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“It Is the Heart . . .”

An excerpt from Jazz icons Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter’s new book, Reaching Beyond, co-authored with SGI President Ikeda.

Photo: Masayuki Tsujimura.


An excerpt from Chapter Three, “Playing from the Inside.”

Reaching-Beyond-front-cover-120616Herbie Hancock: Art [Blakey] was not known for technique. There were certain basic things that he played. In some ways, you could say that part of it was simple. But people never grew tired of hearing his playing because it always lifted you. In other words, he played from his heart to touch the people’s hearts.

Daisaku Ikeda: Mr. Blakey said, “When people come in to relax and enjoy themselves after a hard day’s work, it’s my job to make them happy—to wash away the dust of everyday life.” I think that you both have inherited his philosophy.

Wayne Shorter: Art’s performances certainly made people happy.

The first time we went to Japan [as part of Art Blakey’s group, The Jazz Messengers], in 1961, the questions we were asked were: “What is originality? What is modern jazz?” Art Blakey said it was about playing from your inside.

“Don’t think clinically or academically,” he would say. “Don’t be clinical! The clinical has no story. When you play, tell me your story! What is your story?”

He was saying, don’t try to fool the audience. Onstage, you cannot hide behind your instrument. “You can’t hide! Don’t hide behind the trumpet! ” I realized that he was talking not only about music but also about life in general.

Hancock: Playing from the inside—yes, that was Art’s message.

I trained with Miles Davis early on. He would have fired any of us if we had played jazz for the applause. He didn’t like it if we had just played something dazzling, showing off technique or playing up to the audience, becoming a pawn to the audience’s taste.

Playing just for applause is a cowardly approach. When you have the strength of your own convictions, you already have a support system coming from inside. This is the training I got from Miles Davis’s band. To develop confidence in what you are doing is the correct approach, but what Miles wanted most was honesty and sincerity.

Ikeda: This is the attitude exhibited by outstanding individuals in every field. “It is the heart that is important” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 1000)— this is one of the important conclusions of Nichiren Buddhism.

Nichiren wrote these words to his disciple Shijo Kingo, who was engaged in a great personal struggle. Shijo Kingo was accomplished in the military arts and medicine. Fully aware of this, Nichiren in the preceding passage offered numerous examples   of outstanding warriors with brilliant strategic skills who were defeated in the end.

Ability, skill, knowledge, and strategy are naturally important for everyone in every field, not to mention working harder than others. But it is the heart that determines, fundamentally, whether we are happy. It is our heart that moves and motivates others at the deepest level. The ultimate force for victory is the heart. To correctly guide and master our hearts, refine and polish them, enlighten, elevate, and fortify them, we need to merge them with the great Law of the universe and unite them with a great teacher.

Hancock: This is the key to practicing Buddhism properly. It is even the key to practicing music properly. You can rehearse scales and go through the motions, but you have to have a direction and underlying purpose for practicing, a desire to achieve something that you can share with others. It’s not about just achieving something to be “great,” not about your own glory. I believe when you realize this, you open up the channels of the heart.

Ikeda: In Buddhist faith and practice, you need to advance together with a good teacher and good comrades. You need to build good friendships. You need to lead a life of victory together with them. When we advance in unity, we can achieve unlimited happiness and growth for ourselves and others alike.

There was a beautiful scene at Mr. Blakey’s workshop, when the young people sang to express their gratitude. It brought him to tears. It was a moment when the hearts of the great teacher and his youthful pupils resonated deeply and powerfully with one another.

Shorter: I heard that at that time, Art said: “I feel like I have glimpsed the true image of Japan. Japan is my home.” I believe he was saying that no place is a foreign place. Everywhere is home. This is something he taught us wherever we went around the world.

Ikeda: Music is the common language of people around the world. It leaps lightly over national barriers and brings everyone’s hearts together as a single family. This is what is so wonderful about artistic and cultural exchange.

The globalization taking place in the twenty-first century needs to develop as more than the elimination of physical distances. It needs to eliminate the differences that separate our hearts.

Since I started traveling the world to promote peace more than fifty years ago, I have persisted in dialogues to unite human hearts, transcending national, ethnic, and ideological differences. At the First World Peace Conference held on Guam, when the SGI was established on January 26, 1975, I wrote under the column for “nationality” in the guest book, “The World.”

Buddhism is a religion of universal humanism, transcending national differences. This is why we need to respect and value cultural diversity and differing customs and strive to learn from one another.

Shorter: We are deeply grateful for your fifty-year struggle to bring the world together and raise capable people. Nothing is more precious than a mentor who prays that his disciples will develop and is happy when they do.

In 1963, in the middle of a rehearsal I had with Art Blakey, the telephone rang. The trumpet player, Lee Morgan, answered the phone and said in a loud voice, “Wayne, it’s Miles! ” I answered, and it was Miles Davis asking me to join his band.

When I finished speaking with Miles, Art said, “Miles wants to steal my tenor player! ” But behind this, he was proud of the fact that the great Miles Davis had called because he knew that once you joined the Miles Davis band, you must graduate to a level of leadership to fulfill the mission of music and life.

Hancock: At its heart, jazz does not depend on its commercial value. Like the human heart depends on oxygen, jazz depends on a sense of mission. Art Blakey felt the importance of the survival of the music and its mission.

Ikeda: Mr. Blakey truly was a great “messenger.”

In Japanese, the word for “mission,” shimei, is written with two Chinese characters that can be interpreted as “using your life.” A mission is “using your precious life” to achieve a goal.

I once shared this message to high school-age Soka Gakkai members: “Once you become aware of your great mission to spread your wings and soar into the future, your abilities will quickly expand.” As we dedicate our lives to studying, praying, and acting to fulfill our mission, our lives shine brighter. Like a wondrous musical instrument, we can play a melody of peace and happiness. You two are supreme examples of this.

The young people who received the message from Mr. Blakey in 1965 to “play from your heart” are now fully grown, mature leaders of the Soka Gakkai’s men’s and women’s divisions, encouraging and fostering young people.

Nichiren teaches: “Strengthen your faith day by day and month after month. Should you slacken in your resolve even a bit, devils will take advantage” (WND-1, 997). Let us continue pioneering new efforts, making a courageous music resound from yesterday to today, from today to tomorrow. This is the way to make the sun of hope rise that will illuminate the next generation.