Cyrus Chestnut Wows ‘em in Waimea

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Cyrus Chestnut Trio
Kahilu Theatre, Waimea
February 17, 2018

It may seem selfish to admit it, but jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut’s two 50-minute sets at the Kahilu Theatre last Saturday night weren’t long enough for many of us in the crowd. The Waimea audience was so attentive and respectful they let Chestnut’s diminishing notes fade into complete silence before unleashing loud cheers and applause.

The Baltimore-born jazz pianist made a Big Island stop on his 2018 tour before heading to Melbourne, Australia to play a five-night gig at Bird’s Basement.

Chestnut grew up in the Mount Calvary Baptist Church and has been a musical prodigy from early childhood. He studied classical piano at the Peabody Institute. After attending Berklee College, Chestnut worked with vocalist Betty Carter, and collaborated with such luminaries as Wynton Marsalis and Anita Baker, on stage and in the recording studio.

Chestnut’s career spans nearly 30 years, but still honors his gospel roots —his father was a church organist and his mother directed the choir. For Chestnut, there has always been a deep connection between jazz and God. He believes jazz is a religious musical genre. Saturday’s concert was definitely a religious experience for many concertgoers.

After playing a trio of songs, Chestnut grabbed the microphone, and in his soft-spoken voice set the ground rules for the evening.

“Some of you might expect us to play the music of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, or Miles Davis,” explained Chestnut. “If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re in the wrong place. We like to stand under the foundation that our jazz forefathers built for us, but I think they’d be encouraging us, and say, ‘You don’t have to do what we did, you do what you do.’” The audience applauded with approval.

Before launching into a suite inspired by classical composers such as Frédéric Chopin and Erik Satie, Chestnut alerted the crowd that the band would be putting their own spin on “Opus 28, No. 20 (Prelude.)” It’s the uptown 125th Street version,” said Chestnut. “We take it up a fourth to F minor and add some blues to it. Hopefully what you hear is in tradition, but not imprisoned by tradition.”

Chestnut ended the first set with “Coco City,” which he said was from a suite that’s still in development titled “African Reflections,” inspired by his visit to Senegal.

Bassist Eric Wheeler (photo: Steve Roby)

During the evening’s second set of music, Chestnut let his drummer Chris Beck take the spotlight on one of his own compositions, “Soul Star.” It comes from his debut album, Journey. Bassist Eric Wheeler had his moment too, and performed an original ballad titled “Karla.” It’s an unrecorded instrumental written about a crush he had in the 5th grade.

Drummer Chris Beck (photo: Steve Roby)

Chestnut’s last tune was based on a groove that Beck and Wheeler kicked off. Chestnut talked about getting into scat singing recently, and said his alter-ego nickname is “Scatman.” While improv singing, he thanked everyone for coming and said they had an early flight to catch. This was Chestnut’s first Big Island performance, and we certainly hope it won’t be his last.

Kudos to the Kahilu for bringing such a talent to the Big Island, and to Paul Buckley, the theatre’s sound tech, for superior clean audio throughout the night.

For the latest tour and music info, be sure to stop by the official Cyrus Chestnut website: http://www.cyruschestnut.net

Set List I
No Problem | Darn That Dream | Medley: Stairway To Heaven/Hello | Classic suite: Opus 28 No. 20 | Gymnopédie No. 1 | Coco City

Set List II
Golliwog’s Cakewalk | Gnossienne No. 1 | Sites auriculaires – Entre cloches | Son Binocle | Caravan | Scat Groove Thing

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