A highly regarded jazz artist who came up in Betty Carter’s band, Chestnut says he didn’t want Carter “to come out of the grave for me.” When “Heartbreak Hotel” wasn’t working, he returned to the lyrics. “With songs, the lyrics give you more than notes and chords.” The lyrics “I’m so lonesome I could die” led him to arrange it around a bass drone that gives the entire piece a Coltrane/McCoy Tyner feel. “One way my playing has changed is that chords are more like colors now, and lines are like words.”
The one misstep is “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” with synth strings and Mark Gross’s soprano sax. “Some people said, ‘Cyrus is going down the smooth path’ — but I love music that grooves, and that slow dance, the last dance of the night.”
There’s further common ground for Elvis and Cyrus in blues and gospel. When Chestnut plays “How Great Thou Art,” he gets deep into those ancient diatonic harmonies. For that tune, at least, he doesn’t have to fear Ms. Carter.
CYRUS CHESTNUT |“Steppin’ Out,” Westin Waterfront Hotel, 425 Summer St, Boston | November 3 | 8 pm | $200 | 866.468.7619
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