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Cyrus Chestnut's 'Spirituals To Swing' Concert

Cyrus Chestnut is the first person you see as you enter Newark's jazz station, WBGO. In a black and white poster, he's standing by the piano, his eyes almost closed, a slight smile resting on his face and maybe something up his sleeve. That's Cyrus, a musical agent of sweet and serious soul.

Born Jan. 17, 1963, in Baltimore, Chestnut grew up in the Mount Calvary Baptist Church and studied classical piano at the Peabody Institute. After attending Berklee College, Chestnut worked with Betty Carter, the singer and bandleader who shaped young talent in her trios. Chestnut was one of the best, with feeling, technique and power.

Lately, though, he's going back to something that he's missed. Chestnut says that when he heard pianist Hank Jones play "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian" on Jones' album Tiptoe Tapdance — and then play the same piece at the funeral for Lionel Hampton — Chestnut felt inspired to play hymns again.

Though he calls this concert "Spirituals to Swing," it proceeds from swing to a spiritual, then through a hymn medley to Chestnut's own "We Fall Down." His longtime bassist and drummer are Dezron Douglas and Neal Smith, respectively; his horn men are the young but seasoned Jimmy Greene on tenor and newcomer Curtis Taylor on trumpet.

Chestnut's guest vocalist, Cynthia Scott, comes from the Sanctified Church. Her father is a minister — five of her six brothers are ministers — and Scott says she knows a good sermon when she hears one. Ray Charles hired her out of Texas, and throughout her career, she often performed with Joe Williams. Scott is a graduate of Manhattan School of Music and has served as a Jazz Ambassador from the Kennedy Center and the State Department. She counts herself as one of the first singers to hire Harry Connick Jr. when he was the new pianist in town. All of the above have said in public, in one way or another, "Listen to Cynthia Scott."

Credits

Guest host is WBGO's Rhonda Hamilton. Kennedy Center artistic advisor for jazz is Dr. Billy Taylor. Director of jazz programming is Kevin Struthers. Mix by JazzSet technical director Duke Markos with Big Mo Recording

Copyright 2009 WBGO

Becca Pulliam, JazzSet