This blog entry was posted by Nat Hentoff in June 15, 2009. Highlights added::

“A Different Kind of Jazz Outreach Program”

In a recent contribution to this column, Nat Hentoff looked at the use of jazz in therapeutic settings. Members of the jazz community often talk about the need for outreach programs, but here is one kind that is different from the rest, yet no less deserving of emulation. Hentoff continues the story below. T.G.

There are around 5.2 million Alzheimer’s patients in America, and there will be 16 million by mid-century, with a million new cases every year, according to the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association.

I hope doctors and caregivers will follow the example of healing jazz Marlina Teich offers patients in the San Francisco area with her Jazzheimers combo, which I described in my column for last month, “The Healing Touch.”

Marlina is a singer and guitarist who has taught music at San Quentin State Prison and spent a year touring California’s prisons with a female jazz band, performing and jamming with inmates. Obviously, she has no cure for Alzheimer’s, but she and the Jazzheimers have an energizing effect on their convalescent listeners, as her husband, Mark, describes.

“There was a gentleman sitting in front of the PA speaker with his head down, looking completely oblivious to what was going on. He began to slowly and painfully look up and rise from his seat. I thought he might be leaving because the music may have been too loud for him  He slowly shuffled to the middle of the floor and began dancing with a woman who had been dancing along to all the songs. She took his hand and his face broke into a huge smile. They danced the rest of that song.”

Marlina says she hopes to make it easier for audiences to get involved. “I have been calling around to get a wireless microphone they can pass around amongst themselves. Some really like using the one I have, but this will make direct involvement possible like from a particular patient who has some of Frank Sinatra’s phrasing and whose recall of lyrics is quite good.”

“It’s the music they enjoyed when their memories were intact,” says Robert Sarison of the Irene Swindell’s Alzheimer’s Residential Care Center in San Francisco, one of the facilities the Jazzheimers visit, to explain why music therapy is so important for his patients.  “It stimulates brain functioning, allowing pleasant and familiar memories to surface resulting in a state of awareness and pleasure. Also, music is vibrations, and it affects neurobiological pathways. When Marlina brings her band in, I observe more alertness, open eyes, and toes start tapping. Many sing along as well.”

The revival of the life force that Marlina’s Jazzheimers bring to these patients along with my research on the Louis Armstrong Department of Music Therapy at New York’s Beth Israel Hospital has drawn me to a remarkable and continually illuminating book, which lifts my spirits about the widely ranging, penetrating possibilities of music as a regenerating force.  Healing Songs, published by the Duke University Press, is by Ted Gioia,’s founder and chief orchestrator.  One of Ted’s descriptions of how music has helped “unlock the mystery of the body’s rhythm,”  especially reached me as I recently had a cataract operation with this surprise.

Ophthalmologists use ultrasonic waves to break up a cataract and restore eyesight – a technique, it’s worth noting, that was invented by musician-surgeon Charles Kelman, who has performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton. For this columnist, who is illiterate in the sciences, Ted writes so clearly that even I can get inside these inventions.

Becoming increasingly curious to actually hear the music Marlina and the Jazzheimers bring to their patients, I asked for an advance copy of the Marlina Teich Band’s forthcoming CD for Friscansanto Productions, “My Love Waits There,” which will soon be available at Marlina’s website and

I have already played her CD several times. The warmly sensuous flow of music she sends forth with alto and tenor saxophonist Jules Broussard, pianist Art Khu, bassist Eugene Warren, and drummer Russ Gold moves me into a groove I hate to leave when I go back to my day job.

Marlina told me how the Jazzheimers started. “In 1983 I performed at a convalescent hospital that was particularly smelly and run-down. After the show, the patients began following me out the door and down the staircase. This was both scary and exhilarating. I asked the director what the diagnosis was for these people. He said they had Alzheimer’s Disease. When I saw how the music touched them, it touched something in me. I wanted to honor their experience of living long lives. I felt this gave them hope and enjoyment.”

Marlina, in more than one way, your music has also touched me, revivifying, as jazz does, my belief in the power of unfettered humanity.

I can hear Louis Armstrong singing and playing with the Jazzheimers.