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. Afterememberklee, Cyrus began further honing his craft 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, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Chick Corea, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Joe Williams, Isaac Hayes, Kathleen Battle, Betty Carter and Dizzy Gillespie, just to name a few.
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 too 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.
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 a unique and unforgettable show as he takes the stage at Keystone Korner Baltimore.
“I like to construct melodies that tell stories, based on what I’ve seen, what I feel and what I hear,” Chestnut explains. “If I can connect to what I’m playing, then I’ll be able to share it. That’s why you may think that some of what I do seems simple, but when you get into it, it’s not as simple as you think.” Cyrus Chestnut