A Band of Scientists

Nov 13, 2018
By Stephen Benzkofer

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The doctor is at work. He is relaxed yet focused as the team around him comes together like a well-oiled machine.

Thomas Gajewski begins confidently, his hands measured and his fingers sure. In short order, three others step up, including colleague Jason Luke, none of them missing a beat.

Before too long, the whole team is engaged, by turns coming to the fore or falling back, waiting for cues to play their part or handing off to others as needed.

They operate as one, this large ensemble of physicians and researchers, as they offer up to an appreciative crowd “Angel of Harlem,” U2’s ode to Billie Holiday and New York City.

Gajewski lays down the song’s telltale opening guitar chords before the horns — led by Luke on trumpet — take over, stepping lightly and then letting loose with that clear C that crescendos and soars across the bar and beckons the few audience members still holding back to the dance floor.

These are The CheckPoints, and the theater they operate in this night is none other than Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago’s South Loop.

In their field of cancer immunotherapy, they are rock stars.

The University of Chicago Medicine is renowned for the health care it delivers and for the groundbreaking research conducted on its campus. Less well-known is that some of these leading scientists are also rock and jazz musicians who play at area venues to appreciative fans. For these researchers, hanging out in a green room is as familiar as working in the laboratory or surgical suite. You can find their work in the most prestigious scientific and medical journals — and also downloadable on iTunes.

For a group of people uniformly excelling at the highest levels at one of the premier research universities and academic medical centers in the world, their backstories share an odd commonality: several acknowledge being lackluster, uninspired or even poor students through high school and even into college.

At the same time, music thrilled them. In some ways, the music sustained and fed their creativity until they found their true calling as scientists.

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