Lena Adasheva / Courtesy Of The Artist

Vijay Iyer on “how to make music matter to people”

By Leo Sidran for WBGO

Pianist-composer Vijay Iyer has been described by The New York Times as a “social conscience, multimedia collaborator, system builder, rhapsodist, historical thinker and multicultural gateway.” He has been praised by Pitchfork as “one of the best in the world at what he does,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star,” and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.”

He received a MacArthur Fellowship, a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Grammy nomination, the Alpert Award in the Arts, and two German “Echo” awards, and was voted Downbeat Magazine’s Jazz Artist of the Year four times in the last decade.

But beyond all that praise, he is at his core simply a seeker of genuine connection and community. Here he talks about growing up in Rochester, N.Y. as one of a small handful of first generation Indian Americans (his parents immigrated), how he developed his musical identity alongside an academic career as a scientist (he did his undergraduate work in math and physics at Yale and holds a PHD from UC Berkeley in the cognitive science of music), creating work for an uncertain future, how to make music matter, and his most recent recordings.

He released Love In Exile—a collaborative album with Arooj Aftab and Shahzad Ismaily—last month on Verve Records.