Cyrus Chestnut: My Father’s Hands

The Marsalis dynasty is well known but other jazz families have had inspirational, if less visible fathers, one such belonging to pianist Chestnut

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For all the many famous jazz musicians whose sons and daughters have followed them into the music business – just remember the Marsalis family, for starters – there are also those numerous, unknown fathers who inspired and nurtured their children’s talent from the side lines and encouraged them to pursue their dreams.

One such father was McDonald Chestnut, himself a mean piano player and gospel-music devotee, who died in May 2021. Months later, his renowned pianist son honoured him in this touching memorial. Choosing a wide repertoire of originals, standards, and jazz classics, son Cyrus has crafted an intensely personal reminiscence that is a delight to listen to, a lasting and moving tribute to a father from a son.

The opening Nippon Soul Connection, a previously unrecorded Cyrus Chestnut original, gets proceedings off to an old-fashioned, foot-tapping start, going back to the room in the family house where it all began. Another Chestnut original, Thinking About You, is self-evident in its dedication, and so it continues, each song prompted by a fatherly thought or reminiscence.

Chestnut is not a showy pianist, but his quiet exploration of each song, his thoughtful attention to detail and nuance, is just right in the circumstances. While father Chestnut was a Christian man, he also appreciated the secular song, represented on this set in a nostalgic revival of the Lennon-McCartney classic Yesterday.

Perhaps best of all are I Must Tell Jesus, one of father Chestnut’s favourite hymns and here rendered as a meditation for solo piano, and the closing, elegiac Epilogue. Reverential in intent and delivery, they both sum this fine album up perfectly: father McDonald Chestnut is worth remembering, and on his excellent set more than receives his due from his loving son.

Discography
Nippon Soul Connection; Thinking About You; Cubano Chant; Baubles, Bangles And Beads; Yesterday; I Must Tell Jesus; Working Out Just Fine; There Will Never Be Another You; But Beautiful; Epilogue (49.27)
Chestnut (p); Peter Washington (b), Lewis Nash (d). NYC, 14 December 2021.
HighNote Records HCD 7339