“By now, there can be no doubt that pianist-composer Iyer stands among the most daringly original jazz artists of [his] generation,” writes Howard Reich in the Chicago Tribune. The American-born son of Indian immigrants and a 2011 Grammy nominee, Vijay Iyer was described by The Village Voice as “the most commanding pianist and composer to emerge in recent years,” by The New Yorker as one of “today’s most important pianists… extravagantly gifted,” by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” and by the L.A. Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star.” In the 2010 Jazz Awards, the Jazz Journalists Association voted Iyer Musician of the Year, an honor previously given to Herbie Hancock, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, and Dave Holland.
Over the previous ten years, Iyer’s celebrated quartet featuring award-winning saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa mined “the magical and murky, imagined interzone, where the music of the Indo-Asian Diaspora meets the Western Jazz tradition… establish[ing] the next extension in both traditions” (All Music Guide). They documented “some of the freshest, most compelling jazz today” (NPR) on four critically hailed discs, Panoptic Modes (2001), Blood Sutra (2003), Reimagining (2005), and Tragicomic (2008), each garnering glowing worldwide praise.
Alongside these works sit several vastly different, equally important and groundbreaking collaborations. Among the best known are In What Language? (2004), Still Life with Commentator (2007), and the work-in-progress Holding it Down, three politically searing, stylistically omnivorous large-scale works created by Iyer and poet-performer Mike Ladd (“unfailingly imaginative and significant” - JazzTimes; “powerful narrative invention and ravishing trance-jazz… an eloquent tribute to the stubborn, regenerative powers of the human spirit” - Rolling Stone). On another end of the spectrum, Your Life Flashes (2002), Simulated Progress (2005), and Door (2008) capture the innovations of the experimental collective Fieldwork (“phenomenal… incredible, challenging, and forward-thinking” - All Music Guide). And last but not least, Raw Materials (2006, “a total triumph from beginning to end” - All About Jazz) documents “one of the great partnerships in jazz” (Chicago Tribune) - the duo of Iyer and Rudresh Mahanthappa. All of Iyer’s albums have appeared on best-of-the-year lists in dozens of major media, ranging from JazzTimes, Jazzwise, Jazzman, Downbeat, and The Wire, to ArtForum, National Public Radio, The Utne Reader, The New Yorker, and The Village Voice.
As significant as his recordings have been in the jazz world, Iyer’s eclectic accomplishments extend well beyond them. Iyer’s quintet suite Far From Over, commissioned by the 2008 Chicago Jazz Festival and debuted before an audience of 30,000, and was praised in the Chicago Tribune as “making music history… a potential masterpiece… searing, original, and dramatically charged… a shattering, epic composition.” His orchestral work Interventions was commissioned and premiered by the American Composers Orchestra in March 2007 under the baton of Dennis Russell Davies. It was praised by The New York Times as “all spiky and sonorous,” and by the Philadelphia City Paper for its “heft and dramatic vision and a daring sense of soundscape.” Other works include Mutations I-X (2005) commissioned and premiered by the string quartet ETHEL; Three Episodes for Wind Quintet (1999) written for Imani Winds; a “ravishing” (Variety) score for the original theater/dance work Betrothed (2007); the prize-winning score for Teza (2008) by legendary filmmaker Haile Gerima; a suite of acoustic jazz cues for the sports channel ESPN (2009); and the award-winning audiovisual installation Release (2010) in collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison. An accomplished electronic musician and producer, Iyer has remixed tracks for British Asian electronica pioneer Talvin Singh, Taqwacore (Islamic punk) band The Kominas, and esteemed composer-performer Meredith Monk.
Across this diverse output, Iyer’s artistic vision remains unmistakable. His powerful, cutting-edge music is firmly grounded in groove and pulse, but also rhythmically intricate and highly interactive; fluidly improvisational, yet uncannily orchestrated; emotionally compelling, as well as innovative in texture, style, and musical form. Its many points of reference include jazz piano titans such as Monk, Ellington, Tyner, Alice Coltrane, Andrew Hill, and Randy Weston; the classical sonorities of composers such as Reich, Ligeti, Debussy, and Bartok; the low-end sonics of rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, dub, and electronica; the intricate polyphonies of African drumming; and the vital, hypnotic music of Iyer’s Indian heritage.
A perennial critical favorite, Iyer won the Jazz Journalists Association’s Annual Jazz Award for 2010 Musician of the Year and 2004 Up & Coming Musician of the Year. He has repeatedly won multiple categories of the Downbeat Magazine International Critics’ Poll, including Rising Star Jazz Artist (2006, 2007), Rising Star Composer (2006, 2007), Rising Star Pianist (2009), Small Ensemble of the Year (2010), and Album of the Year (2010). He has appeared on the covers of five international music magazines: Downbeat (US), Jazzwise (UK), JazzThetik and JazzPodium (Germany), and Concerto (Austria). His many other honors include the prestigious 2003 CalArts Alpert Award in the Arts and a 2006 Fellowship in Music Composition from New York Foundation for the Arts. As a composer/performer, Iyer has received commissioning grants from the Rockefeller Foundation MAP Fund (2000, 2001, 2005, 2009), the New York State Council on the Arts (2002), Creative Capital Foundation (2002), Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust (2002, 2004), American Composers Forum (2005), Chamber Music America (2005), Meet The Composer (2006), and the Jazz Institute of Chicago (2008).
Iyer’s major engagements as a composer-performer-bandleader include the Next Wave Festival at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.; The Asia Society, Merkin Hall, Zankel Hall, The Kitchen, and the Lincoln Center Festival in New York City; the Painted Bride Art Center and the Annenberg Center in Philadelphia; the Chicago Jazz Festival and Chicago Symphony Center; the New World Theater at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst; the TBA Festival at the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art; the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT) in Los Angeles; Memorial Hall at UNC Chapel Hill; Lisner Auditorium at George Washington University; the Wexner Center at Ohio State University; The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; Buffalo’s Albright Knox Gallery; the McCarter Theater at Princeton University; the Max M. Fisher Music Center in Detroit; Cal Performances at U.C. Berkeley; and international music festivals around the world.
Iyer has joined forces with a wide range of contemporary artists, including Steve Coleman, Roscoe Mitchell, Amiri Baraka, Wadada Leo Smith, Dead Prez, Amina Claudine Myers, Butch Morris, George Lewis, Craig Taborn, Oliver Lake, Miya Masaoka, Matana Roberts, Trichy Sankaran, Talvin Singh, Pamela Z, Imani Uzuri, Will Power, Suphala, Dafnis Prieto, Burnt Sugar, Karsh Kale, Shujaat Khan, DJ Spooky, High Priest of Antipop Consortium, John Zorn, Bill Morrison, and many others.
A polymath whose work has spanned the sciences, arts, and humanities, Iyer holds a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale College, and a Masters in Physics and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley. He was chosen as one of nine “Revolutionary Minds” in the science magazine Seed, and his research in music cognition has been featured on the radio programs This Week in Science and Studio 360. A faculty member at Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and The New School, he has also given master classes and lectures in composition, improvisation, cognitive science, jazz studies, and performance studies at California Institute of the Arts, Columbia University, Harvard University, Berklee School of Music, several University of California campuses, and the School for Improvisational Music, among others. His writings appear in Music Perception, Current Musicology, Journal of Consciousness Studies, Critical Studies in Improvisation, Journal for the Society of American Music, The Guardian, The Wire, JazzTimes, and the edited anthologies Uptown Conversation: The New Jazz Studies (Columbia University Press), Sound Unbound (MIT Press), and Arcana IV (Hips Road). He is a Steinway artist.