Student drummer John Lee, from Nanimo, British Columbia, blogs from the road on tour with acclaimed pianist Cyrus Chestnut. Read the official press release about Cyrus Chestnut’s sextet, made up of Berklee students selected by audition, and their recent tour to New York City and the D.C. Jazz Festival. Watch a video of their performance here.
Cyrus Chestnut is truly a great human being and musician. Never in my life did I think that I would be so fortunate enough to share the stage with the master. The experiences leading up to it were so memorable. Being a small-town Canadian island boy, I have never seen the things that I’ve got to see in this short span of time. I heard about the auditions for the ensemble through a great tenor saxophonist friend of mine, and tagged along with him to the audition room. By accident, I was called in to audition first (I wasn’t first in line) and got the part. Shortly after hearing about my acceptance to the group, we had our first rehearsal. Most of these musicians in the band were already some of my closest friends and peers, and it felt comfortable. It was during this time that I met Kevin Harris, the director of the ensemble. It was—and still is—an enlightening experience. The man had such purity and love for the music. It was something I still strive to have and achieve. Rehearsals were fantastic, and eventually Cyrus came and rehearsed with us the music he had sent. It was so nerve-racking, and I felt like I couldn’t get anything right. Cyrus let us know what we needed to work on over our break, before the next rehearsal, and I took it to the shed. Once the second rehearsal came, things were really happening.
After the second rehearsal, the band left right away the next day to New York City for our performance at Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola. As someone who’s never done any sort of performing work in the East Coast, even the traveling experience felt intensive since Mr. Chestnut was on route with us. Getting time to talk to Cyrus about his life and music during our time on the road was unforgettable and life-changing. He always told us to speak our music from the heart and to provide energy to our listeners like we would never get a chance to perform again.
Once we got to Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, I started to get real nervous. I was constantly thinking about how performing in such a venue in New York City is a reputation for life. It felt like my first statement to the real musical world—that I was contributing something great to the musical community. That feeling did not escape me for the whole trip as we moved on to the different venues in D.C.
I have never played with such sincerity and such focus on bringing out the best music I possibly could. The whole experience was a trance, and it provided me with solid grounding in what I should expect in the future as a professional musician.