CJA Network Newsletter Featured Interview Summer 2006

Cyrus Chestnut

(Cyrus Chestnut has a very impressive discography producing many recordings with his trio His latest trio recording is, "Genuine Chestnut". Samples can be heard here! Cyrus also has played and produced other many other great CD's notably, "Soul Food" with Christian McBride, Marcus Printup, Wycliffe Jordan, Gary Bartz, James Carter and others. He played on another great CD project with Roy Hargrove, " WIth The Tenors Of Our Time".   We appreciate his commitment to Christ and jazz! Cyrus has been part of our network for over 2 years and we are very proud to have him be a part!)

 1) You graduated with honors from Berklee College Of Music. When you
were there what do you feel was one of the most memorable lessons you
learned about jazz?

C. While at Berklee, I learned that I had to play with power and
conviction. Jazz never stays still. You always had to keep growing.

2) Who are some of your major influences in Jazz piano?

C. That is a very difficult question because there are so many
influences for different reasons. I would have to start from Jelly Roll Morton, move into Fats Waller, go to Bud Powell along with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and so on and so on. I feel it necessary to check the history of jazz but not be a prisoner to it.

3) Yes, and a hearty, “amen” to that statement about the history of jazz! What jazz pianists are you listening to these days?

C. Tommy Flanagan, Ray Bryant, Herbie Hancock.

4) Wow, those are definitely all great jazz pianists! But let’s get back to you Cyrus! You have said that when you and your trio plays in concert that you
are, “trying to bring the spirit of joy to as many places as possible”. Explain further how growing up in church has had a major impact on your music.

C. The church, Jesus Christ is the foundation of who I am. As I live
each day, I learn more how important learning and living on the
principles that Jesus taught is so important. As I have been blessed
by God with this gift of music, I wish to be a blessing to others.
Being a good servant (like Jesus was) is very important to me. I have
been given a unique song filled with unique melodies rhythms and
harmonies and it is my duty to share what God has given to me with
others and not keep it to myself.

5) (Yes, I am with you all the way about trying to, “live out” the principals that Jesus taught in every day life!) You have such a great feel for swing…did you learn to swing in church?

C. Maybe so...I don't know. It was just something inside me.

6) What are your thoughts about the spiritual connection between God,
creativity, and jazz?

C. For me, having no connection with God is suicide. I believe it all comes from him. It never and ever will be about Cyrus Chestnut. It's all about glorifying God.

7) Thanks for giving credit to whom and where the source of your musical gifts came from! What is one of your favorite Hymns?

C. Tough questions...Tough questions..... Let's see... “Sweet Hour of
Prayer”, “It Is Well With My Soul” and so on...

8) (And you have recorded so many beautiful piano renditions of Hymns on your many CD’s! I am so thankful that you have made it a priority to include hymns in your recordings!) Some Jazz Historians say that the roots of jazz music came from the church anyway and that soulful, “church blues” turned into jazz! And jazz continues to evolve today in a myriad of ways! In fact, Jazz is played in churches across America every Sunday! (A lot of the keyboard players in the black gospel churches use jazz voicings, harmonic and rhythmic variations, and they can bring the funk as well!) What are your thoughts about this?

C. That is true. It is amazing how gospel has evolved. Many times I
learn some of the coolest stuff by listening to the cats play in church.

9) There’s quite a few jazz musicians who are Christians out
there...who are some that you know?

C. Eric Reed, Neal Smith, Carl Allen, Todd Williams, Mike Hawkins and

10) I am very familiar with Eric Reed (another phenomenal jazz pianist) but will have to check out some of the others you mentioned! Have you ever played jazz in a church setting?

C. Yes. I have played vespers services. It is very special.

11) What is one of the most spiritual experiences you have ever had
while playing music?

C. When the anointing of God flows it is a powerful experience. You
find yourself doing things quite amazing. I am grateful that I have
had some of these experiences.

12) Brother, I know exactly what you are talking about when God’s Spirit gets a hold of you while your playing and it is absolutely indescribable!!! Let’s talk about your new CD now! I noticed that besides, “straight ahead” you have a couple of Latin flavored jazz tunes on your new CD and other genres. I read a recent remark you made in a Telarc press release…” I believe that the hallmark of jazz music is innovation. It’s about searching for something new, and finding out in the process who you really are”. Please, elaborate further on this statement!

C. Betty Carter has always said that Jazz is about finding out who
you are and sharing that. It is important to keep moving forward.
One must always search and pray for inspiration to share what God has
laid on his/her heart.

13) I read in another interview you did that you said, "If I were to
do a record on an electronic piano, it would not be smooth jazz but a
funk record. It would be the type of funk that when you listen to it,
you'd be frowning". That’s very funny!!! ( I do think a funk/jazz CD from Cyrus would be a great thing!! ) Any plans for doing a funk recording?

C. I love to groove:-)......Always have and always will. That is
something coming sown the pike and believe me it should not fit the
basic stereotype.

14) I also really like the CD you did, “Soul Food” with horns, ( you
know a little Art Blakely, Horace Silver) Did you take the band you
had for this CD on the road?(Christian Mcbride, James Carter, Marcus
Printup, Wycliffe Gordon, and Lewis Nash)

C. Thank you…I am glad you enjoyed the “Soul Food CD“. But to answer the second part of your question... no. Those guys are leaders on their own and have busy schedules.

15) On your new CD, “Genuine Chestnut” both, ”El Numero Tres and, “Baby
Girls Strut” have a Latin jazz feel CD and offers some harmonic and
rhythmic twists as well--- did you write these songs?

C. Yes...

16) But I also appreciate the straight ahead vibe and blending that
together with swing, gospel, and Latin makes for a very tasteful
variety! There are some very beautiful quiet moments on the CD ( love
the solo piano piece, “Lord I Give Myself To You”) Do you have words
written for this song?

C. There are words but I do not have them with me at this time. This
song is one of the many worship and praise songs that exist from
church to church.

17) Such a beautiful melody…I would love to hear a sax player blow
over those changes! But I love the soft touch you use on this
piece…you took me to church on this one! ( We will see if we can get Cyrus to get us a lead sheet of this song!)

C. I try my best not to operate in the spirit of Cyrus, but the spirit
of Christ.

18) Why do people call you the "Nutman"?

C. Carl Allen gave me that name. It's an offshoot of Chestnut. Hence
nut - man

Cyrus, thanks for celebrating your musical gifts and spreading joy and
spiritual energy with your music and with your life. We are very proud
to have you be a part of the Christian Jazz Network!

More information on Cyrus can be found here!