Myriad Preview: An Interview With Chris Donnelly

Myriad is a local trio consisting of University of Toronto alumni Chris Donnelly (piano), Dan Fortin (bass) and Ernesto Cervini (drums). They performed Friday night at the Cherry St. Restaurant. I had the opportunity to speak to Chris about the group’s recent Alberta/B.C. tour, the upcoming album, and what makes Myriad unique.

Q: Most groups only rehearse when they’ve got a series of dates coming up, but I’ve read that Myriad rehearses regularly. What is the significance of rehearsing regularly for this group?
A: Rehearsing has a number of functions. We’re really trying to go for the band vibe. This isn’t the Chris Donnelly Trio, or Ernesto Cervini and friends… having the music in front is a blockage. It is a block between musicians, between the individual and the music, and the musicians and the audience… we knew that if we were going for the band sound, we were going to have to get rid of the music. Also – no matter how well you know something, if you don’t play it for a long time, it’s going to get fuzzy.
We need to keep the music fresh in our minds.

Our music also requires rehearsal because it’s really hard. Our rehearsals are kind of like a composition hang as well. Maybe I wrote a tune before the band even existed, and I’ll bring it to rehearsal so Dan and Ernesto can contribute and make changes. There is no possible way to communicate onto a lead sheet how we’ve changed the music. The band will be playing, and then there will be silence, and then we’ll play another section… there is disruption of this linear narrative that’s been going on. It’s impossible to have a sub come in because they haven’t spent those hours rehearsing and exploring things with the group.

Q: I sort of get the vibe, from your recordings at Walter Hall ("Disturbing Inspiration" in particular - listen here:, that your purpose, first and foremost, is to serve the group sound. Is that an accurate statement?
A: I don’t think it’s like we’re serving a sound… it’s more like we’re serving each other. It’s kind of an unspoken thing, where if you talk about it, it won’t exist anymore. We are completely open to any idea or tune that we bring in. It’s not so much we’re pursuing a sound, but it’s more the final product. It’s more that we trust each other. Everybody is both simultaneously acting as a leader and a follower.

Q: While on your tour out West, the trio performed at a Jazz Vespers service. That’s interesting and atypical when one thinks of planning a tour. Can you speak a little bit about it?
A: Basically, a Jazz Vespers is a musician-featured performance, but every tune or two, there is a reflection or prayer based on the belief of the congregation. Ken Gray, the priest in Colwood (where we did the service), was a musician. He took what we were doing musically and attached his prayers to the theme of the music. For example, if an improvised idea went in a completely unexpected direction in the preceding song, he would speak about the twists and turns that life can take. He was able to make that connection between music, and living, and the community – which I thought was really cool.

Q: I noticed that cover charges were higher when Myriad was on tour than in Toronto. Is there a specific dynamic that affects the price difference?
A: Our priorities in Toronto have been different than when we’re on tour. When we were in Toronto, we played anywhere. We weren’t there to make money. We were there to figure each other out and figure out these tunes. While on tour, it was more the situation where we were booked on a specific night when a venue collects cover. Some of the venues, when they bring in a touring act, they use that as a selling point, and you’ll get paid more as a result.

Q: Any plans to take your music across the border?
A: We have a few contacts down in the States. We hope later this year, maybe even early December to have a few dates in the states. Maybe Europe next year.

Q: I found the decision to tour before recording an interesting business strategy. Why did you decide to do things that way?
A: When we get into the studio, we want the music to be ready to go. If there have only been one or two rehearsals, you’re stressed and more likely to screw up. We’ve been playing for a few years and this is our first album. The songs have been played hundreds of times. I imagine that we’ll be comfortable in the studio rather than stressing out… and we’ll actually be able to play. We also wanted to spread the word about the group before the album comes out.

Q: Did you come in with a specific concept for the group, or was it more like you brought all your collective experiences together and the music just happened?
A: Years ago, Pat Reid subbed out to Dan because he had injured himself shortly before a gig. A few months later, Dave Restivo subbed out of Ernesto’s trio. I know it sounds weird, but for me, it was the first time I just didn’t care. I felt like I could do anything and these guys would be there and they would back me up. And I think they had the same feeling. Everything just kind of snowballed from there.

Q: What will your set at Cherry St. restaurant feature?
A: It’ll be a lot of the things that we’ve been touring, and a lot of the stuff that will be on the record. When we play at Cherry St., we’ll be coming straight from the studio (we’re recording 28th and 29th), so we should be in good shape.

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