At forty-six years of age, jazz pianist Vijay Iyer is already a venerable member of the jazz elite. The MacArthur fellowship awarded to him in 2013, placed his name upon a list of past recipients including George Russell, Ali Akbar Khan and Max Roach, ratifying his tireless creative efforts with a five-year grant.
Iyer’s penchant for collaboration is informed by the musical community surrounding him and his life story is reflected in his recorded work. His Indian heritage shines through Tirtha, his relationship with New York and his political feeling through his work with hip-hop artist Mike Ladd and his appreciation of improvisation, electronics and a scientific approach, on works such as Mutations.
Considering his career thus far, Iyer’s trio is one of his finest and most acclaimed ensembles. Currently involving Grammy-nominated bassist Stephan Crump and fast-rising drummer Jeremy Dutton, the trio allows Iyer to express himself as a number of legendary pianists have done before. His forthcoming show at Band on the Wall is the only opportunity you have to catch a trio performance on his current European tour–one you’d be mad to pass up!
Despite training for a career in the sciences, Iyer gravitated toward a musical life in his early twenties and quickly established a tight-knit musical network. He has played with some of jazz’s elder statesmen: Roscoe Mitchell, Oliver Lake, Wadada Leo Smith and Reggie Workman, as well as notable Indian classical musicians and up-and-coming talents.
Discussing the great pieces of advice he has received during his career, he stated, ‘Most of what I learned from elder musicians came from actually making music together, much more than from verbal advice. Hearing elders listen, communicate, and make musical decisions in relation to my own has been the greatest education, because it’s given me an embodied sense of how to do those things better.’
That said, there are pieces of advice that have resonated deeply with him. ‘Two simple quotes come to mind. One is Roscoe Mitchell’s dictum, ‘Don’t follow me’—which means, don’t interact in some obvious call-and-response way; he is asking for a deeper listening in a way that permits counterpoint, contrast, and rich polyphony. He would elaborate: ‘Just treat what I’m playing as, you know, information.’
The other comes courtesy of his last encounter with the late poet, critic and activist Amiri Baraka, in 2013. “I told him that I was about to become a professor at Harvard University. He said, ‘Don’t let them change you.’ That advice gave me the strength to be fully myself.”
Iyer was voted the Jazz artist of the year 2018 in the Downbeat poll and his trio-mates have worked with Mary Halvorson, Ambrose Akinmusire and Keyon Harrold. The group perform at Band on the Wall on Monday 16th July and tickets can be purchased here.