It gives new meaning to the idea of music as a universal language.
The finding, published Wednesday in the journal PLoS One, is the latest in the growing field of musical neuroscience: Researchers are using how we play and hear music to illuminate different ways that the brain works.
And to Dr. Charles Limb, a saxophonist-turned-hearing specialist at Johns Hopkins University, the spontaneity that is a hallmark of jazz offered a rare chance to compare music and language.
They appear to be talking to one another through their instruments," Limb explained. What happens when you have a musical conversation?"
Watching brains on jazz requires getting musicians to lie flat inside a cramped MRI scanner that measures changes in oxygen use by different parts of the brain as they play.
An MRI machine contains a giant magnet - meaning no trumpet or sax. So Limb had a special metal-free keyboard manufactured, and then recruited 11 experienced jazz pianists to play it inside the scanner. They watched their fingers through strategically placed mirrors during 10-minute music stretches.