Episode 094: Vijay Iyer


I’d have been content to spend the whole time talking about Thelonious Monk. There’s a picture of the composer wedged in one corner of the home office located in the lower of Vijay Iyer’s Harlem brownstone. But while he invariably comes up over the course of the conversation, there’s far too much ground to cover to spend too much audio card space dwelling on the matter. And you get the feeling, sitting with Iyer for longer than a few minutes, that’s he’s never been one to stay in the same place too long. His creative impatience has paid off, winning the pianist a MacArthur Genius Grant in 2013 and a professorship at Harvard last year. And on a more selfish note, he’s got me thinking a lot more about contemporary jazz, a genre I’d—perhaps foolishly—written off in some stubborn decision somewhere along the line to not listen to anything recorded after 1975. But Iyer’s thoughts and records like this year’s intricately-woven Break Stuff form an extremely compelling argument that there’s still plenty of ground to be tilled in both that genre and the more ancient realm of classical — though Iyer, unsurprisingly, is not hung up with those sorts of tags. In this wide ranging conversation, we discuss Iyer’s creative growth, from learning to play violin at age three to his rise as one of the most celebrated jazz musicians of the modern era — including an ever so brief detour that landed him degrees in math and physics at Yale and UC Berkeley.

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