BRATTLEBORO -- The Vermont Jazz Center will present Cyrus Chestnut in a trio concert on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Called "the best pianist of his generation" by Time Magazine, Chestnut will appear with his current trio featuring bassist Eric Wheeler and drummer Evan Sherman. Chestnut’s repertoire is vast, varied and deep; his performances usually include selections from the Great American Songbook, gospel music and jazz standards. Chestnut’s original compositions, his soulful connection to the African-American gospel tradition and his extraordinary technique have earned him the highest regard from both his peers and jazz aficionados from around the world.
Chestnut was born into a musical family that nurtured his development; he was playing organ and piano in his family’s church by age 7 and at a larger church by age 9.
Chestnut’s connection to music was further fed by his deep belief that his abilities were given to him by God. For Chestnut, there has always been a deep connection between jazz and God. "I believe the ability to play music is a gift from God and every time I play, I’m thankful. Every time I sit down to play, for me, is worship and expression," he told Down Beat magazine.
From age 9, Chestnut studied the classical repertoire at the Peabody Conservatory preparatory program. For college he moved to Boston and studied at the Berklee School of Music, where, in 1985 he received a degree in jazz composition.
After Berklee, Chestnut’s path led him to perform as a sideman with jazz vocalist Jon Hendricks from 1986-88, trumpeter Terrence Blanchard and saxophonist Donald Harrison from 1988-90, and Wynton Marsalis in 1991. Soon after he joined forces with singer Betty Carter. He has said that playing with Carter was a form of graduate school. He learned from her that "jazz is about finding out who you are. That’s what I am trying to do." This lesson comes through in all of Chestnut’s music.
Since his tenure with Carter, Chestnut has worked with an array of artists, including Donald Harrison, Joe Lovano, Roy Hargrove, Freddie Hubbard, as Chick Corea, Kevin Mahogany, Dee Dee Bridgewater, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Pops and opera singer Kathleen Battle. In 1996 he appeared on the soundtrack to director Robert Altman’s feature film "Kansas City" (which also found Cyrus portraying a Count Basie-inspired pianist).
Chestnut’s music is a combination of several disparate styles and influences fused together through the filter of his intellect and heart. This is especially clear in his recording, "You Are My Sunshine," where he pays homage to his influences. Oscar Peterson and Ahmad Jamal are unquestionably on that list -- this is especially apparent in Chestnut’s use of space and emphasis on creating dialogue between the piano and the remainder of the group and extensive us of piano and bass playing doubled lines. Closer listening will show that he has also been influenced by Erroll Garner, McCoy Tyner, Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron and even Bud Powell.
The most clearly defining factor is Chestnut’s use of gospel as a personal statement that imbues his music across the stylistic spectrum. Not only does he play at least one solo gospel tune at each performance, but gospel subtly permeates his interpretation of virtually everything he plays. Chestnut’s harmonic fluidity, his ability to get funky at the spur of the moment, his use of the blues, tremolo and call and response are all characteristics derived from gospel music that enhance his jazz playing and inform his composing and arranging.
Chestnut will be joined by bassist Eric Wheeler who received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Howard University. Since then he has performed with Stephon Harris, Tim Warfield, Eddie Henderson, Mike Phillips, Roy Hargrove, Antonio Hart, Pharoah Sanders and others.
Drummer Evan Sherman has performed with Anat Cohen, Kenny Burrell, Ron Carter, Bob Cranshaw, Ray Drummond, Benny Green, Roy Hargrove, Stefon Harris, Jimmy Heath, Hubert Laws, John Lee, James Moody, The New York Voices, Claudio Roditi, Esperanza Spalding, and others. In 2011, at 18 years old, he made his debut performance with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. In 2013, he performed with the Jimmy Heath Big Band and Ron Carter’s Big Band.
The Cyrus Chestnut Trio is made possible thanks to financial support from a "friend of the Vermont Jazz Center Summer Jazz Workshop." This person believes in the VJC’s work and especially supports scholarship programs. This concert is also made possible with the support of the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hampton Inn of Brattleboro and VPR and WFCR.
Tickets are $20 for general admission, and $15 for students with I.D. (contact VJC about educational discounts). Tickets are available at In the Moment Record Store in Brattleboro, at www.vtjazz.org or they can be reserved by calling the Vermont Jazz Center ticket line, 802-254-9088, ext. 1.