This Wednesday, January 17, 2018, the University of Redlands will host two events by Vijay Iyer, Grammy-nominated jazz pianist and the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music at Harvard University. At 4 p.m., Iyer will hold a talk in Watchorn Hall, room 107 and at 7 p.m., he will perform at the university’s chapel. By combining musical artistry with messages of change and acceptance, the musician plans on bringing a new tune to the university’s campus. But, who exactly is Vijay Iyer? What kind of musical experience does he possess and more importantly, what is his approach to instigating change?
Born on October, 26, 1971 in Albany, New York Iyer received 15 years of Western classical training in violin and piano. Iyer began playing piano by ear in his early childhood, which sparked his love for music. Iyer has acquired numerous accolades from dozens of entities throughout the past decade. Iyer has released twenty albums covering a remarkably diverse terrain, most recently for the ECM label. His accolades extend beyond music. In his professional life, Iyer pursued a doctorate in physics and assembled an interdisciplinary Ph.D. program in Technology and the Arts, from the University of California-Berkeley.
His most recent collaborations include A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke, an album released in 2016, with Wadada Leo Smith, which the Los Angeles Times called “haunting, meditative and transportive.” A studio album, Far From Over, performed with his sextet, has been voted one of the 50 best albums of 2017 by Rolling Stone magazine. Downbeat Magazine has named Iyer Artist of the Year three times as well as Pianist of the Year in 2014. His album Break Stuff released in 2015 received an impressive five star rating. To further lengthen his list of achievements, Pitchfork magazine has described Iyer as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today.”
Additionally, one of Iyer’s other albums Accelerando, 2012, was voted jazz album of the year by three separate polls. According to The New York Times, “there’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer.”
However, music isn’t the only thing Iyer is passionate about. Having witnessed various incidents of hate crimes against innocent people across the country, Iyer wants to spread a message of love, unity and acceptance to those who are willing to listen. In fact, Iyer has stated that not only does this influence his music, it’s the sole purpose of his music.
Iyer dedicated “Invocation,” an original composition which opened his 2001 album titled Panoptic Modes, to Rishi Maharaj, an Indian-American man who was a victim of a hate crime in 1998.
“My intent with this piece of music was to suggest to our own community,” Iyer stated. “In case anyone was listening, that this young man was one of us; that we, [as South Asian Americans], should embrace all of our massive diaspora, regardless of national identity or historical circumstance.”
Iyer’s core motivation to create music is what he can do for others. In Iyer’s address to SAALT (South Asian Americans Leading Together) he shared that he is inspired by figures such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.
“I want you to know that, all titles aside, I am first and foremost an artist,” Iyer stated. “As an artist I ask myself Dr. King’s question every day. What am I doing for others?”
Vijay Iyer’s visit to the University of Redlands will undoubtedly spark further conversation around campus about how to positively affect others’ lives. With complex music and important messages, Iyer carries a unique mix of artistry and humanitarianism on his shoulders. If you are seeking a night filled with entertainment and virtue, Iyer’s talk and performance may be the events for you.
Tickets are available in Hunsaker Lounge and at the door the night of the concert.
Photo courtesy of MUSIC + ART management, inc.