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Spotlight on Jazz-Cyrus Chestnut

November 8, 2010

Cyrus Chestnut started his musical career at the age of six, playing piano at Mount Calvary Baptist Church. By age nine, he was studying classical music at Peabody Institute. In 1985, Chestnut earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging from Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music. While at Berklee, Chestnut was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship (1982), the Quincy Jones Scholarship (1983), and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship (1984).

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, which began in ’91, 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.

In 2000, Chestnut collaborated 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 special guest soloists including 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 “Top 10” on the Jazz Charts. 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.

Cyrus Chestnut is appearing at the Jazz Standard.

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