Written by Hannis Brown from Q2
Pianist, composer, improviser and 2013 MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer has built a career of making musical connections. Increasingly recognized as one of the most inventive musicians working today, he received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in music cognition at UC Berkeley, released three albums with poet and hip-hop artist Mike Ladd, and blended traditional Indian and jazz styles with the critically acclaimed trio Tirtha. He’s also collaborated with the New York City rap outfit Dead Prez, free-jazz icon Roscoe Mitchell and Yo-Yo Ma‘s Silk Road Ensemble. In January, Iyer joined the faculty of Harvard’s music department.
Last month, Iyer released Mutations, his 18th album as a bandleader. Scored for strings, piano and electronics, the record melds touches of jazz with electronic music and minimalism.
For the second episode of the second season of Q2 Spaces, we visited the East Harlem apartment where Iyer has lived for the last two years with his wife and daughter. His piano is set up on the first floor in a room lined mostly with books about neuroscience, music and listening. On a small table are carved Indian deities —his parents moved to the United States 50 years ago — and leaning against the wall is a poster of his hero Thelonious Monk.
Iyer tells about his first memorable musical experience improvising with his sister on the family’s spinet piano, the constant inspiration of Harlem’s rich cultural heritage, his love of South Indian Carnatic music and the single biggest influence on his music: jazz history.
Audio: Vijay Iyer, Mutations
Video: Kim Nowacki and Hannis Brown