He may be a classically-trained pianist, but Chris Donnelly doesn’t get bent out of shape if his instrument is less than brilliantly tuned.
“There’s nothing inherently bad about an untuned piano. It just sounds different. It has its own vibe,” he says.
Donnelly is the pianist with the Toronto jazz trio Myriad3. Along with bassist Daniel Fortin and percussionist Ernesto Cervini, he’s en route to the Yukon for two upcoming concerts.
Except for Cervini, who will be packing his own cymbals, none of the three will be playing their own instruments. And that suits them just fine.
“Some gigs are more challenging than others,” Cervini admits. “But then sometimes I play a drum set that I like better than my own.”
“I’ve played other people’s basses and said, ‘I wish this was mine,’” Fortin agrees.
As Fortin explains it, Myriad3 became a group in 2010, more or less by accident.
“Chris and Ernesto were about to play a gig with a bass player who got hurt. He called me last minute to sub in for him,” he says.
“A few weeks later, Ernesto and I were supposed to play with a different piano player and Chris had to sub in. So after two times in a row, it gelled in a certain way. We kind of felt there was a bit of a different vibe going on there.”
From the outset, the three adopted a collaborative approach, deciding to focus on their own material, rather than leaning on the standard American jazz canon.
“We all three write for the band, but nobody really minces words,” Fortin says. “Somebody will bring a song and we all change it, just to make sure it fits the band’s voice as a whole.”
The fact that Myriad3 has a coherent voice may seem surprising, given the different musical backgrounds of its members.
“Like a lot of bass players, I started playing a lot of rock and roll, and kind of coming out of pop music,” Fortin says. “Chris and Ernesto both studied classical music a little bit more.”
Cervini played classical piano and clarinet for years, and took up drumming in high school. He got hooked on jazz through one of his older sisters, who is now a jazz vocalist in New York City.
“I heard her playing this stuff and I fell in love with it,” he says.
For his part, Donnelly was dual threat from an early age.
“All through my childhood, I was taking jazz lessons at one school (Humber College Community Music School) and classical lessons at another school (Toronto Conservatory),” he explains.
Fortin characterizes the trio’s sound as “pretty contemporary”, drawing from a range of musical genres.
“As young people, we didn’t start out listening to jazz music. We listened to a lot of pop, and we still listen to a lot of different stuff — pop music, electronic music, classical music, R&B, hip hop, all kinds of stuff.”
All three studied music at University of Toronto before being “released into the working world, the musical world,” as Donnelly puts it.
The economic realities of that world require Myriad3’s members to share a wide variety of organizational duties in addition to playing — everything from grant writing to tour booking and promotion, web design, and social networking.
“Our organization as a band is similar to how we organize it musically, with all these different hats we have to wear all the time,” Donnelly says.
Whether or not his pianos are in tune, Donnelly says the group isn’t expecting “any kind of formality” in its two Yukon performances.
“We’re going to have fun. We’re going to hang out,” he says.
Myriad3 will give a Jazz on the Wing concert at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, November 16 at 7:30 p.m. They will be at the Odd Fellows Hall in Dawson City on Wednesday, November 19.