One of the most challenging and musically demanding ventures for any traditional jazz pianist is the solo piano concert, where the pianist must do without the standard backing of bass and percussion, supplying all the musical elements necessary to sustain interest over a complete concert. Few pianists are as equal to the task as the great Cyrus Chestnut. Don't miss this opportunity to hear him perform on a fine instrument in the intimate venue of the Millsaps recital hall.
Born in 1963, Chestnut started his musical career at the age of six, playing piano at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown of Baltimore. By age nine, he was studying classical music at the Peabody Conservatory. In 1985, Chestnut earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging form Boston's renowned Berklee College of Music. While at Berklee, Chestnut was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship, the Oscar Peterson Scholarship, the Quincy Jones Scholarship, and the Basie Award. He then began working as a sideman with some of the leading players in the music business, including Donald Harrison and Terence Blanchard, Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, George Adams, James Moody, as well as vocalists Jon Hendricks, Joe Williams, and Betty Carter. His association with Carter, which began in 1991, significantly affected his outlook and approach to music, confirming his already iconoclastic instincts. Carter advised him to "take chances" and "play things I've never heard," Chestnut says.
As Chestnut was absorbing experiences as a sideman, he was also developing as a leader, recording and playing live around the world. "There's a Brighter Day Comin'" was his first self-released album, followed by "The Nutman Speaks" (1991), "The Nutman Speaks Again" (1991), "Nut" (1992), and "Another Direction" (1993). The latter two each received the Gold Disk award from Japan's leading jazz publication, Swing Journal.
In 1993 Chestnut signed with Atlantic Records, releasing the critically-acclaimed "Revelation" (1994), followed by "The Dark Before the Dawn" (1995), "Blessed Quietness" (1996), "Earth Stories" (1996), and "Cyrus Chestnut" (1998). IN 2000 Chestnut collaborated with Vanessa Williams, Brian McKnight, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Boys' Choir of Harlem on "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In 2001 he released "Soul Food," featuring bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash, and special guest soloist James Carter, Stefon Harris, Wycliffe Gordon, and Marcus Printup. This acclaimed album was included in Down Beat's list of the best records of 2002 and ascended to the "Top 10" on the jazz charts.
Chestnut has also performed and/or recorded with Kathleen Battle, Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Jimmy Scott, Isaac Hayes, and Kevin Mahogany. 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, the Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra.
Chestnut continually tours with his trio, playing at jazz festivals and in concert halls around the world. "I'm trying to bring the spirit of joy to as many places as possible," he says. "This country and this art are founded on the basic principles of freedom, wherby a person is able to think, say, or play what he or she chooses. Throughout the years as I look at history, all of my predecessors, regardless of what their situation was when they arrived on the bandstand, were free to share their thoughts and feelings in a musical way. The did whatever they saw musically fit and the best of them were always about swinging and making people feel good. I try to continue that tradition."
Chestnut and his trio can be heard on the brand new Warner Brothers' Jazz debut album "You Are My Sunshine."