Labnotes: Experiments in Chemistry and Jazz

Jazz pianist Don Asher earned a baccalaureate degree in chemistry from Cornell University before finding a career in jazz and writing. In this memoir, he describes episodes from his years at Cornell and two of the most unpleasant jobs in chemistry that one could could imagine: synthesizing aryl sulfonates from benzyl mercaptan and monitoring the contents of vats of seaweed in a processing plant. The pressures of these unappetizing positions while avoiding service in the Korean War eventually led to a nervous breakdown. I wouldn't use this piece as a recruiting brochure for chemistry, but his descriptions of chemical reactions definitely ring true, and his affection for the science is obvious. Happily for us all, Mr. Asher surrendered to the jazz siren that had been tugging at his sleeve through these years, and Cornell obviously taught him something about writing as well as chemistry. This whole essay is online at the Harper's archive.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Don Asher

Publication Date: 
Saturday, May 1, 1999