Meet Zeng, the inspiring doctor building mental health awareness through music

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The advancement of modern medicine has allowed humanity to find cures and treatments for a number of historic ailments. As medical professionals around the world expand their knowledge in the field of science and move towards introducing more progressive medical therapy, one doctor currently working in neurology and psychiatry from New York uses music as a key driving force to better understand the treatment of patients with mental health conditions.

The New York born jazz musician ZENG- who recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, has created quite the stir in the NY Jazz community. Fusing together music from multiple genres, the talented young musician is breaking the boundaries of what traditional jazz music has to offer.

The life and history of ZENG

As a product of the Asian-American community from Rhode Island, ZENG discovered his passion for music after hearing the late jazz pianist Mulgrew Miller on the radio. When his parents introduced him to classical piano, ZENG felt some degree of disconnection and disinterest and eventually ended up retiring from the beautiful instrument. However, his passion for jazz and many other adjacent genres (gospel, neo-soul, R&B, hip-hop, etc.) prompted him to return to the instrument many years later. Influences from far and wide broadened his musical knowledge as he listened to what artists and composers from all around the country were doing at the time.

Since then, ZENG  attended Princeton University where he pursued an undergraduate degree in philosophy. He then obtained a masters in jazz piano performance from the Manhattan School of Music, and recently graduated from UPenn Medical School.

During his time at Princeton University ZENG participated in a collection of academic research projects through well-established academic institutions such as  MIT, Johns Hopkins, University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Mt. Sinai.

Although academia has indubitably played a big role in his life, it’s only recently that his development as a psychiatrist and neurologist at NYU has enabled him to find new treatments for mental health patients through the use of his music.

In 2020, ZENG dropped his debut album, “Loading…” fusing jazz, R&B, neo-soul, and hip-hop. In the hopes of creating new sounds for the New York jazz community, ZENG found inspiration through artists and composers such as Grammy-winning saxophonist Chris Bullock, Grammy winning singer J. Hoard, Grammy winning trumpeter Maurice Brown, and Braxton Cook, all who feature prominently on the album. This path of music and medicine has now brought him to become involved in many non-profit projects.

ZENG’s community involvement

ZENG has created a strong tie between his music and his medical career. Both these industries have given him a platform through which he can become more involved with local community efforts. Through his friends and colleagues at Columbia Medical School, ZENG has collaborated with the Humans In Harmony musical nonprofit organization to assist in community outreach programs. With these outreach projects, ZENG and other artists have gained opportunities to become more connected with disadvantaged and ill members of the local community.

The Humans in Harmony organization pairs local musicians with members of the LGBTQ community, homeless youth, and patients currently struggling with autism/learning disabilities as well as geriatric patients/patients with dementia. The nonprofit organization aims to bring together a sense of belonging for these marginalized communities. In the past ZENG was part of an inaugural musical corps that worked primarily with older patients who had experienced a decline in cognitive abilities.

Through these opportunities ZENG realized that there is more to music than what meets the ear. Music can become a tool to help medical professionals better understand mental health conditions. During his time as a volunteer pianist at the Princeton University Medical Center was when ZENG first discovered the missing link as to how music can help alleviate symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders.

Now ZENG is fully aware of the power music can have on others. More so, it’s a way to connect, establish and build new lasting relationships, helping him cross inner-societal borders and find non-invasive solutions for patients battling with mental health conditions.

ZENG’s road ahead

So far, ZENG has seen prolific success throughout his work as an academic and resident psychiatrist/neurologist as well as jazz musician and music producer. While he may still be new to the NYC jazz scene, the young artist is looking to create sounds and rhythms that can fill the streets of a city longing for change. ZENG, like many artists, is still a work in progress. He’ll continue to use music as a form of expression and derive inspiration from the city that shaped him into the musician he is today.

Story by JP Blignaut

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