“The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.” – Roy Ayers

At some point during this pandemic quarantine, my wife, Most Beautiful One (MBO), became tired of listening to Little Walter’s blues songs over and over again, and I threatened to boycott Brandi Carlile’s lyrical gems (whose music I do love). We usually listen to music on our Amazon Echo. This device was actually named Alexa, but whenever our friend Alexa called, our Amazon Alexa started talking, which was really quite annoying. Since we had no friends that we knew of named Echo, we changed the voice response setting to that. Anyway, we decided each of us would take turns picking a musician to listen to every other day. This being my first day, MBO and I danced around the kitchen to two of Herbie Hancock’s amazing compositions, Chameleon and Cantaloupe Island , a great cure for stay-at-home lethargy!

Herbert “Herbie” Jeffrey Hancock (born April 12, 1940) is an American pianist, keyboardist, bandleader, composer, actor and music professor. Herbie began an intense study of classical music, culminating in a performance with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 11. He gained a reputation as a top on-call jazz musician and then played with the Miles Davis Quintet from 1963 to 1968.

In the early 60s, my jazz piano teacher, Val Chalk, probably hoping to motivate me to practice more, would have me to listen to records (the vinyl round things that a needle rests on to make music). Many of these were Blue Note Recordings featuring Herbie, among other jazz greats from that era. Unlike me with my short stubby fingers, Herbie was a piano virtuoso and jazz phrasing genius. A bold innovator, he began to challenge listeners by crossing music genres with technology. It would take a multi-volume encyclopedia to describe all his contributions to the evolution of jazz around the world as well as his efforts to promote peace and inspire young musicians.
Both Hancock (on the right) and renowned saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter have been SGI Nichiren Buddhists like MBO and me for ~50 years. In their book, Reaching Beyond: Improvisations on Jazz, Buddhism, and a Joyful Life ,” coauthored with our mentor, Daisaku Ikeda, they explore the origins, development and international influence of jazz. Reflecting on their lives and careers, Hancock and Shorter share lessons they learned from their musical mentors, including Miles Davis and Art Blakey, and how the Buddhist philosophy they’ve learned from Ikeda over the past five decades deeply resonates with the emancipatory spirit of jazz.

Also having multiple societal roles, I strongly relate to what Hancock has to say about being a musician on his website : “Practicing Buddhism has brought several revelations to me. One that has been extremely important to my own personal development and consequently my musical development – is the realization that I am not a musician. That’s not what I am. It’s what I do. What I am is a human being. Being a human being includes me being a musician. It includes my being a father, a husband, a neighbor, a citizen and an African American. All of these relationships have to do with my existence on the planet.”

Lastly, I’d like to share a brief part of the message written by International Committee of Artists for Peace (ICAP) co-presidents Hancock and Shorter to the next generation of artists:

“…we live in a time of great confusion and pain. As an artist, creator and dreamer of this world, we ask you not to be discouraged by what you see but to use your own lives, and by extension your art, as vehicles for the construction of peace. While it’s true that the issues facing the world are complex, the answer to peace is simple; it begins with you. You don’t have to be living in a third world country or working for an NGO to make a difference. Each of us has a unique mission. We are all pieces in a giant, fluid puzzle, where the smallest of actions by one puzzle piece profoundly affects each of the others. You matter, your actions matter, your art matters.”

I’d encourage you to read their letter in its entirety and share it with the young artists in your life.

Thanks and stay safe out there!

Next week: Lily Tomlin & the Coronavirus

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