- Nicholas Higgins
(b Trieste, Italy, May 4, 1971). saxophonist of Italian birth. Of South Asian descent, he grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and started playing alto saxophone at age 11. He studied briefly at North Texas State University and received his BM from the Berklee College of Music; he later earned a master’s degree in jazz composition from DePaul University in Chicago. After moving to New York in 1997, Mahanthappa played a crucial role in the pianist Vijay Iyer’s quartet in the 1990s and early 2000s and produced four unique projects with his own quartet. One of these, Mother Tongue (2005), used tonal transcriptions of phrases from Indian languages as melodic source material for his compositions; another, Codebook (2006), applied cryptographic methods to musical composition.
Mahanthappa’s subsequent music has featured other alto saxophonists. His project with Bunky Green (2010) featured the pianist Jason Moran, the bass player François Moutin, and the drummers Damion Reid and Jack DeJohnette. The Dakshina Ensemble, his project with the South Indian musician Kadri Gopalnath, combined jazz and South Indian classical-music ensembles. A two-saxophone project, Dual Identity, featured the alto saxophonist Steve Lehman as well as Reid, the bass player Matt Brewer, and the guitarist Liberty Ellman....