Jazz Pianist and A Cappella Group Headline NCCU Jazz Festival

The 22nd Annual NCCU Jazz Festival will take place April 16 – 21 and will include performances by Take 6, a Grammy-winning Christian vocal jazz group; pianist Cyrus Chestnut; the U.S. Air Force big band Airmen of Note; the UNC–Chapel Hill Faculty Jazz Group and Gary Smulyan; and the NCCU Jazz Combos, Vocal Jazz Ensemble and Faculty Jazz Group.

Take 6 formed as an a cappella group in 1980 when its members were students at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala. At first, they called themselves the Gentlemen’s Estate Club, and the current name was adopted when the group signed with Warner Brother Records. Their self-titled debut album, released in 1988, earned two Grammy Awards and landed in the top 10 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz and Contemporary Christian charts. A 1990 follow-up album, “So Much 2 Say,” was equally successful, climbing to No. 2 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz chart and scoring a Grammy for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album.

In 1991 the group added instrumentation and went on to record 10 additional albums, earning 10 Grammy awards, 10 Dove awards, one Soul Train award and two NAACP Image Award nominations. Take 6 holds the honor of being the most Grammy-nominated vocal group in history.

The group’s swinging, harmony-rich gospel sound has attracted the attention of Quincy Jones, Ella Fitzgerald and Stevie Wonder. Take 6 has recorded with R&B luminaries Aaron Neville and Brian McKnight (brother of founding member Claude McKnight III), and veteran jazzmen George Benson, Al Jarreau and Jon Hendricks.

Cyrus Chestnut started his musical career at the Mount Calvary Star Baptist Church in Baltimore at the age of six. Three years later he began studying classical music at the Peabody Preparatory Institute in Baltimore and later studied jazz at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. While still a student, he received the Eubie Blake Fellowship and the Oscar Peterson, Quincy Jones and Count Basie awards for exceptional performance standards.

In 1993, Chestnut signed with Atlantic Records and released the critically acclaimed Revelation (1994). Since then he has released 13 albums, including one in 2000 that paid tribute to “Peanuts” cartoonist Charles Schulz. The album celebrated 50 years of Schulz’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and featured Vanessa Williams, Brian McKnight, The Manhattan Transfer and the Boys Choir of Harlem.

His leadership and prowess as a soloist has also led him to be a first call for the piano chair in many big bands, including the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Big Band, the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Orchestra.

Chestnut has performed with many of the legends and leading musicians in the business. Among them are Jon Hendricks, Michael Carvin, Donald Harrison, Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, Delfeayo Marsalis, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller, Regina Cater, Chick Corea, Jimmy Heath, James Moody, Joe Williams, Isaac Hayes, Kathleen Battle, Betty Carter and Dizzy Gillespie. He continually tours with his trio, bassist Michael Hawkins and drummer Neal Smith, playing live at jazz festivals around the world as well as clubs and concert halls.

Highlights of the festival include a meet-the-artist session with Take 6 and Cyrus Chestnut on April 19 at the Beyu Caffé at 7 p.m., a free master class workshop on April 19 and 20 at noon in the Jazz Band Room, and a Vocal Jazz Summit at noon in the B.N. Duke Auditorium on April 20.

Under the leadership of Dr. Ira Wiggins, NCCU initiated the Jazz Festival in 1990 to expose the campus and the Durham community to America’s first indigenous art form, jazz. Tickets for the festival are $45 and include admission to all performances. To purchase tickets or for more information visit, www.nccu.edu/jazzfestival