But Cyrus Chestnut, who within a decade-and-a-half has established himself as one of the brightest and most resourceful of jazz pianists, is doing his part to narrow the gap without compromising his artform or patronizing contemporary pop. Cyrus Plays Elvis, Chestnut's smart, swinging homage to rock 'n' roll's all-powerful and abiding king, was released last year (Koch) to generally warm reviews. "It's definitely been a kind of water-cooler topic for jazz," says the 44-year-old Chestnut, who will perform selections from the Elvis Presley songbook when he plays the Kingston International Jazz Festival this Sunday, June 29. "Elvis is so iconic that he seems untouchable to anyone else - especially someone coming at him from my own perspective."
But as Chestnut said in a phone interview this week, he doesn't think that he's coming to such Presley tunes as "Don't Be Cruel," "Suspicious Minds," "Love Me Tender" or "In the Ghetto" from as far away as most jazz or rock adherents might imagine. "Elvis loved the blues, and so do I," he says. "Elvis loved gospel music, and that's my foundation, too. ["How Great Thou Art," a hymn that Presley recorded and released, is included on Chestnut's disc.] There were these shared connections that allowed me to make my own bridge to these songs and bring them to my personal camp. The idea was not to make it so Space Age that people couldn't recognize the melodies, but still make the interpretations creative enough to qualify as jazz."
The Kingston International Jazz Festival Weekend starts off with a bang Friday night, June 27, when Karl Berger's Creative Music Studio Orchestra plays Kingston City Hall. The following evening, the Jazz Knights from West Point perform the music of Duke, Basie and more when they host a "Saturday Night Swing" dance at the Kate Walton Field House, located at Kingston High School.
Sunday, June 29, the varied lineup of the festival plays along the Rondout waterfront from noon to 7 p.m. The slate is a nice blend of big names and those who really should be, including Chestnut's Trio, the Kingston High School Jazz Ensemble, the Jeff (Siege) Siegel Quartet, Claire Daly's Rah Rah Band, the Frank Wess Quintet and the Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra. Beginning at 8:30 p.m. the focus shifts, as Hot Rod roars through a set of classic rock staples. That, of course, all leads to the City of Kingston Independence Day Fireworks Extravaganza, which kicks off at 9:45 p.m. and will be simulcast on WBPM 92.9FM. Okay, just how does one put fireworks on the radio?