In Brief

Schizophrenia may be the origin of jazz, according to a theory presented by psychiatrist Sean A. Spence, MD, of the University of Sheffield, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists Annual Meeting in July. Charles "Buddy" Bolden (1877-1931), the man credited with pioneering jazz, had schizophrenia, explains Spence, and due to his condition, he could not properly read music and had impaired motor function. The only way he could play his cornet was by improvising on the ragtime music popular from the 1890s to the 1920s. His lateral thinking influenced many classically trained bands of his time to play more "freewheeling" music with upbeat tempos, beginning the evolution to modern jazz.

Bolden began to show signs of mental illness in 1906, at the height of his popularity, according to jazz writer Fred Ramsey. That same year Bolden attacked his mother in the street and was committed to a mental health institution, where he died in 1931.