By Franklin Abbott
Vijay Iyer’s parents moved to the United States from India in the first wave of Indian immigration in the 1960s. They encouraged their son with violin lessons when Iyer was three. He learned to play piano by ear and had opportunities to play in orchestras and ensembles during his school years. He also pursued an interest in math and physics receiving an undergraduate degree at Yale and was pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at UC Berkeley when he discovered the vibrant jazz scene in San Francisco. There, Iyer met saxophonist and composer Steve Coleman, who took him under his wing. Soon Iyer was recording and touring with some of the best jazz artists in the world.
He redirected his studies from physics to music focused on music cognition. He applied the theory of embodied cognition, that the mind is in the whole body not just the brain, to his studies. His understanding of the role of music in human communication has strongly influenced how he has worked as a musician and composer. He is known for his collaborations with other artists including Amiri Baraka, Wadada Leo Smith, DJ Spooky, Teju Cole and Karsh Kale. He has done three projects with poet-producer-performer Mike Ladd on social issues including surveillance, the twenty-four hour news culture and the dreams of veterans returning from the wars in Ira and Afghanistan. He has collaborated on nine albums with saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and has written work for film, dance and orchestra. Iyer plays most often with Stephen Crump and Tyshawn Sorey, who also appear on his award-winning albums “Break Stuff,” “Accelerando” and “Historicity.” They will be performing with him this Friday night, Feb. 17, at the Ferst Center at Georgia Tech.
Iyer, who is the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts at Harvard University, became a MacArthur Fellow in 2013. He has received numerous awards for his recordings including a Grammy nomination. Iyer believes in the power of music to connect people. He sees performance as “a unifying ritual” in which we find ourselves linked in time and going through an emotional arc together. He says that in “times of division music reminds us we have something in common.
For tickets and information about the Ferst Center performance, visit this link.
Franklin Abbott is an Atlanta psychotherapist and writer.