ALL THAT JAZZ
The Genius Grant for Vijay Iyer reaffirms the jazz pianist’s stature as a colossus on the contemporary music scene
Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer likes to start his day by packing lunch for his eightyear- old daughter who can be a “picky eater”— buttered bagels, cheese and crackers and fruit are an easier sell— and walking her to her school bus- stop in New York. But his days don’t often start that way. This month alone, Iyer, who turns 42 on October 26, will begin his day, away from his daughter and wife, in at least half- adozen countries including Romania, Italy, Belgium, Germany and Serbia.
That’s life on the road for an artist who has won various accolades including a Grammy nomination for his 2009 album ‘ Historicity’. The most recent, and perhaps the most prestigious, recognition of his talent came on September 25 from the MacArthur Foundation, which picked Iyer among two dozen recipients of this year’s fellowship, popularly known as the “Genius Grant”, that awards American creativity in various fields. The award comes with a $ 625,000 grant, paid over five years.
Iyer is a rare Indian- American star in the quintessentially AfricanAmerican music form of jazz in the United States. Over a career spanning 18 years, he has dazzled listeners and critics. The New Yorker called him “one of today’s most important pianists… extravagantly gifted”. His albums regularly figure in best record of the year lists.
But live concerts are the lifeblood of a jazz musician, and Iyer spends a lot of time on the road within the US and abroad. In an interview he said, “I don’t exactly enjoy dragging my body from place to place but I enjoy connecting with communities in different places and sharing an experience with music.”
Born and brought up in upstate New York by parents who moved to the US from Tamil Nadu, Iyer’s jazz journey began almost by accident while he was