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The 54th annual Mid-South Jazz Festival hosted the Cyrus Chestnut Trio for a concert on Saturday, March 28.
The Cyrus Chestnut Trio is a trio of jazz players who came together in September 1993, made up of bassist Devin Starks, drummer Neal Smith and pianist Cyrus Chestnut.
According to Chestnut, the group got together during another jazz festival similar to this one. “The director came up to me asking for someone to play some jazz while people left as the festival ended,” Chestnut said. “We’ve been playing ever since.”
The band has performed in various jazz events around the world, and Chestnut says they do this because of jazz’s creative environment.
“Jazz offers freedom of creativity,” Chestnut said. “It allows you to constantly create in the moment, creating something new each time.”
Chestnut said he began playing music at a young age, starting with the piano at age 3.
“That was the instrument for me,” Chestnut said. “I chose the piano, but the piano also chose me.”
A constant source of inspiration for his works, he says, is God.
On the band’s webpage, Chestnut says, “I believe the ability to play music is a gift from God, and every time I play, I’m thankful. Every time I sit down to play, for me, is worship and expression.”
The band has released several albums over the years, including “Dark before the Dawn” in 1994, an album designed to display that “Life is not one-sided. A lot of different things happen in life.” Others include “Blessed Quietness: Collection of Hymns, Spirituals, and Carols” in 1996, “Soul Food” in 2001 and “You are My Sunshine” in 2003, which was released on Warner Brothers Records.
“If I can send one person home after a performance feeling better than they arrived, then I’ve done my job, and I sleep good at night,” Chestnut said. While getting ready to perform, he said the “good feeling has to start from the bandstand. If the feeling isn’t there, the audience won’t feel it.”
During the Saturday performance, Chestnut highlighted a new collection of original compositions entitled “African Reflections.” He said he gained the inspiration from a recent trip to Africa.
“The roads were half paved and half not,” Chestnut said. “I went into one of the slave houses, and you could see, in the far corner, a hole, and the guy said that was where they would take the slaves … and take them onto a boat, never to see their families again. It really hit me then.”
When he returned from his trip, Chestnut said he composed several pieces with the feelings and memories of the experience in mind.
The Cyrus Chestnut Trio has earned a reputation for their versatility, cited for blending many unique sounds into pieces of art. Their work has since appeared in the iTunes store, where anyone can choose to hear Chestnut’s message through his music.
When asked about the trio’s direction, Chestnut said, “Hopefully, towards the future, I want to play for more and more people, however that is to happen.”