When Justin Chesarek, one of Atlanta’s go-to percussionists, was a child living in Pennsylvania, his father sat him down and educated him, via the Beatles Anthology documentary. The mesmerized ten year old was hooked, and two years later he was gigging with Pittsburgh jazz legend Harold Betters, taking advantage of the experience as an early version of on-the-job training. He also counts the invaluable experience of listening to Roger Humphries, well-known for his work with Horace Silver, as a significant step in his early musical education. This was just the beginning.
After earning a Bachelors of Music in Music Education from Slippery Rock University, Justin trekked south to Atlanta in 2008 to pursue a Masters of Music and Jazz Studies at Georgia State University. A year after his arrival, Justin landed a Wednesday show at Churchill Grounds, Atlanta’s premier jazz club at the time. The gig continued for the next five years and along the way, Chesarek began to fill his calendar, making a name for himself as an exceptional musician.
He performs regularly with Joe Alterman, Trey Wright, Gary Motley, The Joe Gransden Big Band, Sam Burchfield, the ATL Collective, and he is a regular at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. He is not, however, fenced in by geography. He’s performed at the The Iridium and The Blue Note in New York, D.C’s Kennedy Center, a TED Talk, the Juneau Jazz and Classics Festival in Alaska, not to mention trips across the pond to play The North Sea Jazz Festival in Holland and the Montreaux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
He has gigged with locals and legends, notably neo-bop pianist Johnny O’Neal, trumpeter and Grammy Nominee Russell Gunn, alto-saxophonist Houston Person, Count Basie Orchestra vocalist Carmen Bradford, and Donny McCaslin, saxophonist on Blackstar, David Bowie’s final studio album.
Composing has become a large part of his life, and recently, he has spent more time working on songwriting than instrumental jazz. Although Justin allows his musical vision to evolve, he rarely strays from his jazz roots while maintaining forward progression. “Honestly I think blending songwriting with jazz harmony is where it’s at. I think it’s a fresher and more current approach to jazz.”
Chesarek’s love of music extends to the classroom as well. He teaches Jazz Percussion at Kennesaw State University, he is the Artist Affiliate of Jazz Percussion at Emory University, and he runs a private studio of his own in which he works with students of all ages. He has had students go on to become professional touring musicians, off-broadway theater pit players, and top call Atlanta drummers. He is a board member of the Atlanta Lovers of Music Association, and a proud endorser of Vic Firth drum sticks, mallets, and brushes.
Justin lives in Decatur, with his wife and daughter.