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Q&A | 29 Questions For Vijay Iyer

By Jennifer Liu on August 1, 2017

Vijay Iyer (Photo: Jimmy Katz)
Vijay Iyer (Photo: Jimmy Katz)

Every so often, MT poses 60 questions to a local or visiting artist who has made our classical music community that much more interesting. They pick and choose. The minimum response is 20 answers. A kind of Rorschach personality test, if you will.

At the forefront of today’s jazz pianists, Vijay Iyer’s creative output combines disparate domains in a contemporised package. A 2013 MacArthur Fellow, his career spans the humanities, the sciences, and the arts: Iyer holds a Ph.D in cognitive musical science, and is a professor at Harvard University’s Department of Music.

Born in New York to Indian parents, significant engagements in Canada include performances at the Toronto Jazz Festival and a residency at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music in 2013. He is in his fifth year of artistic directorship of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at Banff Centre. There, MT witnessed Iyer in action performing Radhe Radhe with his colleagues and participant student musicians. His latest CD Far From Over will be released this month, featuring Iyer in a sextet with his long-time collaborators, all of whom have also appeared alongside him at Banff Centre.

Speaking with him over the phone, Iyer has a remarkably calm speech that is worlds apart from his accomplishments and creative powers on stage.


Favourite Canadian city?


Name the musical equivalent to junk food.

Background music.

Default drink/cocktail of choice?

A triple espresso.

Name your favourite concert hall/venue.  

Zankel Hall (at Carnegie Hall).

Your favourite sound?

Probably silence.

Your least favourite sound?

Jackhammers, of which there seem to be plenty this summer. Everywhere I go on the planet there seems to be construction happening!

Your favourite smell?


Your least favourite smell?

The inside of a Starbucks.

The historical personalities that fascinate you the most?

Gandhi. Bach. Harriet Tubman.

 Your first three record store purchases?

Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Purple Rain, maybe some albums by The Police.

Favourite room in your home?

Probably the room where the piano is.

What is your biggest phobia?

I’m scared of white supremacists, it’s a pretty legitimate fear.

The phrase that you overuse?

I use “well you know…” a lot to start a sentence, so I’m trying not to do that as much.

The strangest talent that you possess?

I seem to be pretty good at the word game “Bananagrams,” I only learned this from playing it with my daughter!

Under what circumstances would you join the army?

If it were engaged with a coup against the current president.

How do you know when you can trust someone?

When you’ve been through unpredictable experiences together, that’s when you see how people really are and whether they’re with you or not.

What was the luckiest moment in your life?

The moment my daughter was born.

The talent that you wish you possessed?

I wish I were more physically coordinated, less klutzy. I can play the piano somewhat, but when it comes to navigating the world I’m always bumping into stuff, dropping things, cutting myself.

What musical instrument do you secretly long to play?

Drums. I know a little bit about playing drums, but I’ve never had the opportunity to sit down and develop these skills. So it’s still kind of a hypothetical instrument for me!

What is the one animal that scares you the most?

Rats, because I see a lot of them in New York City. They’re gross.

Scariest situation you’ve ever been in?

I was assaulted on the street. That was a long time ago.

Your favourite word?

Joy. (How do you choose one word?)

Your least favourite phrase?

“At the end of the day.”

Your favourite curse word?

*laughs* I guess I drop a lot of F-bombs, sometimes when I’m angry. That doesn’t make it my favourite, but…

The thing that makes you the angriest?

People jerking me around; being not straightforward with me.

The thing that makes you the happiest?

Being still.

A final thought?

Just remember, music is made by people.

Read another Q&A, HERE.

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