April 1, 2023 | by Vijay Iyer
Vijay Iyer at SFJAZZ (photo by Ronald Davis)
For this month's exclusive Members-only article, we asked pianist and composer Vijay Iyer to illuminate his personal journey of creativity with the piano. As expected, his response was fascinating and thoughtful — much like his music.
Iyer performs solo on 4/6 and 4/7–9 with his all-star trio including bassist Linda May Han Oh and MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant" recipient Tyshawn Sorey on drums. The 4/7 show will be broadcast live on SFJAZZ.org as part of our Fridays Live series.
My earliest musical memory, indeed perhaps my earliest memory at all, is from age 3 or 4. I had started violin lessons, and my beloved older sister Pratima, then 6 or 7, had started on piano. My parents had gotten her a modest spinet on which she would work through her Suzuki repertoire. Her little piano loomed grandly over me and my 1/16th-size violin; similarly I found myself looking up to her, as my sentinel and guide through childhood. One day I heard her playing something I did not recognize from the Suzuki practice tapes. She was clanging around in what was probably A minor; it involved a lot of white keys and sustain pedal. At some point, either that time or the next, I toddled up beside her and clanged in counterpoint. Together we got the instrument resonating and shaking until it felt like it might tip over. I called this a musical memory; is that the right word for it? Little me, together with one of my favorite people in the world, engaged in collaborative exploratory play, forming sonic experience, making a joyful noise, surely breaking a rule or two. Even then I must have thought, Could this be music too? Instantly, I was hooked. And to this day, every time I play the piano, some part of me is transported back to that ecstatic, timeless, transgressive moment from childhood. You could call it my origin story.
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