We head to the ivy halls of Brown University in Episode 31of The Limit Does Not Exist to sit down with physics professor and jazz saxophonist Stephon Alexander. Alexander grew up in New York and attended De Witt Clinton high school in the Bronx, which had a nearly 60% dropout rate while he was a student. But a physics teacher, Daniel Kaplan, got to him and inspired both his path in string cosmology and his love of jazz improvisation.
His dual path in music and physics is as natural as breathing to Alexander, and he insists his work at the intersection of those two worlds is what has given him an edge as both an academic and a performer. His most recent book is even titled “The Jazz of Physics: The Secret Link Between Music and the Universe.”
Listen to our conversation with Alexander as we zigzag from string theory and D-branes to Wayne Shorter and the “please disease.”
Alexander was on a tight timeline since he was due on stage with his band just five minutes after our interview was scheduled to end, and we were sad to see him go. But he more than made up for it by sending us an original track to include the episode: “Ornette’s Vortex,” performed by Stephon Alexander and Rioux from their album “Here Comes Now.” Be sure to listen to the end to hear this tune.
A few links we think you should check out
- Follow Alexander on Twitter
- Check out his book “The Jazz of Physics” on Amazon.com
- Visit his website
- Check out his TEDx talk and his appearance on Star Talk
- Read the WIRED article we mentioned on the concert hall designed by algorithms
- And the Scientific American report on the importance of diversity in science
Some quotable moments from the episode:
- “I think playing jazz music knocks me out of that self-censorship. It’s not only jazz. Being a painter does that, being a dancer could do that.”
- “I think the future of science and artistic inspiration and development is going to come from an explicit connection between disparate fields.”
Thanks for listening. If you have questions, feedback, or want to share your fave equation with us, send us a tweet! And find us on Facebook and Instagram, too! (Hint: there may be a fun giveaway on our Instagram this week…)
Love, lead sheets, and space-time continuums, C & C