Hailed by Pitchfork as “jaw-dropping, one of the finest saxophonists going,” alto saxophonist, composer, and educator Rudresh Mahanthappa is widely known as one of the premiere voices in jazz of the 21st century. He has over a dozen albums to his credit, including the acclaimed Bird Calls, which topped many critics’ best-of-year lists for 2015 and was hailed by PopMatters as “complex, rhythmically vital, free in spirit while still criss-crossed with mutating structures.” Mahanthappa has been named alto saxophonist of the year for six of seven years running in Downbeat’s International Critics’ Polls (2011-2013, 2015-2017), and for five consecutive years by the Jazz Journalists’ Association (2009-2013) and again in 2016. He won alto saxophonist of the year in the 2016 JazzTimes Critics’ Poll and was named the Village Voice‘s “Best Jazz Artist” in 2015. He has also received the Guggenheim Fellowship and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, among other honors, and is currently the Anthony H. P. Lee ‘79 Director of Jazz at Princeton University.
Born in Trieste, Italy to Indian émigrés in 1971, Mahanthappa was brought up in Boulder, Colorado and gained proficiency playing everything from current pop to Dixieland. He went on to study at North Texas, Berklee, DePaul University, and the Stanford Jazz Workshop before he settled in Chicago. After moving to New York City in 1997, he formed his own quartet featuring pianist Vijay Iyer. The band recorded an enduring sequence of albums—Black Water, Mother Tongue, and Codebook—each highlighting Mahanthappa’s inventive methodologies and deeply personal approach to composition. He and Iyer also formed the duo Raw Materials.
Coming deeper into contact with the Carnatic music of his parents’ native southern India, Mahanthappa partnered in 2008 with fellow altoist Kadri Gopalnath and the Dakshina Ensemble for Kinsmen, garnering wide acclaim. Apti, the first outing by Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, saw release the same year; Agrima followed nine years later and considerably expanded the trio’s sonic ambitions.
Mahanthappa has also worked with Jack DeJohnette, Mark Dresser, Danilo Pérez, Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, the collaborative trios MSG and Mauger, the co-led quintet Dual Identity with fellow altoist Steve Lehman, and another co-led quintet with fellow altoist and Chicago stalwart Bunky Green, with whom he recorded Apex. His exploratory guitar-driven quartets on Samdhi and Gamak feature David Gilmore and Dave “Fuze” Fiuczynski, respectively. In 2015, he was commissioned by Ragamala Dance to create Song of the Jasmine for dancers and a hybrid jazz/South Indian ensemble. He was also commissioned by the PRISM Saxophone Quartet to compose a chamber piece, I Will Not Apologize for My Tone Tonight, which can be heard on the quartet’s 2015 double-disc release Heritage/ Evolution, Volume 1.
Mahanthappa is a Yamaha artist and uses Vandoren reeds exclusively.