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Holding It Down, Harlem Stage. Photo by Mark Millman Photography. Courtesy of Kimmel Center, Inc.

Questions of Practice: Composer and Pianist Vijay Iyer and Librettist Mike Ladd on Improvisation

Questions of Practice: Composer and Pianist Vijay Iyer and Librettist Mike Ladd on Improvisation

Jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer and poet and librettist Mike Ladd discuss how improvisation is at the core of their creative process, particularly when working with source material drawn from individuals’ personal narratives. “In real life, we are constantly improvising,” says Ladd, adding that even a finished work “is always in the process of being rewritten.”

For several years, Ladd and Iyer have collaborated on a trilogy that explores American life over a decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Their third installment, Holding It Down: The Veterans’ Dreams Project, combines music, poetry, song, video monologues, and visuals, created from the actual dreams of young veterans of these military conflicts.

Composer and pianist Vijay Iyer and librettist Mike Ladd on improvisation. Filmed at The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage on February 10, 2016.

The Kimmel Center, Inc. presents the Philadelphia premiere of Holding It Down on April 22, 2016, with Center support. Watch Iyer and Ladd talk about authorship and multivocality.>>

MacArthur Fellow Vijay Iyer is a critically-acclaimed jazz pianist and composer who has produced over 20 albums and has collaborated with such musicians and ensembles as Steve Coleman, Wadada Leo Smith, Bang On A Can All-Stars, and Brooklyn Rider. A renowned music scholar, Iyer received an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the cognitive science of music from the University of California, Berkeley, and is currently the Franklin D. and Florence Rosenblatt Professor of the arts at Harvard University.

Poet, performer, and librettist Mike Ladd began his career as a spoken word poet after graduating from Hampshire College with a degree in English literature. He later found success as a rapper and hip-hop producer, releasing five solo albums, in addition to being the brain behind the fictitious music collectives Majesticons and Infesticons.