In 2014 Cyrus visited Senegal, where he performed at the U.S. Embassy in Dakar and at the Saint-Louis Jazz Festival. This was his first trip to Africa, and it inspired him to create a new collection of material- jazz filtered through African rhythms and pieces influenced by Cyrus’s own experiences on his journey.
African Reflections is currently performed with a quintet – saxophonist Steve Carrington, bassist Dezron Douglas, drummer Neal Smith, and percussionist Kweku Sumbry.
In an interview with WXPN (full interview available here) Cyrus discusses what led him to create the program:
“I like to play music based on what I see, feel and hear. On that trip I heard people playing in a very unique way; I heard rhythm in a whole different way. I’m just reacting to what I saw, what I felt, and what I heard, and then bringing it into the camp of where I am now. I’m still relying on the jazz idiom, of course, but there are other elements that will drive it too. It’s my hope that people will be able to feel the journey, imagine the journey, and hear the journey.
As I do ongoing research, I’m finding the origin of a lot of the traditions that I grew up in church with in Africa. I’m just trying to listen and react, and whatever comes out afterwards I still have to be who I am. My approach is not to be a repertory African. It’s to be Cyrus Chestnut going to Africa, researching this music, reacting to it, and then allowing it to come into the camp along with my influences from Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Bud Powell, Fats Waller, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie. They’re all working together, and hopefully the result is something that people can enjoy.”