Cyrus Chestnut

Cyrus Chestnut
By Jimmy Katz
Cyrus Chestnut
By Jimmy Katz
Cyrus Chestnut and bassist Kengo Nakamura at the Caramoor Jazz Festival, Katonah, NY 1999
By Enid Farber
Cyrus Chestnut
By Kwaku Alston
(l-r) Christian Sands, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Harolyn Blackwell, Geri Allen, Winard Harper, Carmen Lundy, Connaitre Miller, Chip Jackson, Terence Blanchard, Cyrus Chestnut, and Danilo Pérez perform during the finale of Jazz on the Elevens: A Tribute to Billy
By Margot Schulman
Terence Blanchard, Cyrus Chestnut, and Danilo Pérez perform during Jazz on the Elevens: A Tribute to Billy Taylor on November 11, 2011
By Margot Schulman
Cyrus Chestnut and Danilo Pérez perform during Jazz on the Elevens: A Tribute to Billy Taylor on November 11, 2011
By Margot Schulman
Cyrus Chestnut performing at Havana Nights Jazz and Cigar Club in Virginia Beach,VA
By Mark Robbins
Cyrus Chestnut performing at Havana Nights Jazz and Cigar Club in Virginia Beach,VA
By Mark Robbins
Cyrus Chestnut performing at Havana Nights Jazz and Cigar Club in Virginia Beach,VA
By Mark Robbins
Cyrus Chestnut performing at Havana Nights Jazz and Cigar Club in Virginia Beach,VA
By Mark Robbins
Cyrus Chestnut performing at Havana Nights Jazz and Cigar Club in Virginia Beach,VA
By Mark Robbins

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Born in 1963, Chestnut started his musical career at the age of three, playing piano at the Mount Calvary Star Baptist Church at the age of six in his hometown of Baltimore, MD. By age nine, he was studying classical music at the Peabody Preparatory Institute in Baltimore. In the fall of 1981, Cyrus began jazz education in Boston, MA at the Berklee College of Music. In 1985, he earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging. While at Berklee, Chestnut was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship, the Oscar Peterson, Quincy Jones, and Count Basie awards for exceptional performance standards at the college. After Berklee, Cyrus began further honing his craft as a sideman with some of the legendary and leading musicians in the business. Some of these great people include; Jon Hendricks, Michael Carvin, Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard, , Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Regina Cater, Chick Corea, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Joe Williams, Isaac Hayes, Kathleen Battle, Betty Carter and, Dizzy Gillespie just to name a few. His association with Betty 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 Cyrus 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 Coming was his first self-released album, followed by The Nutman Speaks (1992), The Nutman Speaks Again (1992), Another Direction (1993). The records received the prestigious Gold Disk award from Japan’s leading jazz publication, Swing Journal.

In the summer of 1993, Chestnut signed with Atlantic Records, releasing the critically acclaimed Revelation (1994), followed by The Dark Before The Dawn (1995) Earth Stories (1996) Blessed Quietness (1996) and Cyrus Chestnut (which featured Anita Baker, James Carter, Joe Lovano, Ron Carter, Billy Higgins, and Lewis Nash, 1998). In 2000, Cyrus was given a great honor to pay tribute to his favorite cartoonist, Charles Schulz and first jazz influence, Vince Guaraldi in his interpretation of the classic Charlie Brown Christmas, which celebrated Mr. Schulz’s 50th year of writing the saga of Charlie Brown. Vanessa Williams, Brian McKnight, The Manhattan Transfer and the Boys Choir of Harlem were a few of the participants on this star-studded record. 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 record was included in Down Beat’s list of the best records of 2001 and ascended to the “Top 10” on the Jazz charts. In 2005, Cyrus recorded “You Are My Sunshine” on the Warner Jazz label. This record was and still is a hit with jazz and gospel lovers alike. It featured Neal Smith on drums and Michael Hawkins on bass.

In 2006, Chestnut made his Telarc debut with the release of Genuine Chestnut. The album is a carefully balanced mix of original material with some well-known pop melodies from the past several decades—all driven by Chestnut’s eclectic yet unmistakable jazz sensibility.

In addition to his regular backup unit of bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith, guitarist Russell Malone and percussionist Steve Kroon join Chestnut. The synergy between the regular trio lineup and the two guest players was a natural fit, says Chestnut. “When you have that caliber of musicianship in the studio, getting comfortable is not a difficult task,” he says. “I encouraged everyone to just be themselves. I brought Russell Malone into the studio to be Russell Malone. I brought Steve Kroon into the studio to be Steve Kroon. Likewise, Neal Smith and Michael Hawkins are there to do what they do best.”

In 2007, Cyrus recorded Cyrus plays Elvis for Koch records. A move possibly misunderstood by some wondering how Elvis and jazz can find common ground. Chest nut speaks about this move. “To some the Elvis record was a marketing concept cooked up by Koch. It was not. I found myself connected to Elvis through his gospel and blues roots. It would be a welcome challenge to present the music of an icon in a whole different way.”

As 2008 approached, Chestnut found himself with an opportunity to work once again with more of the great contributors to jazz, Buster Williams and Al Foster as the record Black Nile that was released on M and I records in Japan. “Having the opportunity to record with Al (Foster) and Buster (Williams) was a sheer dream come true. I will treasure that experience forever.

In 2009, Cyrus returned to his church roots with a solo offering on the JLP record label entitled Spirit. It continues to this day to get rave reviews.

Continuing his relationship with JLP in 2010, he returns back to original works with his working trio, Neal Smith on drums and Dezron Douglas on bass. This record will be called Journeys and it is sure to thrill and warm many hearts.

2010 is also a busy recording year for Chestnut as he teams up with pianist Eric Reed in
a historic live recording at Dizzys Club Coca Cola as well as a Strayhorn/Ellington tribute record with Bassist John Brown and stellar drummer Adonis Rose.

Cyrus has been featured on film playing a Count Basie inspired character in the Robert Altman film, Kansas City. 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 Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All Star Big Band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. He has recorded with the people before mentioned and including Bette Midler, Freddy Cole, and many others to numerous to name.

Chestnut continually tours with his trio, playing live at jazz festivals around the world as well as clubs and concert halls. With his hectic schedule, Cyrus has also found the time to get into jazz education, doing seminars worldwide and also on occasion, educating students in jazz at Middlebury College in Vermont during the winter months. Joined by bassist Dezron Douglas and drummer Neal Smith, he continually uses the trio format to extend, elaborate, and refine the basic conception of the jazz rhythm section. In his own words, “This country and this art form are founded on the basic principles of freedom, whereby 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 environment was, shared freely their thoughts and feelings in a swinging, musical way on the bandstand. They swung hard and made the listeners feel better leaving than when they arrived. This is the tradition I intend to preserve.

The future is bright with great possibilities for Cyrus. Expect once again this year to hear a unique and unforgettable recording that only can come from someone like Cyrus Chestnut.


Artist’s website

Articles on Cyrus Chestnut

08/26/15    News    By JazzTimes

Turtle Island Quartet Reunites with Cyrus Chestnut for New Program

07/24/15    Albums    By Mike Joyce

A Million Colors in Your Mind
Cyrus Chestnut

11/09/14    Albums    By Jeff Tamarkin

Midnight Melodies
Cyrus Chestnut

01/02/14    Albums    By Jeff Tamarkin

Soul Brother Cool
Cyrus Chestnut

03/13/13    News    By Hillary Casavant

Twin Cities Jazz Festival Announces 2013 Headliners

02/04/13    iRockJazz Video    By John Moultrie

Cyrus Chestnut: From the Church to the Bandstand

09/19/11    Albums    By Philip Booth

The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet
Cyrus Chestnut

07/02/11    Scenes    By JazzTimes

Baltimore, Maryland Jazz Scene

03/29/11    Photos    By Jim Eigo

Benefit Concert for James Moody Scholarship for Newark Youth

03/24/10    News    By Lee Mergner

Kennedy Center Announces 2010-2011 Season of Jazz Concerts & Events

12/04/09    News    By Aubrey Everett

VF Outlet Berks Jazz Fest Announces Lineup

10/10/09    News    By Lee Mergner

Giants of Jazz Concert Honors Randy Weston

06/25/08    Concerts    By Perry Tannenbaum

Spoleto Festival USA

November 2007    Eighty-Eights    By Thomas Conrad

Cyrus Plays Elvis
Cyrus Chestnut

May 2007    News    By Willard Jenkins

Living History: Jazz Legends Celebrate at D.C.’s Kennedy Center

July/August 2006    Features    By Geoffrey Himes

Nonstandards Fare: Jazz and Pop

April 2006    Eighty-Eights    By Thomas Conrad

Genuine Chestnut
Cyrus Chestnut

April 2006    Eighty-Eights    By Thomas Conrad

Genuine Chestnut
Cyrus Chestnut

December 2005    Albums    By Brent Burton

Gold Sounds
James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Ali Jackson, Reginald Veal

December 2005    Albums    By Brent Burton

Gold Sounds
James Carter, Cyrus Chestnut, Ali Jackson, Reginald Veal

November 2005    News    By Aaron Steinberg

James Carter and Cyrus Chestnut: Hit the Pavement

09/19/05    By Bill Milkowski

Concerts — November 2005

November 2003    Albums    By John Murph

You Are My Sunshine
Cyrus Chestnut

January/February 2002    Features    By Geoffrey Himes

Cyrus Chestnut: Jazz Hymns, Catholic Tastes

07/03/01    Concerts    By Josef Woodard

2001 Vitoria-Gasteiz and San Sebastian Jazz Festivals

January/February 1999    Features    By Bill Milkowski

Cyrus Chestnut: Realizing the Vision


A Charlie Brown Christmas

Atlantic Records

Soul Food

Atlantic Records

You Are My Sunshine

Warner Brothers

Genuine Chestnut


Gold Sounds

Brown Brothers

Cyrus Plays Elvis

E1 Music


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