Shuttle Talk: Ben Mizrach

The demographics of the SMFA shuttle are pretty consistent. There are always tired-looking dual-degree students, a few Bachelor of Fine Arts students and one of the five drivers that we have come to know and (mostly) love. Someone will be holding a Rubi machine coffee, someone will be struggling to carry a piece of art and someone will be commenting that the shuttle’s running late or early. Every now and then, however, we are joined by a rarity: a musician.

While Tufts is better known for its relationship with the SMFA, it runs a similar dual-degree program with the New England Conservatory, and I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with one of these members of the artistic shuttle community. Ben Mizrach sat next to me on my way home last Wednesday, catching the 1:00 p.m. shuttle. The sheet music in his arms instead of sketchbooks made him immediately identifiable as a musician, even without his saxophone in hand. Although he is only in his second semester here at Tufts, the dual-degree student is already remarkably involved. He is a member of the Tufts Jazz Orchestra, which will be traveling to New York in April, and has his own combo that occasionally play gigs around campus. Though he started learning sax when he was four years old, he only decided to dedicate himself to the craft in sophomore year of high school. Now frequenting jazz clubs in New York City dives and in his home of New Jersey and talking with reverence about figures like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk, it seems like he has entered the ‘music world’ without hesitation.

When I asked him what he wants to study, I was surprised by his answer.

“People always assume that I will study the physics of sound, since I am a musician and am also interested in science,” he said. “But I always immediately reject that idea — for me, I like to keep my right-brain and left-brain thinking stimulated by their own separate things. Art, music, is beautiful for me because it is about raw creation and creativity.”

Especially with jazz, he notes, the improvisation is a spiritual experience.

“Like, if you listen to [John] Coltrane’s stuff, for example, you can tell that he is purely feeling the moment,” he goes on. “Even if you are not religious, it feels spiritual to create without analyzing, and know that other people can feel it too”

That’s it. For Ben, that’s what art is about: creation, connection, expression. As a visual artist, I was not surprised, because art serves the same purpose in my life as it does in his and in countless other students’. Whether it is painting, dancing or grooving on the saxophone, the act of creation is gratifying and unquantifiable. The redheaded stranger on the shuttle explained it perfectly in five minutes. And not only can he brilliantly articulate artistic creation, if you need someone to add some sweet tunes to your next party, you know who to call.