The Baltimore-born pianist will play the Manship Theatre at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
“It will appeal to fans of New Orleans jazz and to fans of the straight-ahead jazz style,” said Jonathan Grimes, director of facilities and season programming for the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge. “He’s got a lot of swing in it, up tempo.”
Raised by a church organist, Chestnut has been immersed in music his entire life. Jazz is a spiritual pursuit to him.
“I believe the ability to play music is a gift from God, and every time I play, I’m thankful. Every time I sit down to play, for me, is worship and expression,” he told DownBeat magazine.
From his solo debut, “Revelations,” released in 1990, Chestnut has been hailed as a creative improviser. His records feature a mix of traditional jazz, rhythm and blues and gospel.
Aside from recording swinging, piano-based records, Chestnut has collaborated with singers Vanessa Williams, Bette Midler and Brian McKnight. Many fans know Chestnut from his updated take on Vince Guaraldi’s classic “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” released in 2000.
Since 2007, the River City Jazz Masters program has brought world-class musicians to Baton Rouge. Founded by the late Derek Gordon and a group of jazz lovers, the River City Jazz Coalition has booked superstars such as Harry Connick Jr. and Wynton Marsalis. Jazz innovators like bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Jason Moran have also taken the stage.
“Every year we have some top-notch artists that come in,” said Malcolm Robinson, the Arts Council’s marketing director. “We get ahead of them a little bit. We’ve caught a lot of people before they hit it big.”
Next season’s 10th anniversary River City Jazz Masters schedule will be released in coming months, said Grimes, who promises “some big names” will be announced.