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Herbie Hancock

Herbie Hancock

Los Angeles, California -- 2000

Pianist Herbie Hancock, actor Orlando Bloom, singer Tina Turner, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, actor Patrick Duffy, saxophonist Sonya Jason (that would be me!)... What do all of these folks have in common? As Nichiren Buddhists, we start and end each day sitting facing a sacred scroll called the Gohonzon, ringing a bell, reciting two chapters of the Lotus Sutra and chanting "nam myoho renge kyo" -- literally translated as "I devote myself to the mystic law of life and to the simultaneity of cause and effect, through sound and teachings."

When I began my Buddhist practice in 1984, I heard about several celebrity Buddhists but I certainly never expected to meet any of them! Then one evening, I attended a small Buddhist meeting in a member's home in Los Angeles and found myself chanting side-by-side with the famous Herbie Hancock. I was thrilled just to be in the presence of such a legendary musician!

Herbie shared about how his Buddhist practice has impacted his music career by showing him that he is a "human being" first. Playing music is what he "does". This insight has enabled him to be an innovator because he is not boxed in by defining "who he is" as a jazz musician, but as a human being who expresses himself through music.

A brief glimpse at his long and prestigious career illuminates this perspective clearly: As part of Miles Davis's "second great quintet," Herbie Hancock helped redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section, and was one of the primary architects of the "post-bop" sound. Later, he was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers and funk. His music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs "cross over" and achieved success among pop audiences.

Herbie's best-known solo works include Cantaloupe Island, Watermelon Man (later performed by dozens of musicians, including bandleader Mongo Santamaria), Maiden Voyage, Chameleon, and the singles, I Thought It Was You and Rockit. His 2007 tribute album, River: The Joni Letters, won the 2007 Grammy Award for Album of the Year, only the second jazz album ever to win the award after 1965's Getz/Gilberto.

Like Herbie Hancock, I have discovered a profound freedom of artistic expression that is available to me when I make my spiritual evolution the primary purpose of my life.

For more about Herbie Hancock, visit www.herbiehancock.com.