The pianist, professor and embodied cognition pioneer details a career of bucking jazz convention and social activism through music.
Born and raised in upstate New York, Vijay Iyer gravitated toward the piano at a very young age. The instrument has been a constant in his life, from playing in a high school cover band to entertaining his Yale peers with “dinner jazz.” While pursuing a physics doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley, Iyer became immersed in Oakland’s diverse and welcoming jazz community, and science took a backseat to music. He’s since become a frontrunner in both fields, publishing a seminal dissertation on embodied cognition while steadily releasing albums solo, with peers such as Mike Ladd and Rudresh Mahanthappa, and leading ensembles including the Vijay Iyer Trio and Sextet. Throughout his career, Iyer has made it his mission to interrogate social injustice – including racism and the treatment of immigrants and veterans – using the musical tools of collaboration and improvisation. Iyer is currently on faculty at Harvard University’s music department, where he founded its doctoral program in cross-disciplinary music studies.