VIJAY IYER AND THE VIJAY IYER SEXTET WILL PRESENT A FREE PUBLIC CONCERT AT THE HARVARD ARTS FIRST FESTIVAL, 2 P.M. SUNDAY, MAY 4 UNDER THE TENT ON THE PLAZA AT HARVARD. ARTS FIRST TAKES PLACE MAY 1-4. FIND OUT MORE BY DOWNLOADING THE AF14 GUIDE.
Vijay Iyer could be could be touring the world and cementing his title as the world’s best jazz pianist. (He is the back-to-back Jazz Journalists Association Pianist of the Year and the 2013 ECHO best international pianist.) He could be in the studio with his trio, working on a follow-up to 2012’s Accelerando, which was awarded with an unprecedented quintuple crown in the DownBeat International Critics Poll and a quadruple crown in the JazzTimes extended critics poll. Or he could take some time off. He has certainly earned it.
Instead, he’s working at Harvard, as a newly minted professor and MacArthur “genius.” Iyer is invested in Harvard’s musical future and has become a leader in pushing for jazz to take a greater role on campus for the long term. “I wanted to start thinking about building a community, and not just be a ‘resident jazz expert,’ because I’m not,” Iyer says. “The culture needs to shift here.”
Iyer speaks in slow eloquent phrases, often swapping out one word in a sentence for a more descriptive or accurate one. He has taken the same care and composure to the class he’s teaching, Music 173r: Creative Music: Critical Practice Studio (which I’m currently taking). I’m a jazz pianist who’s listening to Iyer’s music for years, and I excitedly applied to the course, thinking it was going to be a master class workshop. It’s been a little bit of that and far more: a fusion of a workshop and a jazz ethics seminar, in which we’ve gone deep into readings by Amiri Baraka, George Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith and many others to investigate the origins of jazz and the narratives rarely told.
“A lot of people learn ‘jazz’ through this really cheap and kind of emaciated imitation of something that happened in the 50s,” Iyer says, referring to the bebop-centric approach of many music schools and conservatories. “But this music has been characterized by constant change – discontinuities and ruptures, and local versions that had their own distinct character and identity. And young musicians in your generation haven’t had access to any of this other stuff that happened in the last 50 years. This music is 100 years old, and for some reason we’ve failed to account for at least half of it.” Read more…