Cyrus Chestnut

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Cyrus Chestnut
Pianist Cyrus Chestnut on VOA.png
Background information
Born (1963-01-17) January 17, 1963 (age 55)
Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.
GenresJazz, blues
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, producer
Years active1992–present
LabelsAlfa, Evidence, Atlantic, Warner Bros., Telarc, WJ3

Cyrus Chestnut (born January 17, 1963) is an American jazz pianist, composer and producer. In 2006, Josh Tyrangiel, music critic for Time, wrote: "What makes Chestnut the best jazz pianist of his generation is a willingness to abandon notes and play space."[1] Chestnut enjoys mixing styles and resists being typecast in any one niche, though his gospel sound is apparent on a number of his recordings.

Early life[edit]

Cyrus Chestnut was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963, son of McDonald (a retired post-office employee and church pianist) and Flossie (a city social services worker and church choir director).[2] Chestnut started learning piano at the age of seven, and in his boyhood played at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.[2] By the age of nine,[3] he was studying classical music at the Peabody Institute.[2] In 1985, Chestnut earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging from Boston's Berklee College of Music.[4] While at Berklee, Chestnut was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship (1982), the Quincy Jones Scholarship (1983), and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship (1984).

Later life and career[edit]

Cyrus Chestnut at Oslo Jazzfestival in 2016

Chestnut toured as pianist for Jon Hendricks, 1986–88; Terrence Blanchard, 1988–90; Donald Harrison, 1988–90; Wynton Marsalis, 1991; and the Betty Carter Trio, 1991–93. His association with Carter 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 said.

In 1993, at the age of 30, Chestnut signed with Atlantic Records, releasing the critically acclaimed Revelation (1993), followed by The Dark Before The Dawn (1994) (the album debuted in the sixth spot on the Billboard Jazz Charts), Earth Stories (1995) and then Cyrus Chestnut (1998). Chestnut has also performed and/or recorded with, Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Jon Hendricks, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Scott, Chick Corea, Isaac Hayes, Kevin Mahogany, Dizzy Gillespie, and opera diva Kathleen Battle, most notably on the Sony Classical recording "So Many Stars". Their shared church roots resulted in such a positive chemistry between Battle and Chestnut that he then joined the soprano on a fall 1996 U.S. Tour. Later that year came Blessed Quietness: A Collection of Hymns, Spirituals and Carols (1996), an album of traditional numbers instilled with the gospel and blues Chestnut grew up listening to. In addition to appearing on the soundtrack to director Robert Altman's 1996 feature film Kansas City, Chestnut also made his big screen debut portraying a Count Basie-inspired pianist.[5]

In 2000, Chestnut signed with manager Bruce Garfield, who convinced him to collaborate with Vanessa L. 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 guest soloists including James Carter, Stefon Harris, Wycliffe Gordon and Marcus Printup. This album was one of Down Beat′s best records of 2002 and ascended to "Top 10" on the Jazz Charts.

In 2006 Chestnut released his first album on Telarc International Records, entitled Genuine Chestnut. On it he is accompanied by his regular trio of Michael Hawkins, bass and Neal Smith, drums. Additional artists on this session include Russell Malone, guitar and Steven Kroon, percussion. It includes jazz interpretations of some well-known pop numbers of the past half-century, including "If", the early 1970s soft-rock ballad by Bread. "This song has been with me ever since the sixth grade," Chestnut recalled, "I had to play it for my English teacher's wedding. I've played it in many and various contexts. I actually played it in a Top 40 band when I was just out of school. A lot of time has passed, but then recently I just started thinking about it again."[6] Chestnut's own "Mason–Dixon line" is one of the album's high points, a joyful bebop number.[7] 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, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra.


As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Notes
1992? The Nutman Speaks Alfa Jazz
1992? The Nutman Speaks Again Alfa Jazz
1992 Nut Evidence/Alfa Jazz Trio, with Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen (drums)
1993 Another Direction Evidence Trio, with Christian McBride (bass), Carl Allen (drums)
1993 Revelations Atlantic Trio, with Christopher J. Thomas (bass), Clarence Penn (drums)
1994 Dark Before the Dawn Atlantic Trio, with Steve Kirby (bass), Clarence Penn (drums)
1995 Earth Stories Atlantic With Eddie Allen (trumpet), Antonio Hart (alto sax), Steve Kirby (bass), Alvester Garnett (drums)
1996 Blessed Quietness Atlantic Solo piano
1997 American Meditation Baybridge Manhattan Trinity+1, with Antonio Hart (alto sax), George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
1998 Cyrus Chestnut Atlantic with James Carter (alto sax), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass), Billy Higgins, Lewis Nash (drums), Anita Baker (vocals)
1998 Make Me a Memory Baybridge Manhattan Trinity+1, with Teodross Avery (tenor, soprano sax), George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
1998 A Love Story M&I Manhattan Trinity+1, with Eric Alexander (tenor sax), George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2000 A Charlie Brown Christmas Atlantic with Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Kenny Garrett (alto sax), choir
2001 Soul Food Atlantic with Marcus Printup (trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Gary Bartz (alto sax), James Carter (tenor sax), Stefon Harris (vibraphone), Christian McBride (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2001 Love Letters M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2002 You Are My Sunshine Warner Bros. Trio, with Michael Hawkins (bass), Neal Smith (drums)
2002 Misty M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2003 Alfie M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2004 Charade M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2005 Genuine Chestnut Telarc Some tracks trio, with Michael Hawkins (bass), Neal Smith (drums); some tracks quartet with Russell Malone (guitar) added; some tracks quartet with Steven Kroon (percussion) added; some tracks quintet
2006 The Gentle Rain M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2007 Cyrus Plays Elvis Koch Trio, with Dezron Douglas (bass), Neal Smith (drums)
2008 Sunflower - Henry Mancini Songbook M&I Manhattan Trinity, with George Mraz (bass), Lewis Nash (drums)
2009? Spirit Jazz Legacy
2012? The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet WJ3
2013? Soul Brother Cool WJ3
2014 A Million Colors in Your Mind Highnote Trio, with David Williams (bass), Victor Lewis (drums)
2015 Natural Essence Highnote Trio, with Buster Williams (bass), Lenny White (drums)
2017 There's a Sweet, Sweet Spirit Highnote Most tracks trio, with Buster Williams (bass), Lenny White (drums); some tracks quartet, with Steve Nelson (vibraphone)
2018 Kaleidoscope Highnote Trio, with Eric Wheeler (bass), Chris Beck (drums)

As sideman[edit]

With Betty Carter

With James Carter

With Vincent Herring

With Phil Wilson

  • Latin American Tour (1985)


Year Title Genre Label Notes
1994 Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents: The Fire of the Fundamentals Jazz Sony with Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis, Kenny Barron, Betty Carter, Chris Thomas, Christian McBride, et al.
1999 Essential Young Lions Vol. 1 Jazz Hip-O with Roy Hargrove, Larry Goldings Trio, Stefon Harris, Donald Harrison, The Benny Green Trio, Stefon Harris, et al.
2000 Piano Grand! A Smithsonian Celebration classical, jazz and rock & roll Sony with Diana Krall, Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Dave Brubeck, Billy Joel, Jerry Lee Lewis, Robert Levin, et al.
2003 Torch: A Six Degrees Collection of Modern Torch Songs Jazz Six Degrees with Cassandra Wilson, Bugge Wesseltoft, Roy Nathanson, Sylk 130, Elvis Costello, dZihan & Kamien, Sarah Cracknell, et al.
2007 Funky Jazz Party, Vol. 2: Love Jams Jazz Atlantic with Anita Baker, Steve Cole, Wayman Tisdale, Gerald Albright, Brian Culbertson, Rick Braun, et al.


  1. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (March 19, 2006). "Music: 5 Great New Albums". Retrieved May 22, 2015.
  2. ^ a b c Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler (April 1, 2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-988640-1.
  3. ^ "Biography", Cyrus Chestnut website.
  4. ^ [1]Prominent Berklee Alumni at the Wayback Machine (archived August 21, 2007)
  5. ^ "Kansas City (1996) : Full credits". Retrieved May 22, 2015.
  6. ^ "Concord Music Group". Retrieved May 22, 2015.
  7. ^ "Genuine Chestnut by Cyrus Chestnut". February 28, 2006. Retrieved May 22, 2015.

External links[edit]