Vijay Iyer

Doris Duke Artist Award, 2012

New York, NY

Vijay Iyer is a composer, pianist, bandleader, and producer whose projects and collaborations have spanned numerous communities and disciplines. He strives for a contemporary synthesis of the legacies of American innovators such as Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor; various musical systems from Africa, South Asia, and their diasporas; western composers from Chopin to Ligeti; and findings from his own research in the cognitive science of music. He has released sixteen albums as a leader, including most recently, Accelerando (ACT, 2012), Tirtha (ACT, 2011), Solo (ACT, 2010), and the multiple-award-winning Historicity (ACT, 2009). He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (2013), the Greenfield Prize (2012), a Grammy Nomination (2010), an Echo Award (2010), and the Alpert Award in the Arts (2003). He is a professor of music at Harvard University, and is Director of the Banff Centre’s International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music.

  • Photo Credit: Jimmy Katz
  • Vijay Iyer- "ON PATROL," "Capacity" and "Rashah," Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project (2012):
    "ON PATROL," "Capacity" and "Rashah," Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project (2012)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio performing "Cardio," "Optimism and "Inertia," 2011
  • Fieldwork performing "Requiem/Ritual" and "Ghost Time, 2009
  • Vijay Iyer & Rudresh Mahanthappa performing "Threnody," 2008
  • Photo Credit: Monique Wuestenhagen
    Vijay Iyer Trio Live at the ECHO Awards/Germany

What fuels your impulse to make creative work?

What fuels me above all is the conviction that performance provides a mutual opportunity for connection -- an interactive, collective, primal experience. I believe this to be one of the foundations of civilization: humankind’s ability to gather and move and be moved together, in shared space and time.

And musical rhythm is the essence of that, in the sense that it unites us, offering this moment-to-moment bodily synchrony of experience. I think rhythm is the real reason we’re able to do anything together as people. So music is really this ritual through which we can access those deepest roots of our humanity. That might sound highfalutin, but I’ve seen it happen so often that I hold it to be self-evident, a simple truth about who and what we are.

This conviction drives me to keep reaching across communities, across these fictions of genre, discipline, race, ethnicity, class, nation, age, and gender, towards a belief in our mutual humanity. I still strive to imbue my work with all the specificity, authenticity, and personhood that I can muster. But from there I always proceed with the assumption that it is meant for anyone willing to listen and move to it.