Jazz Genius Vijay Iyer Had To Fight The ‘Model Minority’ Myth Too

Vijay Iyer is a renowned jazz musician, Harvard professor, MacArthur “brains grant” recipient, and lapsed physicist.

This menagerie of touching titles might not make him the intellectual person to speak out against the “copy minority” myth surrounding Asian-Americans. But, in a outline that ran in last week’s New Yorker, Iyer revealed in what condition critics’ stereotypes of Asian Americans take affected the reception of his act over the years.

“To be a jazz musician is to special some American project, to be character of American history, to take in those stormy ideals to which improvisation is central … Critical writing used to attempt to place me ~ the agency of othering me, by putting me external the history of jazz. Everything I did was seen for the re~on that different and not as the close union of a tradition. Critics never set forth black music as rigorous or cerebral or precise, although Coltrane was interested in mathematics. Since I was Asian, I was seen viewed like having only my intellect to practice.”

Iyer’s experience demonstrates in what way Asian American stereotypes, which may strike one as being innocuous or like minor annoyances, have power to be harmful. “Intellect” is a positive good in itself, but when posed in obstacle to some “authentic” jazz tradition, references to it crippled ticklish discourse on Iyer’s music. (Not to mention the fact that the dummy exhibit the differences of between “rigorous” and non-rigorous jazz is character of silly on its own, ago all jazz music relies heavily ~ward improvisation and irregular meter.)

Iyer’s quote shows how stereotype threat is a double-edged steel. While critics were eager to intellectualize his be, they were hesitant to ascribe the identical values to earlier, mostly black, jazz musicians, which is why it took so tedious for the establishment to take jazz gravely. In The New Yorker parley, Iyer touched further on the truth of the “model minority” myth similar to it relates to his own relation.

His parents, he explained, immigrated from Tamil Nadu, India, and his originator has a PhD in pharmacology, which means they were exactly the benevolent of Asians allowed to get American visas in the 1960s (and afterward). It’s not like everyone — or fair a notable majority — of the billion-more populations of India and China are doctors and engineers; their overrepresentation in America was “curated ~ dint of. policy,” as Iyer put it. 

Like a haphazard of second-generation Americans, Iyer seems to accept grown up with a relaxed awareness of his schism, being “neither white nor black, and having a many-sounding name.” One reason Asian American identity issues are pliant to sideline is that the structural unfairness beneath them is often of a distinct order than those of other minorities in America. As Alec Wilkinson writes of Iyer, “He sees himself in the manner that someone of color but, as the chit of parents who came willingly to the countrified, as being in a different station from people whose ancestors arrived being of the cl~s who captives.”

So, not only was it tough on account of critics to figure out how to confabulation about Iyer, he himself grappled with tough questions concerning his identity and his affinity to jazz history.

Iyer’s contingent and stunning success within his opportunity came as he engaged with, tolerably than shirked away from, the exception of situating himself in that African American musical tradition. A turning point came in San Francisco, at what place he was a doctoral student, while he found a group called Asian Improv that combined African American traditions through Asian instruments. It seemed to flip a switch toward him. He realized that there is in ~ degree ahistorical music, that almost every oral report is dynamic and capacious.

Said Iyer, “It became evident to me that the history of this music is a history of communities in what place music was an uplifting force, and that situating myself in connection to that history was what mattered. It wasn’t end for end me trying to sound black. It was me figuring used up my relationship to those histories.”

The filled New Yorker profile of Iyer can be found here. See also: our 2013 meeting with Iyer.

Also on HuffPost:

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