barely be contained by the word song, we come closest to the unimaginable, the potential of the future, and the source of our being.” - Barbara A. Holmes

Amen. For confirmation, take a listen to Miles Davis’ most famous song, “Kind of Blue.”

“They will also tell you, as (John) Coltrane did, that sometimes they receive their inspiration from divine sources.” - Barbara A. Holmes

Amen. Take a listen to his album perennial bestselling album, “A Love Supreme.”

“Joy infused with the riffs of awe tends to be unspeakable . . .” - Martin E. Marty

Amen. When we watched the total solar eclipse last week, there was a jazz guitarist who played to usher it in.

“A saxophone can lament on behalf of those who feel helpless.” - William Carter

Amen. Jazz plays for social justice. Just listen to about anything by Archie Shepp, such as “Attica Blues,” which is about oppressive conditions in prison where young Black men are overrepresented.

“Now that’s praying. That’s some kind of prayer! The new liturgy.” -Thomas Merton

Amen. I am going to have oral surgery shortly and you can bet that my prayer for its success will be accompanied by some jazz in the background, like Albert Ayler’s song, “Music is the Healing Force of the Universe.”

Jazz successfully crosses and infuses all religions and cultures around the world, though communist countries tend to try to suppress it. It is not always easy to listen to, but worth the perseverance to get used to its nature. Some churches have their Sunday liturgy be accompanied by jazz. In this time of increasing divisiveness, give it a listen if you have not already. If you are coming to New York for the annual American Psychiatric Association meeting, it is a world center for jazz. Try the club Birdland (which also has good food) not too far from the convention center, named after the innovative bebop saxophonist, Charlie Parker. For my birthday, my family is going to hear a big band with a Korean twist. This music can be therapeutic and bring us all closer together.

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry and is now in retirement and retirement as a private pro bono community psychiatrist. A prolific writer and speaker, he has done a weekday column titled “Psychiatric Views on the Daily News” and a weekly video, “Psychiatry & Society,” since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged. He was chosen to receive the 2024 Abraham Halpern Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Social Psychiatry. Previously, he received the Administrative Award in 2016 from the American Psychiatric Association, the one-time designation of being a Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Speaker of the Assembly of the APA in 2002, and the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in 1991. He is an advocate and activist for mental health issues related to climate instability, physician burnout, and xenophobia. He is now editing the final book in a 4-volume series on religions and psychiatry for Springer: Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, Christianity, and now The Eastern Religions, and Spirituality. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric Times.

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