A headshot of PhD in Creativity candidate James Brandon Lewis.

PhD in Creativity

PhD candidate James Brandon Lewis is a jazz saxophonist and composer. He is the recipient of the inaugural Balvenie Fellowship, selected by the Oscar- and Grammy-Award-winning artist Questlove.


Lewis's dissertation operates at the intersection of music and molecular biology and offers a new orthography – Molecular Systematic Music. Via this dissertation, Lewis explores whether human auditory perceptions are influenced and shaped by individual cultural identity, and the influences that they have absorbed over the course of a musical and artistic education. Molecular Systematic Music weaves together structures of metaphor, intuition, semiology, and molecular biology to describe the dynamic relations among the elements of improvisational music. This orthography of elemental notational units is built into a system of applied metaphors that can convey the relations of time and space in jazz. Finally, Molecular Systematic Music provides a model that reveals the particularity of specific musical styles and provides protocols for employing this system in performance and composition.


Henry Threadgill, Pulitzer Prize-winning Jazz Composer

Sarah Fineberg, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine

Audrey Ellis, Instructor of Philosophy, New York University

James Lewis