Back to listJan 30, 2011

Celebrating "The Transformative Power of Jazz" in Boston

110130x_wt_usa_jazz.jpgProfessor Garrison Fewell (left) and Professor Eric Hofbauer (right)

On January 30, SGI-USA members in Boston, Massachusetts, held an event titled "The Transformative Power of Jazz," at the SGI-USA Culture Center in Boston. Jazz history Professor Eric Hofbauer, from Emerson College, Boston, and the University of Rhode Island, and music and composition expert Professor Garrison Fewell of Boston's Berklee College of Music were featured speakers.

The event was inspired by the current "trialogue" between SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and noted jazz musicians Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. The compiled dialogues, titled, Soul Freedom: Jazz, Life and Buddhism, are being serialized in the Soka Gakkai's Seikyo Shimbun newspaper and SGI-USA's World Tribune.

Addressing some 160 participants, Professor Hofbauer gave an encapsulated history of jazz, describing how the art form originated in African American communities in the southern United States during the early 20th century. He also shared his view that jazz emerges from the struggles people face in the world, especially with respect to class, race and gender, and described how individuals maintain their voice and identity in the process.

Professors Hofbauer and Fewell each performed several of their original jazz pieces. Two SGI-USA Boston youth followed with a brief presentation on the SGI, underscoring the core concept of human revolution, or inner-directed change, and highlighted points from the Soul Freedom dialogue series.

The event also included a panel discussion featuring Professors Hofbauer and Fewell, together with Syl DuBenion, an alto saxophonist and student at the Berklee College of Music, and Emi Inaba, a recent Berklee graduate, pianist and composer.

A Harvard Divinity School student asked how spiritual practice can inform a musician's performance. Professor Fewell said that the improvisational nature of jazz is comparable to genuine conversation in which people deeply listen to one another's views and feelings. "Mistakes are opportunities to play something new," he said. "Music is about seeing things from another point of view."  

Mr. DuBenion said that he uses his spiritual practice to improve himself, enabling him to genuinely share his music with others. He said "You have to believe nothing is impossible . . . that there's always something else you can achieve."

Ms. Inaba added that her practice of Nichiren Buddhism has propelled her to follow her dreams, no matter how seemingly impossible. She chose to pursue music, which she described as "about the human spirit." "We can all connect and communicate," Ms. Inaba said, "when we base ourselves on our shared humanity."

[Adapted from an article in the February 25, 2011, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Eric Wells]