The Vermont Jazz Center will present Cyrus Chestnut in a trio concert on October 19th at 8:00 PM. 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 (such as East of the Sun, It's Alright with Me), gospel music (like Precious Lord, Swing Low...) and jazz standards (e.g. In a Mellow Tone, Giant Steps). Chestnut's superb 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. A concert by the Cyrus Chestnut Trio is a breath-taking event: those in attendance will be privy to a manifestation of talent and intention, an experience that crystalizes the potential of the highest level of musicianship, craftwork and heart within the jazz tradition.
"A highly intelligent improviser with one of the surest senses of swing in jazz."
-- New York Times
What is at the root of Chestnut's gift? Surely it has something to do with the fact that he was born talented, into a musical family that nurtured his development; he was playing organ and piano in his family's church by age seven and at a larger church by age nine. The benefits of having music in one's life as a youth is a reoccurring theme. We see it in the wonderful music programs at our local schools and in the VJC's ensembles, workshops and jam sessions all the time. These positive attributes include enhanced self-confidence, boosted intellectual curiosity, a sense of belonging within a community and a connection to a venerated lineage. 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. In the liner notes of virtually every recording he has produced, Chestnut offers thanks for this gift.
From the age of 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. However you interpret it, Cyrus' gift is something for us all to be grateful for. In the liner notes to his 2003 release You are My Sunshine, he states:
As you listen, simply close your eyes, open your ears and hearts, and let the peace, joy and harmony permeate your spirit. It is my wish that the spirit of hope and love that went into the making of this musical document will fully reach you.
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 the great singer Betty Carter. He has often 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 shining through in all of Chestnut's music. Since his tenure with Carter, Chestnut has worked with an array of artists, including saxophonists James Carter, Donald Harrison and Joe Lovano; trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Freddie Hubbard as well 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 has said "People will come up to me after a set and say this or that tune sounded just like Oscar Peterson or Ahmad Jamal. I am not trying to be them; I am trying to find out who Cyrus Chestnut is." Cyrus' 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. Peterson and 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 (like Ahmad Jamal) and extensive us of piano and bass playing doubled lines (like Peterson and Ray Brown). Closer listening will show that he has also been strongly influenced by Erroll Garner, McCoy Tyner, Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron and even Bud Powell. But his essential sound is unique and very much belonging to a mature, developed master.
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 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 many 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 many others. In 2011, at 18 years old, Evan made his debut performance with the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band at Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow. In 2013, Evan performed with the Jimmy Heath Big Band and Ron Carter's Big Band.
Come enjoy the sounds of a pianist whose music epitomizes beauty, quality and character, a brilliant man capable of developing an improvised solo to the point where he can make his audience gasp. We are truly fortunate to have this trio in the house! Find out why Chestnut claims: "I don't take this gift of music lightly, man. I take it very seriously. I want to be able to do something with this gift that can uplift the human experience. The more people I can reach, the more I feel my job is getting done."
The Cyrus Chestnut Trio is made possible thanks to generous 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 enabling all students, regardless of their financial means to attend concerts and educational programs. This concert is also made possible thanks to the support of the Vermont Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hampton Inn of Brattleboro and VPR and WFCR.
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In the Moment, 143 Main St, Brattleboro, VT
Call the Jazz Center at 802-254-9088 to reserve tickets.