A Gentleman, a Scholar and a Pianist

Vijay Iyer. Photo by Jimmy Katz.

You know the story, son of Indian immigrant parents gets a B.S. in Mathematics and Physics from Yale College then goes on to get a Masters in Physics and a Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts from the University of California at Berkeley.

Not too unusual. Yet in this case, the son is Vijay Iyer and along the way he discovers piano. And we’re damn happy he did.

Acclaimed as one of the best contemporary jazz musicians in America, Iyer has wowed critics with each of his albums, receiving album of the year, musician of the year, and band of the year along with countless other awards.

Known for his improvisational skill, Iyer was trained as a classical violinist for 15 years, but learned to play piano by improvising. “There was never any boundary between improvising and playing a song. It was really the same thing for me. That was how I learned to play. And really, that’s how we as humans learn to do almost everything… It’s the way we stumble around in the world.” (More from Christopher Lydon’s wonderful interview with Vijay Iyer.)

His 2009 Historicity, was at the top of virtually every jazz critic’s top 10 list for 2009. It included covers of artists such as Julius Hemphill, Andrew Hill, Stevie Wonder and M.I.A., artists who he says have a kind of “insurgent quality” that spoke to him in a meaningful way.

His most recent album, Solo released August 31, 2010 in the US, is his most personal to date. His first album without a band, Iyer calls it “the ultimate reveal.”  Solo presents bold originals alongside works by Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk, as well as a reverent take on Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature.”

We listened to his music and fell in love with Vijay Iyer. Then we listened to him speak about making music and we swooned deeper still. He uses words like lush and rich and vast to describe the piano sound in Solo. We just say it’s the perfect combination of inspiration, talent and in Iyer’s case, intellect.

Vijay Iyer speaks about Solo

Vijay Iyer Trio recording their version of MIA’s Galang

More on Vijay Iyer at www.vijay-iyer.com

Check out Solo on itunes

This issue of Republic of Brown is dedicated to Ishan Bose-Pyne. He loved math, physics and jazz piano. He will be missed immeasurably.

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