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Bard Fisher Center Presents Vijay Iyer and Teju Cole: Blind Spot

“No one in jazz sounds like Iyer.” —Chicago Tribune

“One of the most vibrant voices in contemporary writing.” —Los Angeles Times on Teju Cole


Eleanor Davis
ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.— Pioneering jazz composer and pianist Vijay Iyer and Nigerian American writer, photographer, and Bard faculty member Teju Cole present a powerful live collaboration. With images and text from Cole’s newly released book of the same title alongside Iyer’s improvised live score, Blind Spot investigates humanity’s blindness to tragedy and injustice throughout history. A book and album signing with the artists will follow the performance. Blind Spot will be performed on Friday, October 26 at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $25 and are available at, or by calling the box office at 845-758-7900.

In this innovative synthesis of words, music, and images, Cole leads us through a multimedia diary of years of near-constant travel: from a park in Berlin to a mountain range in Switzerland; a church exterior in Lagos to a house in Tivoli, New York; landscapes and interiors, beautiful or quotidian, that inspire Cole’s memories, fantasies, and introspections. Iyer at the piano, with Patricia Brennan on vibraphone and Stephan Crump on bass, create improvised music in real time, using as a score, in Cole’s words, “the images, the words I’m reading, and the pace at which I move to the next image, our collective presence, those of us on the stage, and those of us in the audience.”

Teju Cole is the photography critic of the New York Times Magazine. He is the Gore Vidal Professor of the Practice of Creative Writing at Harvard and was previously the distinguished writer in residence at Bard College. Cole was born in the US in 1975 to Nigerian parents, and raised in Nigeria. He is the author of four books.

His novella, Every Day is for the Thief, was named a book of the year by the New York Times, the Globe and Mail, NPR, and the Telegraph, and shortlisted for the PEN/Open Book Award. His novel, Open City, also featured on numerous book of the year lists, and won the PEN/Hemingway Award, the New York City Book Award for Fiction, the Rosenthal Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Internationaler Literaturpreis, and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, the New York Public Library Young Lions Award, and the Ondaatje Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. His essay collection, Known and Strange Things, was shortlisted for both the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay and the inaugural PEN/Jean Stein Award for “a book that has broken new ground by reshaping the boundaries of its form and signaling strong potential for lasting influence.” Known and Strange Things was named a book of the year by the Guardian, the Financial Times, Time Magazine, and many others. His most recent book, Blind Spot (June 2017), a genre-crossing work of photography and texts, was shortlisted for the Aperture/Paris Photo Photobook Award and named one of the best books of the year by Time Magazine. He was commissioned by the 2017 Performa Biennial to present a multimedia solo performance piece, Black Paper, which the New York Times acclaimed as “quietly grave” and “thoroughly devastating.”

Cole has contributed to the New York Times, the New Yorker, Granta, Brick, and many other magazines. His photography column at the New York Times Magazine, “On Photography,” was a finalist for a 2016 National Magazine Award. There have been solo exhibitions of his photography in Italy, Iceland, India, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and the US. He gave the 2014 Kenan Distinguished Lecture in Ethics at Duke University, the 2015 Susan D. Gubar Lecture at Indiana University, and the 2016 Spui25 Lecture at the University of Amsterdam. He was awarded the 2015 Windham Campbell Prize for Fiction, a 2015 US Artists award, and a 2018 Guggenheim Fellowship. He was a Poynter Journalism Fellow at Yale University in 2018. He serves as a board member for several periodicals and arts organizations, and has participated in many literary and photography juries. He will deliver the Randy L. and Melvin R. Berlin Family Lectures at the University of Chicago in the spring of 2019.

Grammy-nominated composer-pianist Vijay Iyer (pronounced VID-jay EYE-yer) was described by Pitchfork as “one of the most interesting and vital young pianists in jazz today,” by the Los Angeles Weekly as “a boundless and deeply important young star, and by Minnesota Public Radio as “an American treasure.” He has been voted DownBeat Magazine’s Artist of the Year three times (2016, 2015, and 2012)  and Artist of the Year in Jazz Times’ Critics’ Poll and Readers’ Poll for 2017. Iyer was named Downbeat’s 2014 Pianist of the Year, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow, and a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist. In 2014 he began a permanent appointment as the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the Arts in the Department of Music at Harvard University.

The New York Times observes, There’s probably no frame wide enough to encompass the creative output of the pianist Vijay Iyer.” Iyer has released twenty-two albums covering remarkably diverse terrain, most recently for the ECM label. The latest of those is Far From Over (2017), the first from the Vijay Iyer Sextet. The record was ranked #1 in US National Public Radio’s annual Jazz Critics’ Poll, surveying 157 critics. It was named among the best jazz albums of the year in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, Slate, and The New York Times, and the only “jazz release” in Rolling Stone’s list of the 50 best records of 2017. Iyer’s Sextet was subsequently voted 2018 Jazz Group of the Year by the Jazz Journalists Association.

Iyer’s 2013 collaboration with poet Mike Ladd, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, based on the dreams of veterans of color from America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, was hailed as #1 Jazz Album of the Year by the Los Angeles Times and described in JazzTimes as “impassioned, haunting, [and] affecting.” Along with In What Language? (2004) and Still Life with Commentator (2007), Holding It Down rounded out a trilogy of politically searing albums about post-9/11 American life.  These projects were hailed as “unfailingly imaginative and significant” (JazzTimes) and praised for their “powerful narrative invention and ravishing trance-jazz . . . an eloquent tribute to the stubborn, regenerative powers of the human spirit” (Rolling Stone).

A polymath whose career has spanned the sciences, the humanities, and the arts, Iyer received an interdisciplinary PhD in the cognitive science of music from the University of California, Berkeley. He has published in Journal of Consciousness Studies, Wire, Music Perception, JazzTimes, Journal of the Society for American Music, Critical Studies in Improvisation, in the anthologies Arcana IV, Sound Unbound, Uptown Conversation, The Best Writing on Mathematics: 2010, and The Oxford Handbook of Critical Improvisation Studies. Prior to his permanent appointment at Harvard, Iyer taught at Manhattan School of Music, New York University, and the New School. He is the Director of The Banff Centre’s International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music. Iyer has served as Director of the International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music at The Banff Centre since 2013. He has been featured as Artist-in-Residence at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Wigmore Hall (London), the Molde Jazz Festival (Molde, Norway), SF Jazz, and Jazz Middelheim (Antwerp, Belgium), and served as music director for the 2017 Ojai Music Festival in southern California.

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This event was last updated on 10-22-2018