Middlebury Virtuosic and playful, jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut brings his hard swinging, soulful sounds to a Middlebury College Performing Arts Series concert on Friday, Jan. 11. Chestnut, a Middlebury audience favorite, makes his return to campus as part of a trio with acclaimed bassist Eric Wheeler and rising star Billy Williams on drums.
Blending contemporary jazz, traditional jazz, and gospel, plus the occasional seasonings of Latin and samba, Chestnut’s style gives himself plenty of freedom to explore different emotions, while keeping his music in recognizable form. His “lush chords, playful grace notes, worshipful tremolos and effortless runs up and down the 88s” (Marc Silver, National Public Radio) are sure to impress, but it’s his warm demeanor and irresistible sweetness that make him one of jazz’s most beloved ambassadors.
Chestnut has played with many leaders in the national and international music scene, including Wynton Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Branford Marsalis, Chick Corea, Dizzy Gillespie, Jon Hendricks, and Betty Carter, recording and performing live around the world. An extremely versatile pianist, Chestnut has also collaborated with Vanessa Williams, Brian McKnight, Kathleen Battle, Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Jimmy Scott, Isaac Hayes, and Kevin Mahogany. His leadership and prowess as a soloist has also led him to be a first-call pianist in larger ensembles including the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra.
For his concert in Middlebury, Chestnut will be joined by bassist Eric Wheeler, a Washington, D.C., native who began studying classical music at the age of nine at the DC Youth Orchestra Program. At thirteen, he was accepted into the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, where he began to study jazz music. There, he had the opportunity to travel globally, which greatly influenced his career in music.
Wheeler received both his bachelor and master’s degrees from Howard University as of May 2006, and has worked as a full-time musician and educator in the DC metro area since. He has performed with other notable jazz artists such as Tim Warfield, Wallace Roney, Jimmy Heath, Roy Hargrove, Eric Lewis, Stefon Harris, Terell Stafford, Eddie Henderson, and Mickey Roker.