Cyrus Chestnut Discusses:
You Are My Sunshine
by Paula Edelstein
“…I believe music is about life. It is not about theories, or devices, it’s not about doing something to cross over. I hope those who listen can experience the feelings of hope, love and joy that have gone into it.” Cyrus Chestnut He’s been called “a highly intelligent improviser with one of the surest senses of swing in jazz” by the New York Times. If you were familiar with his chart-topping debut for Warner Brothers titled SOUL FOOD, then you would most likely agree. However, in addition to his ability to improvise and swing, Chestnut has expressed his musical preferences in many other musical genres including gospel, R&B, soul and as a soloist in big bands with such world-class orchestras as the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie Big Band and Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra. On his sophomore release for Warner Brothers Jazz, Chestnut explores another aspect of his spiritual inspiration with YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE. This excellent recording celebrates his understanding of the blues, gospel AND jazz traditions. It’s about transformation, feeling, about going beyond the notes to the very essence of music and sharing that experience. When asked several questions about YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE, here’s what he told us:
PE: What are some of the differences between the songs on YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE and the songs on SOUL FOOD?
Cyrus: The songs in this collection YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE dig deeper into the blues, gospel, and jazz traditions. I also try in this collection to use my influences in a collective rather than each influence separately.
PE: When a person hears this recording, what would they expect to hear?
Cyrus: First, joy and inspiration. Second, a different approach to some classic material.
PE: There are a couple of titles including “Errolling” and “Flipper” that conjure up several images. What or who was the inspiration for these songs?
Cyrus: For “Errolling,” I pay homage to the legendary pianist Erroll Garner. “Flipper” was a melody that came to me one day. There was no direct inspiration. It simply is a fun composition to play.
PE: How did the great jazz vocalist Betty Carter influence you?
Cyrus: Betty Carter encouraged me to always find a different angle than the usual. She also wanted me to win audiences over with skill, not gimmicks or tricks.
PE: You mentioned that you attended a church in Maryland where there was a lot of foot stomping, hand clapping, tambourine playing and joy all over the place! Would you agree that this background provided the foundation for your gospel performances later on in life or was there some other form of inspiration, gospel artists, or teachers, etc. that impacted your music?
Cyrus: The gospel influence is definitely at the foundation. Being in church was joyful. For me just having the opportunity to play gives me great joy and I like to share that joy as much as possible.
PE: Would you be so kind as to explain, briefly, how the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic elements of “Precious Lord Take My Hand,” as a gospel piece were altered to form the New Orleans sound that you’ve given to your new interpretation?
Cyrus: Instead of the meditative tempo it is known for, I gave it tempo for a different approach. Melodically, there is no change in melody. The song is blues based so improvisation had to follow suit. This arrangement adds a Stevie Wonder harmonic influence on the interlude after the bass and piano to take the predictability out of the picture. The usual thing would be to go right back to the melody. (A Betty Carterism).
PE: Cyrus, your virtuosity, talent and desire to please your listeners are what keep us listening! Congratulations on YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE and thank you so much for the interview.
Cyrus: My pleasure.
PE: Keep in touch with Cyrus Chestnut’s happening at www.warnerbrothersjazz.com