The Artistry of… Cyrus Chestnut

A TIME magazine music critic’s quote speaks volumes about Cyrus Chestnut’s artistry and personality: “What makes Chestnut the best jazz pianist of his generation is a willingness to abandon notes and play space.”

His spirituality is at the foundation of his music. His parents were active in the church — his father a church piano player and his mother a choir director. He played in the church when he was young. Peabody, in his hometown of Baltimore, set him on his way with a prep program, and after that he landed at Berklee, its own kind of land of the giants. The soulful impact of the church is at the foundation of everything Chestnut does and plays. You can hear the spirituality in every strain.

This quote comes from his Howard University page, and it is so very right: “If I can send one person home after a performance feeling better than when they arrived, then I’ve done my job.” Chestnut continues to go to church on Sundays whenever he can, and he plays in church, too. In his words, “If I’m not working, you’ll find me in somebody’s church.”

The Artistry of… airs Wednesday evenings on Dinner Jazz with John Devenish.