Every week, Berkeley Wall of Fame selects notable alumni to feature on their site. This time, the Wall of Fame welcomes UC Berkeley alumnus Vijay Iyer, who received his Ph.D. in 1998.

2013 winner of the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grant, Iyer, a jazz composer-pianist, is quickly ascending as a trendsetter through his eclectic mix of improvisation-based solo and ensemble compositions, cross-genre collaborations, and research on listening. Although Iyer, who holds a Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music, had planned on a career in the sciences, “Little by little I found myself pulled into a community of artists that valued the history and the aliveness of jazz,” he said in a video. Counting the classical music of his South Indian heritage, West African drumming, and African American masters such as Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk among many influences, Iyer creates imaginative, rhythmic — even disorienting — works. While Accelerando features his superb trio and topped charts worldwide with its accessible experimentalism, his latest project, Holding It Down, is a collaboration with poet Mike Ladd that focuses on the experiences and dreams, from the mundane to the harrowing, of veterans of color who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow Iyer on Facebook or Twitter @vijayiyer.

— Amy Cranch


Categories: Featured in eGrad, October 2013
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