“His brand of crisp articulation and blues inflected harmony evokes another era… multifaceted and dynamic… Mr. Chestnut was the evening’s star and he brought charisma to the role…”
The New York Times
The virtuoso ability to combine traditional jazz, avant-garde, classic, swing and Latin American rhythms, simplicity of forms and freedom of emotional expression made Cyrus Chestnut one of the most prominent pianists of the jazz community.
At age nine Chestnut was enrolled in the prep program at the Peabody Institute in Baltimore. He later headed to Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging. Before graduating from Berklee in 1985, Chestnut had received the Eubie Blake fellowship in 1982, the Oscar Peterson scholarship in 1983, and the Quincy Jones scholarship in 1984. In his free time Chestnut studied the history of music and the work of such masters as pianists Bud Powell, Wynton Kelly, and Hank Jones, and the work of gospel artists Clara Ward, Charles Taylor, and Shirley Caesar. In school he studied classical music, writing and performing. A Warner Jazz website article on Chestnut quoted the New York Times, which described Chestnut as a “highly intelligent improviser with one of the surest senses of swing in jazz.”
After graduating from Berklee, Chestnut went on to work with jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks from 1986-88, and trumpeter Terrence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison from 1988-90, before joining jazz legend Wynton Marsalis in 1991. But Chestnut really cut his teeth in the business when, one day at Berklee, jazz vocalist Betty Carter arrived to perform. Chestnut has earned a reputation for his skillful versatility, his ability for blending sounds and for unabashedly bringing gospel into the club performances he gives. And despite his sense of playful showmanship, he takes jazz very seriously and believes that jazz has great staying power. “Just as Bruce Springsteen has that ability to appeal to a mass audience, I have a vision that jazz can do the same. You can’t underestimate the power of this music,” Chestnut told the St. Petersburg Times.
Throughout his career, Chestnut has worked with an array of artists, including saxophonists James Carter, Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano; trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Freddie Hubbard; jazzman Chick Corea, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops, and opera singer Kathleen Battle, with whom he tours occasionally since 1995. More recently Chestnut has collaborated with vocalists Vanessa Williams, Anita Baker, Bette Midler, Isaac Hayes, and Brian McKnight. In 2000 he collaborated with Williams, McKnight and the Boys Choir of Harlem on an updated version of Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas. Chestnut’s 2001 release, Soul Food, provided a showcase for his versatility.
The album is a blend of jazz, classical, gospel, and R&B. In 2003 Chestnut released You Are My Sunshine on Warner Brothers Records. Prior to that, Chestnut released a solo piano album, Blessed Quietness: Collection of Hymns, Spirituals, and Carols in 1996, and followed with Cyrus Chestnut in 1998.
The New York Daily News once heralded Chestnut as the rightful heir to Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Erroll Garner. In an interview on National Public Radio (NPR) for All Things Considered, Chestnut remarked, “If I can send one person home after a performance feeling better than when they arrived, then I’ve done my job, and I sleep good at night.” To this day, Chestnut attends church every Sunday, and whenever he can he plays in the local church in Brooklyn, New York, where he lives with his family. He told CBS News, “If I’m not working, you’ll find me in somebody’s church.” Chestnut continually tours with his trio, playing live at jazz festivals around the world as well as clubs and concert halls. His leadership and prowess as a soloist has also led him to be a first call for the piano chair in many big bands including the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band.
Cyrus Chestnut will present his new program at “Jazz on the Dnieper” festival this year. You can listen to his virtuose play and improvisation manner on 20 of July, on the Monastery island.