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Vijay Iyer, Part 1-2

By Published: June 2, 2005
AAJ: To me, it gave the notion that that utopia that he describes in that song is really nothing to ridicule—but maybe it's a little more complicated, and it's going to be more hard-won if we ever achieve it.

VI: I think that's in keeping with what I was thinking, certainly. That was definitely my reason for choosing to deal with that song in the first place. It's funny, because when a lot of people do covers in this tradition, especially nowadays—sometimes it's for reasons of nostalgia or kitsch. Or else just to display mastery of a certain kind. I feel if you're going to deal with something from the archived history, you need to recontextualize it in a way that really highlights your own stance—your own moment, essentially. I wish people would do that more; I feel like that's what people like Bird and Monk were doing when they'd deal with standards. The fact that Cole Porter wrote those words: that wasn't really the point. Maybe their versions could be seen as ironic.

AAJ: There's always an irony to Bird, but there's also an affection for the material. You always feel like he likes it; he's not too cool, he's not dissing it. But there's definitely a wryness to it.

VI: Yeah, yeah. And also he's always articulating his complicated relationship to those songs, to the Tin Pan Alley tradition, to why he is not considered in the same league as someone like Irving Berlin. I don't think I'm reading too much into it when I hear that there's some sort of commentary going on.

AAJ: I don't think you are either. I think your friend Mike Ladd would call it postmodernism. And he'd be right!

VI: I just want to jump on something you just said, because it almost suggested that Bird was the first postmodernist. I think that that reading almost sets postmodernism on its ear and I think that's very empowering. I'm very much in agreement with that. Although he's contemporaneous with modernism, so—I guess he was in enough of a position to be able to critique modernism, that's for sure.

Continue: Part 2

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