Mason Gross Jazz alumnus now a scientist studying birdsongs

By Mary Ann Bourbeau
Courtesy of Rutgers Today

Knowing he has a very analytical brain, it made sense that Eathan Janney would aim for a career in science. He enrolled at Lake Forest College, not far from his home in Chicago, with his eye on a career in physics. But Janney always had a strong interest in music. Late at night, he could often be found playing piano in the school’s practice rooms. Barely a semester went by before he decided to pursue a music degree. He transferred to Mason Gross School of the Arts, where he earned a degree in jazz piano performance.

“My goal was to be a professional jazz pianist,” he said.

Life’s plans rarely go according to schedule, as Janney learned. These days, he is still involved in music, but only occasionally as a performer. Janney manages a global piano tuning business while living in Peru. He left for South America in September 2015, just after a six-year stint working on his Ph.D. in biology with an international team of researchers from the City University of New York – where he earned his doctorate – New Jersey Institute of Technology, the Freie Universität Berlin and Macquarie University in Australia.

Janney was the lead author on a paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, examining the song of Australia’s pied butcherbirds, one of the world’s most musical birds, and how much their songs have in common with music created by humans. The paper is unusual because it relies on input not only from musicians but from biologists, neuroscientists and engineers as well.

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Posted December 2016