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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[]

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, [] 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.[3] 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[]

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.[4]

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."[5] Chestnut's own "Mason–Dixon line" is one of the album's high points, a joyful bebop number.[6] 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. Chestnut is currently represented by Addeo Music International (AMI).


As leader[]

Year Title Genre Label
1992 The Nutman Speaks Jazz Alfa Jazz
1992 The Nutman Speaks Again Jazz Alfa Jazz
1992 Nut Jazz Evidence/Alfa Jazz
1993 Another Direction Jazz Evidence
1993 Revelation Jazz Atlantic
1994 Dark Before the Dawn Jazz Atlantic
1995 Earth Stories Jazz Atlantic
1996 Blessed Quietness: Collection of Hymns,
Spirituals and Carols
Gospel Atlantic
1998 Cyrus Chestnut Jazz Atlantic
2000 A Charlie Brown Christmas Jazz Atlantic
2001 Soul Food Jazz Atlantic
2003 You Are My Sunshine Jazz Warner Bros.
2006 Genuine Chestnut Jazz Telarc
2007 Cyrus Plays Elvis Jazz Koch
2009 Spirit Jazz Jazz Legacy
2012 The Cyrus Chestnut Quartet Jazz WJ3
2013 Soul Brother Cool Jazz WJ3
2015 A Million Colors in Your Mind Jazz Highnote

As sideman[]

With Betty Carter

  • It's Not About the Melody (1992)

With James Carter

  • In Carterian Fashion (Atlantic, 1998)
  • Gold Sounds (Brown Brothers, 2005)

With Vincent Herring

  • The Uptown Shufle (Smoke Sessions, 2013)

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 (2006-03-19). Music: 5 Great New Albums. Retrieved on May 22, 2015.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler (1 April 2007). The Biographical Encyclopedia of Jazz. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-988640-1.
  3. [1] Template:Webarchive
  4. Kansas City (1996) : Full credits. Retrieved on May 22, 2015.
  5. Concord Music Group. Retrieved on May 22, 2015.
  6. Genuine Chestnut by Cyrus Chestnut. (2006-02-28). Retrieved on May 22, 2015.

External links[]

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