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Interview with Cyrus Chestnut

September 22, 2013 3 comments

cyrus 3A few months ago I interviewed jazzpianist Cyrus Chestnut, who was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1963.

Chestnut, son of a churchorganist and the director of a churchchoir,  started his musical career at the age of six, playing piano at Mount Calvary Baptist Church in his hometown. By the age of nine, he was studying classical music at the Peabody Institute. In 1985, Chestnut earned a degree in jazz composition and arranging from Boston’s renowned Berklee College of Music. While at Berklee, Chestnut was awarded the Eubie Blake Fellowship (1982), the Quincy Jones Scholarship (1983), and the Oscar Peterson Scholarship (1984).

Chestnut toured as pianist for Jon Hendricks, 1986–88; Terrence Blanchard, 1988–90; Donald Harrison, 1988–90; Wynton Marsalis, 1991; and the Betty Carter Trio, 1991-93. His association with Carter significantly affected his outlook and approach to music, confirming his already iconoclastic instincts. Carter advised him to “take chances” and “play things I’ve never heard,” Chestnut said.

In 1993, at the age of 30, Chestnut signed with Atlantic Records, releasing the critically acclaimed Revelation (1993), followed by The Dark Before The Dawn (1994) (the album debuted in the sixth spot on the Billboard Jazz Charts),Earth Stories (1995) and then Cyrus Chestnut (1998). Chestnut has also performed and/or recorded with, Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Jon Hendricks, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Scott, Chick Corea, Isaac Hayes, Kevin Mahogany, Dizzy Gillespie, and opera diva Kathleen Battle, most notably on the Sony Classical recording “So Many Stars”. Their shared church roots resulted in such a positive chemistry between Battle and Chestnut that he then joined the soprano on a fall 1996 U.S. Tour. Later that year came Blessed Quietness: A Collection of Hymns, Spirituals and Carols (1996), a reverently assembled album of traditional numbers instilled with the gospel and blues Chestnut grew up listening to. In addition to appearing on the soundtrack to director Robert Altman’s 1996 feature film Kansas City, Chestnut also made his big screen debut portraying a Count Basie-inspired pianist.

In 2000, Chestnut signed with manager Bruce Garfield, who convinced him to collaborate with Vanessa L. Williams, Brian McKnight, The Manhattan Transfer and The Boys’ Choir of Harlem on A Charlie Brown Christmas. In 2001, he released Soul Food featuring bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lewis Nash and special guest soloists including James Carter, Stefon Harris, Wycliffe Gordon and Marcus Printup. This album was one of Down Beat′s best records of 2002 and ascended to “Top 10” on the Jazz Charts.cyrus 2

In 2006, Chestnut released his first album, Genuine Chestnut, on TelArc Records. On it he is accompanied by his regular trio of Michael Hawkins, bass and Neal Smith, drums. Additional artists on this session include Russell Malone, guitar and Steven Kroon, percussion. It includes jazz interpretations of some well-known pop numbers of the past half-century, including “If”, the early 1970s soft-rock ballad by Bread. “This song has been with me ever since the sixth grade,” Chestnut recalled, “I had to play it for my English teacher’s wedding. I’ve played it in many and various contexts. I actually played it in a Top 40 band when I was just out of school. A lot of time has passed, but then recently I just started thinking about it again.”[4] Chestnut’s own “Mason Dixon Line” is one of the album’s high points, a joyful bebop number.[5] Chestnut continually tours with his trio, playing live at jazz festivals around the world as well as clubs and concert halls. 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 Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band, and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. Chestnut is currently represented by Addeo Music International (AMI).

(wikipedia, read further at: http://www.cyruschestnut.com)

Mr. Chestnut, you’re professional active in music for almost 4 decades. How has music evolved since you started performing?

I think music has become quite intricate. With the role of the computer in music today, there are more complex rhythms. Melodies and harmonies follow suit as well. It’s much more than II V I

You started to play the piano at age five. Why did you choose this instrument? Your very first professional gig, you played the drums. You also played the alto-sax, trombone, a baritone horn, and you studiedguitar.a little. Which instrument do you like best, beneath your piano?

I enjoyed all the above instruments, however it was and still is the piano that I believe is my voice. I on occasion will pull out the guitar but the piano takes all of my time

cyrus 3You started playing in church when you were seven. What did you (like to) play?

I was playing in the church at five. I liked playing music that had a groove. It did not have to be fast always. I just liked to play…

You’ve been working with so many beautiful musicians, among many others Jon Hendricks, Terrence Blanchard, Donald Harrison, Wynton Marsalis, Betty Carter, Freddy Cole, Bette Midler, Freddie Hubbard, Jimmy Scott, Chick Corea, Isaac Hayes, Kevin Mahogany, Dizzy Gillespie. How do you look back at working with them?

I am grateful to have shared on the bandstand with these great musicians. They not only taught me about music, they taught me about life. I will forever be grateful for their influence

You were inspired by the gospel and jazzmusic you heard in your youth, Baby Cortez, King Curtis and Jimmy Smith and amongst others . The first record you bought was a Thelonious Monk album with his greatest hits. Who are you inspired by nowadays?

I must say that I did not really hear Baby Cortez in my youth however, In these days I am inapired by all types of music. Bach, Mozart, the Clark Sisters(gospel group), Leny Andrade, etc….

You like to play piano trio. What makes playing in a trio so special? Which piano trio in jazzmusic you like best?

Playing in trio gives me full control of the musical experience. I become front man and accompanist all-in one. It is very difficult to nail down one piano trio as I like different ones for different reasons. I like the Oscar Peterson trios in the 60’s for their driving swing. I also like the Ahmad Jamal trio for the spontaneous freedom. I can not leave out Bill Evans, Red Garland, and Wynton Kelly. I am leaving out some. I could take a page listing…..

Last week I interviewed bassist Peter Ind, He stated: “in striving to become cleverer than the next player, many jazzy musicians have lost their following – simply by becoming too clever.” Do you think nowadays jazz- or creative music is too complex?

I think sometimes musicians in an attempt tob e different, they tend to “throw in the kitchen sink”. One should be patient and allow the music to come to them. That way it does not sound forced.

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an important part of the jazztradition.” Do you regard yourself as a part of this jazztradition?cyrus 4

Anyone who truly plays jazz music seriously is a part of the tradition form Jelly Roll Morton through Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and beyond. It is unfortunate that the younger generation seems to put the founding fathers on the side. More importantly I think it is the duty of the generations before NOT to keep silent and pass the history. It was done for us and we should do it fort hem.

In an interview with Cassandra Henry (2006) you said: “ jazz music was referred to as Jackass music. A lot of times when you talk to certain classical musicians about jazz, they can’t give it any credence because they don’t feel it’s really serious. Jazz musicians are just as serious because we are doing the same things the classical musicians are doing but adding improvisation to the composition at a higher rate of speed. You know there are people in this industry who are just starting to embrace jazz music a little bit more now, but there are still some who say jazz is not interesting. Jazz musicians are constantly fighting to be recognized and taken seriously.” (http://3blackchicks.com/movie-reviews/reviews-archives/51-2004-interviews/372-m-casschestnutinterview). Do you think jazzmusic is the stepchild of American Music?

Unfortunately, I have to agree. There are some who think of jazz as a sub genre when not only does it require virtuosity, It requires spontaneous thought. The true jazz musician is a spontaneous composer.

Later on in an interview with R.J. Deluke for all about jazz you say: “It’s been an interesting time. The legends who we’ve loved over the years are slipping away. It’s hard to touch hands on them now. It’s very sobering. The guard is changing so rapidly. I fight to keep a good outlook for the music, because I believe as long as the voice of freedom lives in the world, there will be jazz. “ (http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/article.php?id=28279&pg=3#.UdhIB6fCSM8) So there is a future for jazzmusic?

ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!! As long as the voice of freedom is alive, there will be jazz!

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations,. Which projects do you have in store for us?

Each day brings something new. I continously write and I am doing a project on the music of Dave Brubeck. It is an exciting time.

 

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Interview with Randy Brecker

July 2, 2013 1 comment

Jazz Music in a nutshell has become globalized with all the attendant influences that brings to the table..it’s not just ‘American’ music anymore.

Brecker 1The next interview is a very special one. How to introduce Randy Brecker? He has done it all. His discography is too large to publish, also is the list of tremendous people he played with. Nowadays he is one of our finests trumpetplayers. A short biography:

“Born (1945) in Philadelphia to a piano-playing father, Randy’s musical talent was nurtured and encouraged from an early age. He began playing R&B and funk in local bar bands while in his teens, and developed an ear for Hard Bop through his father’s record collection.

Randy attended Indiana University from 1963-66. Randy began his foray into jazz-rock by joining Blood, Sweat and Tears. He worked with BS&T for a year and played on their Innovative 1968 debut, ‘Child is Father to the Man.’

Randy left BS&T to join the Horace Silver Quintet. ” In 1968, Randy recorded his first album as a leader, ‘Score’, which also featured a young and then unknown 19 year-old tenor saxophonist named Michael Brecker.  In ’74, the brothers joined Billy Cobham’s group, Spectrum, with whom they recorded several albums, and by 1975 they were ready to front their own band.

The Brecker Brothers were to become a band of immeasurable influence and impact. Hailed by pop and jazz critics alike, their first album ‘The Brecker Brothers’ (Arista), which Randy produced, wrote, and arranged, was nominated for four Grammys. The Brecker Brothers went on to record a total of six albums and garner seven Grammy nominations between 1975 and 1981.

After the Brecker Brothers parted in 1982. Randy recorded and toured extensively with Jaco Pastorius, recording the famous ‘Word of Mouth’ album, a live concert in Japan. In 1986, Randy produced, composed and arranged his first acoustic jazz album, ‘In the Idiom’, for Denon Records, with Joe Henderson, Dave Kikoski, Ron Carter, and Al Foster.

In the summer of 2001, Randy reunited with his brother Michael for a Europe tour with an acoustic version of the Brecker Brothers. In 2004 Michael took ill with a rare form of leukemia known as MDS.

The following years Randy found a balance between touring the world with his own bands and guesting onstage and in the studio with a wide array of artists.

Randy’s newest CD, ‘Randy in Brasil,’ was recorded in Sao Paulo with a full complement of great Brazilian musicians and released in 2008.”

(read further at Randy’s website:http://www.randybrecker.com/)

Mr.Brecker, you’re active in music for more than  5 decades. How has jazz music evolved since you started performing? Is jazz the right label for your music?

My own music has become more refined, more world influences have crept into the picture, and my vocabulary I like to think, has grown a bit.

Call it whatever you want, it’s all ‘jazz’ to me….never liked or thought of labels, I just think ‘music’ good or bad.

Jazz Music in a nutshell has become globalized with all the attendant influences that brings to the table..it’s not just ‘American’ music anymore.

Also technology comes into play now in the recording process, practicing and writing and that has a resulting effect upon the music.

 Your father took an active role in your music education. Heplayed the piano. Do you recognize his influence in the way you look at (your style of) jazzmusic today?

Sure, he will always be my biggest influence since I have his genes…he is in everything I do. His own music/lyrics was steeped in the traditions of the 40s and 50s. He loved Brubeck , Clifford Brown, and the trumpet as “the greatest jazz instrument”- he told me that many times. Clifford and Max’s home base was a club in Philly and Dad heard them many times. I remember the day Clifford and Richie Powell was killed in the auto accident.

If you want to hear a song Dad (Bobby Brecker) wrote for me when I was 2 weeks old (!) check out the ‘suite’ on my CD “Into the Sun”…he plays and sings: “The Hottest Man in Town” where he prophesies not only that I’ll be the ‘hottest man in town’ but also that that I’m going to be a musician, play a “horn or maybe hot fife, and  love that music even more than your wife!”

You first gained recognition playing with pianists Duke Pearson and Horace Silver from between 1967 and 1972. What have you learned from playing with them?Brecker 2

Bandleading technique, especially from Horace, who gave us some latitude, but when he wanted a funky solo he meant it, and if we were recording and you played too many notes he would stop the take. Duke was also a great and under-rated composer and arranger who signed me to Solid State Records and produced my first record ‘Score’. I like to think I taught him something about funk on that record, but he sure taught me about voicings, harmony and composition, as did Horace and both also taught me how to construct a concise solo. Also both of these great musicians knew their job as bandleaders and recording artists were to sell records to the public (high quality music) but structured to communicate to people at large, and not just other musicians, so I learned that early on in my career.

Both were great composers who had the ability to translate the events and feelings of their lives into music, so I took that to heart when I started to lead and write for my own bands. Also  Horace in particular was not afraid to go outside the genre and fuse elements of folk, gospel,funk and soul into his compositions, every one of which had that particular ‘Horace’ harmonic and melodic touch, no matter how complicated or simple the tunes were!

Your first album (as a leader) was Score (1969). How do you look back at this album?

brecker 4I think it was a formative period for all of us, but with that consideration in mind, I think it’s a pretty good first record. Mike Brecker at age 19! Some nice Randy Brecker and Hal Galper tunes….Larry Coryell, Eddie Gomez, and Mickey Roker then “Pretty” Purdie and Chuck Rainey on some tunes-pretty cool!… and some new ground broken.

You played with great bassist-bandleaders like Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorius. How do you look at the bass as a leading instrument?

If the bass player has as  strong a voice on and off-stage as those 2 did, they can be as out- front as anyone else.

They were also of course great composers so their instruments also fit like a glove into the larger picture.

Charlie Parker. This year it’s fifty-eight years ago he has died . Sheila Jordan said last month to me in an interview: “people don’t talk about him anymore,The younger generation of jazzmusicians say they are inspired by Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Parker is a forgotten part of jazzmusic. That’s a pity, because he is an inportant part of the jazztradition.” Do you agree with her?

Not really-he’ll always be deeply ‘embedded’ in the music especially the way he played eighth notes and swung, although Miles and Trane had a more ‘modern’ take on things, (whatever that means 60 years later)…modal playing and in Miles’ case electricity and his mental flexibility put him/them more in the forefront of today’s conceptions. Pure ’bebop’ is kind of locked into a time period, but it’s still a thing of beauty, and I always strive to play it better….it’s my roots and it’s what I practice, since strictly speaking in that context there are right and wrong notes. Then in performance the idea is to interact and ‘take it out’!brecker 5

Miles Davis, has been a great example for you. What did you learn from the music of Miles?

How to tell a story in as few notes as possible. Sound comes first. Take chances. Fuck whatever anyone else thinks. Rehearse as little as possible since as he said :’ You can’t rehearse the future!”

Which musicians are you inspired by nowadays?

You got me on that one…there are too many or none at the same time.Everyone has a CD in their pocket and we’re inundated with web-sites, you-tube, and social networking – which I don’t do as a matter of principle…so it’s hard to focus on one or two people let alone several musicians. Mostly I listen to the old guys-they had that special charisma….they were anti-establishment, usually as high as a kite, crazy in many ways, but it was all about  Music and Swinging and not about networking…but having said that, there are thousands of up and coming musicians,from all over the world who are great players, but finding that  individual ‘voice’ seems to be a harder proposition these days, maybe because there are so many jazz programs in schools that churn out students who know and can play the history from Louis Armstrong on, and have a lot of technique, which I respect, but haven’t thought that much about original new conceptions or directions. Now having said thatthat’s where the ‘world music’ element creeps in, and I do find inspiration from young musicians from other far flung countries who bring their own indigenous music into the mix.

For instance younger cats play the shit out of odd time signatures and have the all current technological advances in their fingertips! Also I must mention that the best of the younger crop who stay in bebop mode, play so well and so musically that the fact that you’ve kind of heard it all before is transcended by the excellence and pure musicality of their improvisations…brecker 3

You played a lot with pop musicians, like Todd Rundgren, Stevie Wonder, Lou Reed and Bruce Springsteen. Carla Bley said once “I think rock and roll is jazz. And jazz is classical music. And classical music has become rock and roll. They’ve all gone round one turn on the clock” (1972) Has the clock turned again since then?

It’s always turning, that’s what keeps everything interesting….it’s all a continuum as Jaco’s tune suggests..I think what Carla was saying is that catagories are useless.

In 2012 you wan a Grammy Award (again!), this year (b.o.) Chick Corea is a Grammy winner, which jazzmusicians would you propose for the Grammy Awards in 2014?

Not following or concerned with things like that any more, especially since a couple of years ago NARAS decided to pull the plug on some of the lesser so-called catagories and also put ‘contempory’ jazz and  ‘real’ jazz in the same catagory which makes the whole thing even more ridiculous than it was in the first place….but I’m sure Chick and Pat will win a few more since it’s mostly a popularity contest….not that they don’t always deserve something for their outstanding contributions to music. The Grammys makes for a nice TV show if you keep the sound off!

Your musical activities span a wide range of styles and combinations. Which projects do you have in store for us?

1.  ‘Brecker Brothers Band Reunion’ features all members who played in the band at one time or another, like  Dave Sanborn , Mike Stern,Dave Weckl, Will Lee, Adam Rogers,Rodney Holmes, Chris Minh Doky, Mitch Stein etc..studio CD and accompanying ‘live’ at the Blue Note NYC, DVD…

My wife Ada Rovatti featured on saxophone..keeping it in the family, and newcomer Oli Rockberger who co-wrote  2 of the tunes and sings on a couple of tracks.

Produced by George Whitty who also played keyboards…all new tunes in that style. My man Randroid also makes a couple of appearances….will be out SOON

2.  ‘RandyPOP!’ ‘Hits’ I played on as de-ranged by Kenny Werner..w/Amanda Brecker (daughter) vocals..will be out next year sometime.

Adam Rogers,David Sanchez, John Patitucci and Nate Smith.

Kenny Werner piano…recorded live at the Blue Note NYC….interesting charts and a lot of inventive live interactive playing.

3.’Night in Calisia’… Collaboration with my friend Polish composer and pianist Wlodek Pawlik…his wonderful Suite featuring The Kalisz Philharmonic,the Wlodek PawlickTrio and me as soloist. Should be out in August.

Is there jazz in the future? Jazz  has been for the most part well documented by now, but do you think jazz will reach our youth?

There will always be jazz music but only for intelligent minds, young,old, or in between.

And that’s the way it should be!

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