Meet Rudy Tanzi, the Brilliant Scientist Who Also Plays Keyboards for Aerosmith
Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry has been described as the "founding father" of the "Rock Stars of Science" program, whose mission includes fundraising and outreach for research into critical causes of disease. Those efforts have made a difference in the lives of countless others, but they've also impacted Perry — partly through his friendship with Dr. Rudy Tanzi, a geneticist and neurology professor he met during the organization's 2009 photo shoot.
"After the shoot, I was talking to Joe, and I said that actually I play," Tanzi told the Boston Globe. "He said we should jam sometime."
As it turned out, Tanzi does more than just "play" — in Perry's words, "He’s easily the best Hammond player I’d ever heard face to face." Their jamming led to Tanzi playing keys for the Joe Perry Project during some high-profile gigs, then contributing organ to "Something" and "Freedom Fighter," songs on Aerosmith's 2012 Music From Another Dimension! LP.
Tanzi recently spoke with CNN about his unusual side gig, saying it's "been such fun" to sit in with one of the world's biggest rock bands during his time away from the lab — where, as the report notes, he's contributed to groundbreaking work that's helped shape our understanding of genetics and our approach to fighting Alzheimer's disease. While scientists are still searching for a cure, Tanzi offers a reminder that we're closer than ever.
"In general, drug discovery usually takes two or three waves to get there," he points out. "The first wave already failed. The second wave largely failed, but there is a bit of hope in there. Generally, though, with this third wave that's coming up in the next few years, I think we've learned from our mistakes and I remain optimistic. The good news is, largely due to genetics, we know what we need to do. And we have the information that says 'Here's how we take the shots on goal.'"
For Perry, who was present at the Aerosmith sessions where Tanzi remembers being told to play like "a drunken church lady," the scientific method isn't as different from making music as some people might think.
"Whether you feel like it or not, or feel inspired or not, you have to get in there and do the work,” he told the Globe. "Sometimes you don’t get anything. The only way you’re going to get it is if you keep trying, and that’s the same pattern that he does with science."
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