For a figure who didn’t devote himself to music full-time until he was in his late 20s, when he turned away from a path in academia, pianist, composer, and educator Vijay Iyer has achieved a rapid ascent toward the top echelons of creative music. Although he studied violin for 15 years, his primary instrument has been piano, which he taught himself to play.
Since arriving in New York from the Bay Area in the late 1990s, Iyer has been a vibrant, shape-shifting presence in jazz and contemporary music. He has collided jazz with traditional music of the Indian subcontinent in numerous collaborations with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, and he has also created multi-media works with video artists, experimental MC Mike Ladd, and an unusual array of musicians from jazz and new music. His trio with bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore was part of a lasting paradigm shift both in terms of repertoire and approach, crucially opening up possibilities through imaginative remakes of tunes by Michael Jackson, Björk, and techno artist Robert Hood.
His interest in contemporary music has crept into his own work, whether composing a soundtrack for a film by Prashant Bhargava performed by International Contemporary Ensemble or writing a suite for string quartet and his own piano. More recently he’s written music for ensembles like Brooklyn Rider, Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Jennifer Koh, Boston Lyric Opera, and cellist Matt Haimovitz. He leads multiple ensembles, including a new trio with bassist Linda May Han Oh and long-time collaborator, drummer Tyshawn Sorey. He’s also released duo albums with fellow pianist Craig Taborn and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and played as a sideman in projects led by Roscoe Mitchell, Steve Coleman, and Burnt Sugar.
In 2014 he joined the senior faculty at Harvard University, where he continues to teach when not touring internationally.