PHOTO: Benjamin Boone CREDIT: Tamela Ryatt
Fresno State professor of music theory and composition Dr. Benjamin Boone was named a U.S. Fulbright Scholar for the 2022-23 academic year. The award will take him to Ireland to learn about musical pedagogy and work with other musicians to create and record new music. Boone will be based at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick while in Ireland.
“I have never been to Ireland, but I know they have great hybrid music, and their Academy of Music, where I will be, is revolutionary in their melding of musical styles,” Boone said. “Their curriculum is highly innovative and integrated, a model quite different from any music curriculum I’ve seen in the United States. I’m fascinated to observe how they do what they do so that I can bring that knowledge and perspective back to Fresno State to share with my department and with our students.”
Boone previously received a Fulbright Senior Specialist Award to Moldova in 2005 and a U.S. Fulbright Scholar Award to Ghana for the 2017-18 academic year. While there, Boone instigated the first-ever Ghana National Jazz Workshop Tour, which taught improvisation and how the relationship between Ghana and the United States is embedded in jazz.
“American [jazz] music was created largely by Ghanaian and West African slaves,” Boone said shortly after returning from Ghana. “So, in talking about the music, you can talk about the horrible circumstances, and you can come to some sort of reconciliation. Ghanaian musicians and scholars collaborated with me on this tour, so we were, in some sense, a physical embodiment of the synergistic musical relation between American and Ghanaian cultures.”
He also collaborated with Ghanaian musicians, including rappers, palm wine musicians, traditional xylophonists and drummers. Through that process, he met a group called “The Ghana Jazz Collective.” What started as regular live performances at a large jazz club in Accra ended with the recording of the album “Joy,” released by Origin Records in 2020.
“I was thrilled that reviewers and radio DJs heard how amazing these Ghanaian musicians are at jazz and gave them great kudos,” Boone said.”Most people think of traditional music or Afro-pop when they think of Ghanaian music, so I hope this album helped counter that limited perspective.”
That album spent several weeks on Amazon’s “Hot New Releases” list and was acclaimed by leading jazz publications such as a feature in the leading jazz magazine, Downbeat.
Boone has similar plans for Ireland. The Irish World Academy of Music and Dance is known for its fusion of musical styles, an integrated approach to musical pedagogy, and its ritual music program, which Benedictine monks teach.
“I hope to do exactly the same thing I did in Ghana – to meet as many musicians as I can, absorb their music, then work with them to create and record new music,” Boone said. “The Irish World Academy has a community music program that helps refugees adjust, and I look forward to being a part of that program. I can’t wait to see what happens with all of this. I am so excited! My colleagues, dean, and chair inspire me, and without them, this could never have happened.”
Boone is well known for his “Poetry of Jazz” album series, which melds his expressive alto and soprano saxophones atop original jazz with poetry. The first two albums, “The Poetry of Jazz” and “The Poetry of Jazz, Vol. 2,” were recorded with former U.S. Poet Laureate Philip Levine. The albums, released in 2018 and 2019 on Origin Records shortly after Levine’s death, enjoyed widespread acclaim.
In 2020, Boone expanded the concept on his album “The Poets are Gathering” with tracks featuring two-time U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, four-time individual champion of the National Poetry Slam Patricia Smith and nine other poets, including local poets Marisol Baca and Lee Herrick.
He is currently working to finalize his next album, which will feature tracks with writer/poet Faylita Hicks, Pulitzer recipient Tyhimba Jess, and several others. Boone is also the service-learning scholar for the Jan and Bud Richter Center for Community Engagement and Service-Learning and Civic Engagement.