Benjamin D. Koen, Ph.D., is internationally renowned for his pioneering work in the fields of music, wellness, healing, and meditation. He is a critically acclaimed saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist, improviser, author, speaker, researcher, educator, life transformation and wellness coach, and music-sound healer. Dr. Koen currently holds the positions of Distinguished Professor of Medical Anthropology and Medical Ethnomusicology at Xiamen University, China; Assessor for the Australian Research Council; Editorial Advisory Board Member for Medical Ethnomusicology at Oxford University Press; Oxford Handbook Editor; and he is the founder of Sound Health International.
Sharing more than a birthday in common with Charlie Parker, Ben Koen has a pioneering spirit in music that has been likened to Dizzy Gillespie, a compelling strength and virtuosity in his saxophone playing that has been compared to Pharoah Sanders, Sonny Rollins, and John Coltrane, and an honesty and creativity in his improvisations and compositions that bring Keith Jarrett’s European quartet to mind.
Ben has given concerts, conducted research, offered seminars and lectured in over 40 countries. As a jazz-world musician, composer, and recording artist, Ben’s music and performances have appeared on a number of recordings, in film, television, on the web, and are featured in national and international journals, textbooks, and music and arts programs. Ben’s primary instruments are tenor and soprano saxophones, world flutes (Chinese bamboo xiao, Peruvian quena, Persian ney, bansuri from India, and Native American flute), hand drums, and didgeridoo.
Ben served as a faculty member and consultant for the program Longitudinal Training in Mind-Body-Spirit Medicine in Primary Care, a federal grant funded by the Health Resources and Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His research and music has also been supported by the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the U.S. Department of Education. Previously, Ben held the positions of Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities, Global Pathways Faculty, and Tenured Associate Professor of Medical, Cognitive, and Applied Ethnomusicology at the Florida State University, U.S.A. He also served as a program reviewer for the Austrian Academy of Sciences Max-Kade Fellowship Program at Harvard University, and was a Representative and Music Presenter for the Smithsonian Institution’s program The Silk Road–Connecting Cultures, Creating Trust.
Ben is widely published and author of two groundbreaking books from Oxford University Press—Beyond the Roof of the World: Music, Prayer, and Healing in the Pamir Mountains, and The Oxford Handbook of Medical Ethnomusicology.
Ben’s current book, 5 Steps to a Happy, Healthy, Wealthy YOU! through music, the mind, and meditation is for everyone interested in improving their lives in the areas of the body, mind, spirit, emotions, relationships, and wealth. In the book, Ben provides a new way of understanding and harnessing the power of music and meditation, as well as clear and effective ways for you to make conscious contact with your inner spirit and create the best life that you can imagine. Hundreds of people have successfully used the material in the book to improve or totally transform themselves creating true and lasting joy, wellness, and wealth.
Born in Milledgeville, Georgia on August 29, 1969 to a Spanish father and a mother of Welsh and Seneca Indian descent, Ben’s musical interests were diverse from the beginning. Fueling his passion for music and his innate sensitivity to the world of sound was his parents’ collection of musical instruments and recordings from around the world. Having a special affinity for the tenor saxophone, Ben began playing saxophone at the age of 9.
As a young musician, after a summer of performing in Europe and touring with pianist Tete Montoliu and the Orquestra Taller de Musics de Barcelona, Ben landed in New York City and immediately started gigging with violinist Billy Bang, drummer Dennis Charles, pianist D.D. Jackson, and David Murray’s Big Band, among others. Ben began to lead his first major quartet, The Unity Ensemble, which performed his original compositions and explored innovative approaches to improvisation. The band featured Fred Hopkins on bass, Marvin “Bugalu” Smith on drums, and D.D. Jackson on piano. Ben also co-founded a fully improvised collaborative trio with trombonist Joe Fiedler and drummer Susie Ibarra. While leading his own groups and recording, Ben started to play with the legendary Cecil Taylor and William Parker’s Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra, as well as all kinds of creative music groups coming up in New York in the mid-1990’s.
Ben’s list of credits include performing with such diverse musicians as legendary African drummer Babatunde Olatunji, composer/conductor Lawrence Butch Morris, sitarist José Gualberto, pianists Tete Montoliu, Cecil Taylor, D.D. Jackson, Cooper Moore, and Hank Marr; guitarists Bern Nix and Rez Abassi; saxophonists David Murray, James Spaulding, Hamiet Bluiett, and Chris Jonas; French hornist David Amram; drummers Dennis Charles, Susie Ibarra, Victor Lewis, Pheeroan Aklaff, and Leon Anderson; violinists Jim Nolet, Christian Howes, and Jason Hwang; trombonists Craig Harris and Frank Lacy; tubist Bob Stewart; bassists Fred Hopkins, William Parker, Santi Debriano, and Rodney Jordan; Ngurah Suparta and the Balinese Gamelan Wrhatnala; Chinese Zheng player Deng Haiqiong, and vocalists Bob Dorough, Jeanette Williams, and Lisa Sokolov.
Throughout Ben’s childhood and youth, his parents’ professions in medicine and human care (Ben’s father was a surgeon and his mother a nurse) provided unlimited and invaluable opportunities for him to make music for and with people going through all kinds of illness and healing processes, especially at the nursing home where his mother was the director of nursing for nineteen years. This proved prophetic for Ben’s future where he developed powerful connections among music, spirituality, meditation, wellness, and healing.
From a young age as Ben developed as a musician, these musical experiences with patients, which were often mixed with prayer and meditation, joy, tears and laughter, spontaneous and profound expressions of emotion, suffering, healing, and transformation, further expanded a belief that was already deep within him—namely, that music is a ladder for the soul and has the power to effect healing changes and transformations in people. As Ben began to play professionally and travel extensively across diverse world cultures playing anywhere and with anyone interested in making music together, as well as for people in need of healing, the forces of music’s power to transform and uplift one’s state of being progressively became more pronounced in Ben’s experience.
As he continued performing, composing, and exploring the transcendent and efficacious potential of musical improvisation in his own life and in the lives of others in formal and informal contexts, Ben spearheaded the development of a new and innovative field called Medical Ethnomusicology—a field of research, performance, and applied practice which lies at the nexus of music, traditional systems of medicine and approaches to healing, the performing and healing arts, the medical, health, and social sciences, new physics, and holistic, integrative, complementary, and alternative medicine.
Ben’s doctoral dissertation, “Devotional Music and Healing in Badakhshan, Tajikistan: Preventive and Curative Practices.” was awarded the 2004 International Innovative Dissertation Award for Developing New Dimensions in Scholarship from the Networked Digital Library of Theses and Dissertations.
As Ben continues to compose, perform, and teach music, he has deeply focused one track of his musical experience and knowledge towards research and applied work in wellness, healing, and life transformation through music and meditation. Broadly, Ben’s research and applied practice approaches music, wellness, meditation and healing from a holistic perspective—engaging the physical, psychological, social, emotional, and spiritual factors that create health, happiness, and prosperity. His work builds from the philosophy he calls the ontology of oneness, the core principle of unity in diversity, and is dedicated to the service and benefit of people through music and meditation, and the advancement of education and civilization.