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Vijay Iyer 

If you visit the website of pianist-composer Vijay Iyer, you will be greeted with a blurred portrait of a man, vaguely recognizable as Iyer, dashing through an urban landscape. It's a fitting visual metaphor for the frenetic musical journey Iyer has taken over the past two decades.

"Transformation is the way of this music," says Iyer, whose perpetual motion has paid off. Over the past two years, he's won a MacArthur "genius" fellowship and a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. In 2012, he garnered five top awards in DownBeat's International Critics Poll, including Jazz Artist of the Year and top pianist.

Iyer is often portrayed as one of the most cerebral pianists in jazz, but he's also one of the funkiest and most swinging. He's come a long way since his early years in Fairport, where he took his first music lessons on violin.

"It's built up little by little," Iyer says. "It's a privilege to have the opportunities I've had. A lot of it is luck, a lot of it is working hard all the time, and a lot of it is the generosity of elders, mentors, and my collaborators who have supported these projects of mine."

When Iyer references projects, he's not just talking about a trio and a quartet. He's got eight projects ranging from straight-ahead jazz to explorations of the Asian Indian music of his heritage.

"For me it's really all come from collaborative relationships, and they've all been very genuine," Iyer says. "It's building things with people and the unpredictable nature of that process.

"If you look at my last four albums," he says, "they're all pretty different, but that's a pattern itself. So it's not that there's a center and tangents, it's more like that transformative process is the identity itself. Look at the history of the music — Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, or John Coltrane — they all had that ethos of change. That was part of who they were. In Herbie's case, it still is."

Iyer has spent a lot of time with Hancock lately at Harvard University, where Iyer teaches a course and Hancock has been a sort of artist-in-residence, delivering the school's "Norton Lectures."

After attending Yale University, Iyer earned a Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from the University of California at Berkeley. As a result, he's been pigeonholed. "Everything I do gets called intellectual and cerebral," says Iyer. "It really has nothing to do with what the music sounds like. It's people responding to all of these other tags."

This has been especially true in reviews of his latest album, "Mutations," featuring Iyer and a string quartet. As the title suggests, the music morphs from track to track. Along the way are lyrical passages, sections reminiscent of serial music and some recalling Beethoven's late string quartets.

But one of his best-known previous album cuts is his take on the Michael Jackson hit "Human Nature." It's all part of Iyer's wide-angle view of music that goes beyond genres.

"On all my albums there's a range of stuff," Iyer says. "People will say that hip-hop is not music or that drumming is not music. I find that this thing we call music is actually broader than we think, that we're conditioned by culture to create a boundary between something called music and something that's not music, but that boundary is not very clear."

When it comes to a musical hero, Iyer turns to Thelonious Monk, who he discusses in the present tense.

"He's a real communicator in performance," Iyer says. "He really reaches you. No matter who you are or where you are in the room, what he's doing gets inside of you in a really powerful way. That's what first drew me to him as a teenager.

"But then I got more into the language of his music, the building blocks he was working with, the spontaneity, the rigor compositionally, and the playfulness. There was a unity there; the language of his compositions is also the language of his improvisation. Then you hear that he had a real exploratory way with sound and harmony and sonorities: very specific, very unusual, and still underexplored voicings."

Widely viewed as one of the most progressive voices in jazz, Iyer is not sure where the music is going, but, like the figure on his website, he knows it can't stand still.

"For decades now," he says, jazz "has been dominated by people who played with Miles Davis or people whose name is Marsalis. Now I think we're at some sort of turning point — a soft turning point, because many of those people are still around. But there is a sense that people of my generation and younger have to create something new."

The Vijay Iyer Trio performs Monday, June 23, 6 and 10 p.m. in Kilbourn Hall at Eastman School of Music, 26 Gibbs Street. Iyer performs solo Tuesday, June 24, at 5:45 and 7:45 p.m. in Hatch Recital Hall at Eastman School of Music, 433 E. Main Street. Tickets are $25 for the Kilbourn Hall performances, and $20 for the Hatch Recital Hall performances. Or you can use your Club Pass at all performances. Vijay-iyer.com.

In This Guide...

    Jazz Festival Guide 2014

    CITY Newspaper's guide to the biggest music festival in Rochester! For more coverage, check our website every day of the festival for reviews, blogs, photos and more!

    Festival Information

    The 2014 Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival Friday, June 20-Saturday, June 28

    Friday, June 20 - Schedule

    4:30 p.m.: Hilton High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 5:15 p.m.: Canandaigua High School Jazz Band City of Rochester Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

    I called up Big Bad Voodoo Daddy's trumpeter Glen "The Kid" Marhevka to discuss his band, its brand of swing, its longevity in the swing scene, its hepcat haberdashery, and its impact on swing. That's right — swing, swing, and more swing.

    Friday, June 20 - Musician Bios

    Akiko Tsuruga Quartet When the Lou Donaldson Quartet played the XRIJF a few years ago, the audience couldn't help but notice a second star on the stage. Behind the B-3 organ playing one great solo after another was Osaka, Japan, native Akiko Tsuruga.

    Saturday, June 21 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: Brighton High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:00 p.m.: Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre (SOLD OUT)

    Jason Marsalis

    With pianist Ellis Marsalis and his famous sons, Wynton (trumpet), Branford (saxophone), Delfeayo (trombone), and Jason (drums/vibes), the Marsalis family of New Orleans can stake a claim as the first family of jazz. But if that conjures up images of a father and his sons jamming in the living room, well... that's just not how it was.

    Saturday, June 21 - Musician Bios

    78 RPM Big Band Starting out as Oktoberfest band The Happy Wanderers, back in 1973, the 16-piece 78 RPM Big Band is based in classic big band, but often branches out into unique versions of contemporary cuts. (JC) 78rpmband.com

    Sunday, June 22 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: West Irondequoit High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Newark High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    Cécile McLorin Salvant

    If you go to hear Cécile McLorin Salvant at Kilbourn Hall, you might find yourself squirming in your seat. McLorin Salvant has no qualms about singing songs like "You Bring Out The Savage In Me," a tune few have dared to touch since Valaida Snow sang it in the 1930's."I've had time to delve into the history of early 20th-century American music, vaudeville, minstrel shows, coon songs, and some jungle music," McLorin Salvant says.

    Sunday, June 22 - Musician Bios

    Benedikt Jahnel Trio With titles of tunes like "Equilibrium" and "Modular Concepts," you might think the Benedikt Jahnel Trio is too cerebral to enjoy the wonder of jazz. On the contrary, the German-born pianist is a joyous player, with a shimmering, melodic sound and a dynamic touch.

    Monday, June 23 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: John Nyerges Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: John Sneider Student Workshop Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Monday, June 23 - Musician Bios

    Bonerama No, it's not a Vanessa Del Rio flick, it's a four-trombone-powered outfit from New Orleans that makes Phil Spector's "wall of sound" seem like a cardboard fence. This 'bone barrage is the brass band equivalent of a muscle car with a horny teenager at the wheel.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Gabe Condon Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Sophie Bancroft & Tom Lyne Duo Student Workshop Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Louis Hayes

    Louis Hayes was just 19 and living on Detroit's west side when his reputation caught up with him. Pianist Horace Silver, fresh out of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, had heard about the young drummer.

    Tuesday, June 24 - Musician Bios

    Blind Boy Paxton Despite his abbreviated age, Jerron "Blind Boy" Paxton is a master of pre-war, acoustic blues. We're talking the storied sounds of Lonnie Johnson, Robert Johnson, and Bessie Smith — to name a few — wrought by a multi-instrumentalist in his mid-20's.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Mel Henderson and Paradigm Shift Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Jonathan Gee Eastman School of Music RAY WRIGHT ROOM (Room 120)

    Diane Schuur

    Through the snap, crackle, and pop of a long distance phone call, and suffering from jet lag, Diane Schuur's voice is still absolutely beautiful. She has just returned from an engagement in Osaka, Japan.

    Wednesday, June 25 - Musician Bios

    5Head Rochester madcap ska skanksters 5Head are full of pants-optional hi-jinx and contagious back beat that starts at your feet and ends with you attempting dance moves that would have put Fred Astaire in traction. This band features lighthearted fun played by some of the best musicians this town has.

    Thursday, June 26 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Nate Rawls Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Ian Shaw Eastman School of Music (Room 120) (FREE)

    Thursday, June 26 - Musician Bios

    Anders Hagberg Quartet If you caught Yggdrasil in one of its appearances at the XRIJF, you've heard the wonderful range of sounds Swedish musician Anders Hagberg coaxes out of his soprano saxophone and flutes. When he plays the gigantic contrabass flute, it's a thrilling journey, filled with percussive breathing and scat-singing, and sounds like the workings of several musicians.

    Friday, June 27 - Schedule

    12:00 p.m.: Vince Ercolamento Central Library of Rochester and Monroe County (FREE) 1:00 p.m.: Pat LaBarbera Quartet Eastman School of Music Ray Wright Room (Room 120) (FREE)

    Friday, June 27 - Musician Bios

    Bill Frisell's Guitar In the Space Age Every time Bill Frisell has appeared here, it's been with his eyes on the sonic future; sounds and progressions rarely, if ever heard. This time around, he's got his eye on the origins of his instrument.

    Saturday, June 28 - Schedule

    3:45 p.m.: MCC Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE) 4:30 p.m.: Webster Schroeder High School Jazz Band Jazz Street Stage (FREE)

    George Thorogood

    You wanna survive in showbiz? Wanna last in this rock 'n' roll racket?

    Saturday, June 28 - Musician Bios

    Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys Chuck Mead burst on the scene with the three-time Grammy-nominated retro-hillbilly outfit BR549. With the band officially on hiatus, Mead has focused on a solo career and producing the Broadway hit "Million Dollar Quartet."

    Club Pass Schedule Chart

    View the chart (web-sized) | Download the chart (print-sized)

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