Photos By:  Courtesy of NWGA Jazz and Cultural Arts Society

Jazz stands for freedom. It’s supposed to be the voice of freedom: Get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist – leave that to the classical musicians. 

Dave Brubeck 

Long before Rock n’ Roll was born, jazz was the original alternative music that ruled club scenes and gala events alike during what was known as The Jazz Age in the 1920’s and 30’s. With its roots in blues and ragtime, jazz took over the airwaves and became the soundtrack of a generation and a genre of its own that remains extremely popular today.  

On February 17th, 2024, The Northwest Georgia Jazz and Cultural Arts Society is putting on a must see show with renowned jazz pianist Cyrus Chestnut and local saxophone legend, Jackie Beard. The duo will perform with bassist, Tommy Sauter and drummer, Xavier Breaker, forming a dynamic quartet that will perform charts sure to have the audience out of their seats and dancing.  

In the jazz world, Chestnut is a name everyone is familiar with and is considered one of the finest piano players in the business. He has performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz and has a combined 35 studio and live records spanning from 1992 to the present day. He has played all over the world and will bring his talents to Rome, thanks to a connection to Jackie Beard.  

A Roman with a calling 

A native Roman, Beard grew up at 510 Hardy Avenue in South Rome and attended Anna K. Davie Elementary, East Rome Junior High and West Rome High School, graduating from the latter in 1973. His love for music was fostered by his parents in the house on Hardy Avenue.  

“My parents had a piano in the house and both my older brother and sister took lessons growing up,” recalls Beard. “I wouldn’t say they hated it, but they put up enough of a fight that my parents didn’t sign me up for lessons, but I was drawn to it and always had an ear for music. I would listen to theme songs on television or hymns at church and pick out the melody and chords by ear.” 

His father, Roston, was a music man himself and when Jackie was seven, he brought home a used alto saxophone and gave it to his son. His older brother, Roston Jr., was playing trombone in the Main High School band at the time and asked the director Herman Scott to show him the basics of how to play the instrument so he could pass them on to his younger brother.  

“My brother showed me how I was supposed to hold the instrument and the correct embouchure to blow through the mouthpiece,” says Beard. “I just remember it being uncomfortable and telling my brother it hurt to hold and play it that way. He told me it was supposed to hurt, so I kept practicing on my own and just like the piano, I eventually found the notes to play melodies by ear.” 

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Education 

It was just a few years later Beard would encounter Scott himself as his music appreciation class took up the recorder. With segregation coming to an end, Beard bounced from Anna K. Davie to East Rome Junior High for a year and after lines were redrawn a second time, eventually landed at West Rome High School, where he met band director Johnny Shook.  

“It was a trying time with us moving schools and really not having much of a choice where we were educated,” says Beard. “Athletics and music really were a godsend for so many black students. I wasn’t much of an athlete, but somebody told Shook I could play, and I’ll never forget him asking me to stand up and blow. I guess he liked what he heard and I’m glad he did. That man taught me so much, in fact, Carl Dixon, Herman Scott, and Johnny Shook were the three biggest musical mentors I had growing up.” 

From there things took off. Shook recruited Beard for stage band where they started reading jazz charts and he fell in love with the genre. Beard went on to win the Principal’s Award for Music his senior year and after graduating had plans to attend the Air Force Academy, but instead joined his brother’s band in Germany before settling in Boston, Massachusetts, at Berklee School of Music in 1976.  

Cyrus Chestnut

Education 

It was just a few years later Beard would encounter Scott himself as his music appreciation class took up the recorder. With segregation coming to an end, Beard bounced from Anna K. Davie to East Rome Junior High for a year and after lines were redrawn a second time, eventually landed at West Rome High School, where he met band director Johnny Shook.  

“It was a trying time with us moving schools and really not having much of a choice where we were educated,” says Beard. “Athletics and music really were a godsend for so many black students. I wasn’t much of an athlete, but somebody told Shook I could play, and I’ll never forget him asking me to stand up and blow. I guess he liked what he heard and I’m glad he did. That man taught me so much, in fact, Carl Dixon, Herman Scott, and Johnny Shook were the three biggest musical mentors I had growing up.” 

From there things took off. Shook recruited Beard for stage band where they started reading jazz charts and he fell in love with the genre. Beard went on to win the Principal’s Award for Music his senior year and after graduating had plans to attend the Air Force Academy, but instead joined his brother’s band in Germany before settling in Boston, Massachusetts, at Berklee School of Music in 1976.  

Home away from home 

Beard never intended to teach, but after graduating, he was offered an opportunity to stay on as a staff member and ended up spending his entire professional career at Berklee sharing music with the extremely gifted students in attendance. It was in that capacity, he met Cyrus Chestnut and the two became friends playing pinball in the lounge between classes.  

Chestnut was an up-and-comer at the time and has gone on to be one of the premier piano players in the jazz world, remaining friends with Beard all the while. The two always wanted to play together, so when Sam Burrell, Director of Northwest Georgia Jazz and Cultural Arts Society, asked Beard if he thought Chestnut would play a show here in Rome with him, Beard replied, “All I have to do is call.” 

From there Burrell and his board went to work. They first formed the NWGAJCAS twenty years ago and have hosted many performances over the years, but after a little layoff during the pandemic years, they are excited to bring world class jazz musicians back to Northwest Georgia. As a non-profit organization, the funds raised will benefit minority children who can’t afford music or sporting opportunities. 

“This concert will be held in conjunction with two masterclass performances at Berry College and Jacksonville State University,” says Burrell. “When we started the society 20 years ago, our goal was to expose students and the public in general to professional jazz artists and it remains the same today.” 

“Cyrus and Jackie are world class musicians, and we couldn’t be more excited to have them here.”  

February 17th  at the Historic Desoto Theater is sure to be an unforgettable night so reserving your tickets early is always a good move. You can do so by visiting eventbrite.com and searching An Evening with Cyrus Chestnut. Tickets are $45 and include a wine tasting and meet and greet with the artist.   

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