Genius Is in the Groove – Issue 18: Genius

Vijay Iyer doesn’t like the term “genius” and the jazz pianist is on a roll explaining why. “The ‘G word’ is often used to shut down conversation or inquiry into a particular artist, into his or her community and connection to others,” Iyer says. “No music happens in a vacuum.” What’s more, the label undercuts an artist’s ambition and drive. “Artists seek not just to be themselves but to transform themselves, to actually become something else,” Iyer says. That’s the force that revolutionizes their culture and ours.

“My Favorite Things” Iyer plays the unforgettable pop tune from The Sound of Music in the “radical” style of John Coltrane. “It transformed our understanding of music,” Iyer says.

Consider 1960 when saxophonist John Coltrane recorded “My Favorite Things,” the beloved pop tune from The Sound of Music. “When we listen to Coltrane’s ‘My Favorite Things’ now, we don’t think this is pop culture,” Iyer says. “We think of it as a cataclysmic event in the history of music that transformed our understanding of music. It brought something new to the table, structurally and emotionally. It wasn’t dealing with harmony and form in the usual way. It reached new extremes.”

Iyer is sitting…
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