In Reaching Beyond: Improvisations on Jazz, Buddhism, and a Joyful Life, legendary artists Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter explore the essence of jazz, great art, and human spirituality with Daisaku Ikeda, their Buddhist teacher and president of the SGI. As jazz musicians and practicing Buddhists, Hancock and Shorter share their unique insights on jazz—its history and development as a creative, dialogical force bringing cultures and people together—lessons they have learned from musical mentors such as Miles Davis and Art Blakey, the role of music and culture in daring humanity to live courageously, and how Nichiren Buddhism has impacted their lives and careers.
“Even though the roots of jazz come from the African American experience,” says Hancock, “my feeling has always been that jazz really developed from a noble aspect of the human spirit common to all people—the ability to respond to the worst of circumstances and to create something of great value, or as Buddhism says, to turn poison into medicine.”
“The message I share with people when I play is this: Do not avoid confrontation with the unexpected and the unknown,” Shorter states. “During performances, many musical challenges arise. It is precisely in those moments that I address the question of how to engage with the unexpected, rather than running away from it or just looking for the comfort of the familiar. Also, I am trying to impart the joy of adventure, which vacuums all the fear out of the room.”
“Music and religion share at the deepest level the aim of inspiring the human spirit,” comments Ikeda. “The sounds of music—stirring, heartening, and imparting courage—affects more than the individual. Music that moves the soul of one person spreads with unexpected suddenness and nourishes the hearts of countless others. This invigorating ripple effect so characteristic of music shows the way to revitalize and rejuvenate society.”
Futuristic and hopeful at its core, this dialogue between friends—united by a common purpose and ideals—exalts the limitless human capacity to transform suffering into joy and shows how jazz, indeed all art, and Buddhism alike have a role to play in stirring this joyful cultural awakening in 21st-century society.