Cyrus Chestnut (born January 17, 1963) is an American jazz pianist, songwriter, and producer. In 2006, Josh Tyrangiel, music critic for Time Magazine, wrote: "What makes Chestnut the best jazz pianist of his generation is a willingness to abandon notes and play space." Chestnut enjoys mixing styles and resists being typecast in any one niche, though his gospel sound is apparent on a number of his recordings.
Cyrus Chestnut was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963, son of McDonald (a retired post-office employee and church organist) and Flossie (a city social services worker and church choir director). Chestnut started his musical career at the age of six, playing piano at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown. By the age of nine, he was studying classical music at the 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 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), a reverently assembled 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.
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 special 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, Genuine Chestnut, on TelArc Records. 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.” Chestnut's own "Mason Dixon Line" is one of the album's high points, a joyful bebop number. 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).
- Cyrus Chestnut: Genuine ChestnutTime magazine (retrieved September 1, 2007).
- Berklee's Prominent Alumni
- The movie Kansas City (1996)
- TelArc debut with the release of Genuine Chestnut(Retrieved September 1, 2007)
- Cyrus Chestnut: Genuine ChestnutSrtistDirect (retrieved September 1, 2007).