Hailed by Pitchfork as "jaw-dropping, one of the finest saxophonists going,” alto saxophonist, composer and educator Rudresh Mahanthappa is known as one of the premier voices in 21st-century jazz. He has more than 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 magazine’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 honors in the 2016 JazzTimes Magazine Critics' Poll and was named the Village Voice's best jazz artist in 2015. He has also received a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Doris Duke Performing Artist Award, among other honors, and is the Anthony H.P. Lee '79 Director of Jazz at Princeton University.
With an astonishing facility and power on the horn and an inspired array of ensembles he’s led or played in since his emergence in the late ’90s-early ’00s, Mahanthappa continues to create music alive with rhythmic urgency, steeped in the lineage of jazz saxophone and responsive to traditions and practices of the wider musical world.
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 and DePaul (as well as the Stanford Jazz Workshop) and came to settle in Chicago. Soon after moving to New York 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 (with Pakistani-born Rez Abbasi on guitar and Dan Weiss on tabla), saw release in 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. His exploratory guitar-driven quartets on Samdhi and Gamak featured 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 the chamber piece I Will Not Apologize for My Tone Tonight, which can be heard on the quartet’s 2015 double disc "Heritage/Evolution, Vol. 1."
Mahanthappa is a Yamaha artist and uses Vandoren reeds exclusively.