On a good night, drummer Justin Chesarek's Wednesday night gigs at Churchill Grounds draw about 25 people, but sometimes he spends the evening playing to empty chairs. No matter how small the crowd, Chesarek has used the weekly shows over the past two years to develop a musical familiarity with his bandmates, bassist Craig Shaw and alto saxophonist Akeem Marable. Though they sometimes perform in quintets and quartets, the three musicians form the core of every group.
"We feel this energy that we just haven't felt playing with other people," Chesarek says regarding the trio. "We've really established a very intense connection musically."
Last week, the band put on an invite-only concert at Marable's home and turned on the recording equipment. The resulting release – which should hit the streets in a few months – will present the band in an intimate setting playing original compositions for an appreciative crowd. "We really are a group that thrives off of an audience that is there to listen to music," Chesarek says. "When you do a live recording, you're putting a lot of trust in the audience that they're not going to mess it up for you."
Chesarek moved from Pennsylvania to Atlanta in 2008 to pursue a master's degree in jazz studies at Georgia State University. The drummer quickly became known as a first-call musician and soon started teaching jazz at Emory University as an adjunct faculty member. When he graduates from Georgia State in May, the plan is to expand his role at Emory.
Though Chesarek admits establishing a consistent audience in this city can be a challenge, he isn't likely to bolt to New York like so many burgeoning musicians tend to do. Atlanta is a welcoming, supportive place to begin one's music career, he says.
"I have found the music scene here to be so rewarding and so well-established. You can make a living as a musician here, which is unheard of in most places," says Chesarek. "A little balance of teaching and playing makes the world go 'round here for me."
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