The Improvised Life: Exploring Intersections of Mental Health & Creativity through Jazz


This activity is made possible in part by the voters of  Minnesota through a 2018 Arts Tour grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to appropriations from the Minnesota State Legislature’s general and arts and cultural heritage funds.

Project Overview:


Program Description: Sam Miltich and Friends present "The Improvised Life: Exploring Intersections of Mental Health & Creativity through Jazz," a program highlighting cultural contributions of famous artists with mental illness (e.g. Thelonious Monk) and inspiring hope through Sam's own story and original compositions.  In five communities, the tour presents a free daytime program at a community mental health center and a ticketed evening performance at a performing arts center. Sam's dialogue explores intersections of mental health and the creative process and his pursuit of well-being amidst the daily challenges of living with a serious mental illness.  He will describe his definition of recovery and the sense of purpose he cultivates through quality engagement in career and family life. The tour expands exposure to jazz in rural communities and increases awareness of the issues faced by a vulnerable population.   

Artists:  Sam Miltich (guitar), Dave Karr (sax), Chris Bates (bass), Nathan Norman (drums)

Partners & Performance Locations - Summer 2018 - Spring 2019:  (exact dates and details coming soon...)

  • Cook, MN: TBD / Northwoods Friends of the Arts
  • International Falls, MN: Northland Counseling Center / Backus Community Center
  • Bemidji, MN:  Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center / Rail River Folk School
  • Northfield, MN: Rice County Mental Health Collective & Northfield Union of Youth / Hot Spot Music
  • Alexandria, MN & Evansville, MN: Vikingland Community Support Center / Evansville Arts Council

Sponsors needed! ! 

This grant requires a 25% cash match to be obtained through ticket sales, donations, sponsorship or cash contribution from the artist. We are still seeking to close a small gap in funding.  Contact us if you would like to contribute to the program.


Detailed Description:


1) Artist Qualifications

Artist applicant Sam Miltich has selected a group of three other musicians to make up the band for this project: bassist Chris Bates, saxophonist Dave Karr, and drummer Nathan Norman. Together with Sam on guitar they represent some of the most active and high caliber jazz musicians working in the state of Minnesota. These musicians were selected for their commitment to jazz as an art form and the compatibility of their personal artistic sensibilities with the musical style of artists whose compositions will be featured. The qualifications of each artist are summarized further in the attached company profile.

2) Arts Experience

Each community will host two performances through this project. The first will be a daytime performance at a mental health center, which will be free to the consumers, staff, and general public. This program will focus on a message of hope for recovery by highlighting Sam's own experience with schitzophrenia and other accomplished musicians who achieved great personal and professional success while living with mental illness, such as famed jazz pianist Theolonious Monk.

The second performance at a performing arts center in the community will be a more traditional concert program, but the accompanying narrative will highlight the creative and important contributions to society and culture that can be made by individuals with mental illness. This event in particular will aim to combat the stigma surrounding mental illness by reaching a broad cross-section of the community.

3) Connection to Mission

This project is closely related to Sam Miltich’s personal artistic mission. Sam experienced his first major psychotic break at age 22 and was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Already a working jazz musician at the time of his diagnosis, he connected particularly with the music of jazz composer and pianist Thelonious Monk and has continued to use Monk’s music as part of his recovery. After reading a biography of Monk that went into great detail about the artist’s own struggles with mental illness concurrent with his deep dedication to his art and family, Sam was inspired to share that story with a wider audience. The project connects to partner missions through the presentation of high quality arts experiences (PACs) and activities that contribute to the enrichment and education of the community on the subject of mental health (mental health centers). 

4) Outcomes

As noted above, the project aims to increase recognition in the general public of the social and cultural contributions of people with mental illness (achieved through performing arts center concerts) and inspire hope for recovery while expanding exposure to and knowledge of jazz music for people living with mental illness (achieved through mental health center concerts).

5) Supplemental Activities

This project does not include activities outside the two scheduled performances in each community, but the performances themselves include an educational component through the narrative delivered by Sam Miltich and woven throughout the concert. The aim of this narrative portion is to provide context to the music being heard and highlight the intersections of creativity, mental illness, improvisation, and cultural contributions in both Sam's and Monk’s life and music.

6) Unique Opportunity

The community mental health center performances are a unique component of this project, as most of these organizations rarely, if ever, have the opportunity to present a live music – particularly performances featuring musicians of this caliber. While jazz concerts are not unique to performing arts centers, this program will present an added focus on mental health awareness and education.