MacArthur Winners

Congrats to Jeremy Denk and Vijay Iyer on their MacArthur Fellowships. These strike me as fine choices.

However… correct me if I am wrong, but I think it has been quite a while since a composer of concert music was awarded a MacArthur, no? Even though there are a couple of music fellowships every year…

Denk plays Ligeti here; Iyer’s Historicity discussed here.


Historicity, a disc issued earlier this year by the Vijay Iyer Trio, has been appearing on various best-of-the-year lists, and deservedly so. Those of us who write fully notated music could learn a lot from this group’s fluidly shifting treatment of pulse, as in Iyer’s own Helix on this album.

I remember being impressed years ago when I first heard Wynton’s Autumn Leaves on the early Marsalis Standard Time, Vol. 1, where the bass and drums gradually accelerate against a steadily pulsed statement of the head in the trumpet. But the Marsalis strategy, though smoothly executed, is clearly pre-plotted and relatively schematic compared to the richness of what Iyer and his colleagues improvise in Helix.

Yes, Elliott Carter has been flexibly shifting pulse rates in his music for decades, but those changes are often not as lucid as what you can hear in the work of Iyer and other current jazz musicians. (Has enough been said about the relationship between Carter and jazz?)

I briefly thought that perhaps a particular notation-oriented composer was more in touch with Iyer’s work than most of us, since the name of my colleague Steve Mackey is listed as one of the composers of a track called Galang on Historicity. However, the Galang Steve Mackey is actually a different fellow, who, among other musical activities, played bass with a band called Pulp. Neither of these Steves is to be confused with the phony Steve Mackey who tried to scam the Ojai festival in spring of this year – details on that story here.