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RETURN OF THE SHOWSTOPPERS

JAZZ

A jazz pianist's all-star weekend in Buffalo is coming. By coincidence, two Artpark festival showstoppers -- literally -- will be here simultaneously.

Cyrus Chestnut was the smash hit of last year's Artpark Jazz Festival. Consider the implications of that:1) he was a young, little-known player on a two-day program full of revered veterans and much larger names, 2) he was a pianist with a simple trio, not a virtuoso horn player or flashy drummer with a time-tested group schooled in bringing down the house, and 3) his program wasn't overloaded with jazz show biz. There were times, in fact, when his mind gave him ideas his fingers couldn't flawlessly handle. So beautiful was his playing -- so suffused with gospel purity and so powerful and instantly communicative -- that a good part of the audience went into the intermission wondering where to buy his records. Chestnut will play the Calumet Arts Cafe Thursday at 8:30.

Then there's Gene Harris, the nonpareil, funk-dripping veteran pianist whose quartet was the rocking, joyful hit of the 1993 Artpark Festival. If jazz has a B. B. King -- an unfailing crowd-pleaser who seems to know every jazz/blues lick ever invented -- Harris is it. Chestnut, a magna cum laude graduate of Betty Carter U., comes to town for two shows Thursday at the Calumet Arts Cafe. In one of the most interesting jazz series in the area, Harris will do a spectacular three-day residency starting Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Canisius College Cultural Center. He'll do another show at Canisius at 8 p.m. next Friday and one at 8 p.m. April 1 in Artpark-in-the-Church.

-- Jeff Simon

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