All that Jazz: Success of the 2024 New Horizons in Science Dinner

By Sara James on April 25, 2024

music and the brain


A night of jazz and jubilation in Melbourne at the fifth KCNQ2 Cure New Horizons in Science Dinner on April 11th.

Volunteers decked out in New Orleans masks transformed host venue ANZ Bank into a “Big Easy” nightclub and welcomed guests with Mardi Gras beads, signature cocktails, and champagne.

Jamming at the keyboard was the Co-Director of the Boston Children Hospital’s Epilepsy Center, Phillip Pearl, MD. Dr Pearl jetted 10,000 miles just weeks after breaking his foot to perform at the KCNQ2 Cure fundraiser Down Under. Dr. Pearl riffed on Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” served up show tunes and jazz standards from The Great American Songbook, then captivated the crowd with a virtuoso performance entitled “The Neurobiology of Creativity …. at the Keyboard.”

Dr Pearl knows a thing or two about music and the mind. Pearl is William G. Lennox Chair and Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School and on the fabled Berklee College of Music faculty.  Dr Pearl showed MRI scans revealing how music and speech light up different parts of the brain. He noted that children with KCNQ2 and other Developmental Epileptic Encephalopathies (DEEs) often display a clear passion for music.

Pearl explained that improvisation also “makes my brain work differently.” He underscored the lesson by effortlessly weaving a Bach sonata into a jazz tune. Another highlight was Pearl’s impromptu performance of Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight” with Australian Fulbright Scholar and singer Dana Badcock, whom he’d met minutes before. Dr Pearl plucked the chords from his cell phone. Yet Pearl calls the piano his “side hustle.”  The Boston neurologist counts himself a percussionist and explained that his dad performed with jazz legend Dizzy Gillespie.

The New Horizons in Science Dinner shines a spotlight on American and Australian scientific titans. The 2024 dinner also featured Laureate Professor Ingrid Scheffer AO, Pediatric Neurologist and Clinician-Scientist at Austin Health and the University of Melbourne. Professor Scheffer’s trailblazing research paved the way for the discovery of KCNQ2-DEE, and she shared an “optimistic” update about research into potential treatments and therapies.

This year’s New Horizons event included a card draw to randomly select winners of chocolate gold doubloons. The game offered a light-hearted way to explain that this genetic mutation of the potassium channel is also random. Melbourne mom Danuta Gill spoke eloquently about what such a diagnosis means for children and families, including the hundreds of hours of therapy her son Luca required simply to learn to walk.

The New Horizons in Science Dinner aims to serve up science with a dash of fun. The evening ended with guests feasting on Mardi Gras-styled King Cakes specially created by ANZ’s catering team, followed by an auction of handmade masks designed by famed New Orleans creator Mahmoud Dalili. We are thrilled that the 2024 New Horizons in Science Dinner raised $90,000. That money will fund research to find better treatments – and one day a cure – for KCNQ2-DEE.

We gratefully acknowledge all of our sponsors, especially host sponsor ANZ Bank.

Sara James, Vice President KCNQ2 Cure
Andrew Butcher, Partner Bespoke Approach

Sara James

Sara is an Emmy award-winning correspondent who covers Australasia for the US Today Show. Before moving to Australia in 2008, Sara reported for Dateline NBC on the Taliban of Afghanistan, modern slavery in Sudan, the Bosnian War Crimes Tribunal, and 9/11 in her hometown of New York. Sara also served as substitute anchor on the Today Show news desk. An American in Oz is her third book. Sara’s fortnightly featured commentary by the same name debuts on ABC News Breakfast in January. She and her Australian husband Andrew Butcher live in the Macedon Ranges near Melbourne with their two daughters.


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