Features, Interview

Ernesto Cervini: Goes Where His Musicians Take Him


Ernesto Cervini: Goes Where His Musicians Take Him

by Susan Frances

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Toronto-based drummer, bandleader, composer, arranger, and producer Ernesto Cervini has a number of ensembles to his credit, including his eponymous quartet, Tetrahedron, Tune Town, Turboprop, and Myriad3d. When embarking on a collaboration, Cervini opens his arms to old friends in the music sphere and is equally open to working with new friends, allowing these artists to take him where they will.


His 2022 release Joy features musicians from his ensembles Turboprop, Tune Town, and Tetrahedron, as well as artists he has never recorded with prior. The recording is characterized on his Bandcamp site as being “inspired by Louise Penny’s Gamache series of books (NYTimes Best-Sellers) and the qualities of goodness, decency, courage, and love that permeate them. Cervini was moved to compose music that captures the characters, landscapes, and relationships created by Penny.”


The description on his site delves deeper, “From the opening track ‘Three Pines’ that sets up this voyage, to a musical portrait of a duck and her cranky, poet laureate owner in ‘Ruth’s Rosa,’ from the mercurial ‘Beauvoir’ to the beautiful love story of ‘Sandalwood and Rosewater.’ [It’s] a musical journey through the soul and heart of Three Pines and the characters who inhabit it, guided by an adoring fan.”


Cervini explains further about the recording, “The album Joy was inspired by the incredible detective series by Canadian author, Louise Penny. It isn’t a Turboprop album, per se, as it features 16 different artists in a variety of different settings.”


Unique to Cervini’s collaboration is that Joy features four vocalists: Felicity Williams, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Amy Cervini, and Alex Samaras. Also, performing with Cervini on the recording are: Virginia MacDonald on clarinet, Tara Davidson on alto saxophone, Luis Deniz on alto saxophone, Kelly Jefferson on tenor and soprano saxophones, Jim Lewis on trumpet, William Carn on trombone, Adrean Farrugia on piano, Don Scott on guitar, Dan Fortin on acoustic bass, Artie Roth on acoustic bass, and Rich Brown on electric bass.


The musicians on Joy create a unique experience for Cervini. The ethereal soundscapes twining through “Three Pines” open the recording with the breathy riffs of Don Scott’s guitar, silhouetting wispy vocals and a steady, throbbing beat. The stocky pulse of Cervini’s drums towing “Surprised by Joy” is encircled in energizing­­ improvisations from Adrean Farrugia’s piano keys joined by Tara Davidson on alto saxophone, Kelly Jefferson on tenor saxophone and William Carn on trombone, producing an atmosphere of merriment and libation.


The mood changes to contemplative musings in Farrugia’s keys and the soothing trickles of Dan Fortin’s acoustic bass in “Sandalwood and Rosewater” while Cervini’s brushed strokes on the drums cushion the kinetic scrolls. Tara Davidson’s alto sax creates lively swirls across “Clara” that captivate the listener, as Jim Lewis’s trumpet and Virginia MacDonald’s clarinet move into a sprightly saunter along “Ruth’s Rosa.”


Alex Samaras’s commanding vocals on “The Moth” emote strength and confidence, transitioning into the jovial flares of “Bella Bella,” and drifting into the pensive ruminations of Adrean Farrugia’s piano keys through “Peter Morrow.” Every track elicits the audience’s attention, keeping the listener enthralled by the organic movements, the natural evolution of the chord progressions, and the spontaneity of the improvisations, affecting the listener profoundly.


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“There are 4 songs that feature Turboprop,” he details, “but the album was recorded all with Canadian artists, so this version of Turboprop has Kelly Jefferson on tenor saxophone and Dan Fortin on bass.”


He summarizes, “Joy features 15 compositions of mine that were inspired by the different characters, settings, and moods of the 18-book and counting series by Louise Penny. It was definitely challenging to record the album, as we only had 2 days, and this was during the pandemic, so there was a lot of testing going on.”


“I was very lucky to have my sister, New York City-based vocalist Amy Cervini, co-producing the album with me,” he reveals, “so she kept me focused and helped to keep everything on course. She also lent her beautiful voice to the first track of the album, ‘Three Pines.'”


He notes, “I originally composed ‘Three Pines’ at the piano, and then I thought I would record it with Turboprop. BUT, I wasn’t thrilled with this…I was hearing something different. I had guitar in mind, and I was maybe thinking of vibes, but Amy suggested three voices, and as soon as I heard that, I knew it was the way to go! I chose Felicity [Williams], Emilie-Claire [Barlow], and Amy [Cervini] because I thought the writing would fit their specific voices, and I thought that they would blend beautifully together.”


Going where his musicians take him, Cervini attests, “I’m so thrilled with how that track turned out…. It’s definitely my favourite on the album, and a bit of a departure for me.”


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He says, “I’ve thoroughly enjoyed performing the music of Joy live. After the album was recorded, I did a little bit of re-arranging so that the music could all be played by Turboprop with the addition of a narrator/vocalist. We’ve done 4 or 5 live performances of the whole album around Ontario and Quebec, Canada, and we have been playing selections from the album in many of the different groups that I’m a part of, including the Joel Frahm Trio, Turboprop, TuneTown, and others.”


“Performing live is always a different experience,” he discerns, “as you can feed off of the energy of the audience and the other musicians. It can be harder to really communicate with the other musicians in the studio, as you are usually separated, so live is always such a lovely feeling.”


Cervini has a long relationship with Ansic Records, which is the label that has released several of his recordings, but for Joy, he went another way. “Joy was actually released on TPR Records,” he points out, “which is a Canadian label I started with Oded Lev-Ari and Amy Cervini.”


He reflects, “Anzic Records is an amazing label, and is run by my brother-in-law Oded Lev-Ari and my dear friend Anat Cohen. I was thrilled when they decided to help me put out my 2nd quartet album, and I’ve been happy to release many more albums with them.”


In 2020, Cervini’s ensemble Tetrahedron put out their eponymous and debut recording, released by Anzic Records. Accompanying Cervini are Luis Deniz on alto saxophone, Nir Felder on guitar, and Rich Brown on electric bass.


Cervini remembers, “I started playing with Luis and Rich on a whim, and then we performed together as a trio off and on for a couple of years. They are both incredible musicians, and I was excited to perform in a band with them both. Plus, the idea was to play music that was more funky and groove-oriented, which is something I’m not as familiar with.”


“When it came time to think about recording,” he considers, “we wanted to add a guitar for the session, and Nir Felder is somebody that I played with while living in New York City, and I’ve always admired. It was an absolute pleasure to bring him to Toronto to perform and record with the band, and the addition of the guitar was seamless.”


“The music on the Tetrahedron album,” he enlightens, “was a compilation of a lot of different compositions I had written over the previous 10 years, but songs that I thought would specifically work well with that instrumentation. Also, I invited the other members of the group to write music for the album, as I often do. What resulted is a mix of originals and one standard, which covers some different styles and feels, all the while featuring the excellent musicians in the group!”

His 2018 recording with Turboprop, Abundance, was also released by Anzic Records. The ensemble consists of Cervini on drums, Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, Adrean Farrugia on piano, Dan Loomis on bass, Tara Davidson on alto saxophone, and William Carn on trombone.


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Cervini illuminates, “Turboprop was formed after I recorded 3 albums with my quartet, The Ernesto Cervini Quartet. I wanted to try expanding the ensemble, and I invited Tara and William to join us.”


“The first time we performed together,” he recalls, “was a Canadian tour, and we had an absolute blast! The musicians in the group are like a big family, and there’s lots of love.”


He recollects, “I met Tara Davidson in a youth jazz ensemble here in Toronto when I was twelve years old, and we’ve been making music together ever since.”


“Adrean [Farrugia] and I met,” he provides, “by playing together in pick-up gigs around the city. I instantly loved the fire that he brought to the music he was playing. The same with William Carn…we played together on some occasions, and I knew his reputation as one of the top trombonists in Canada.”


He continues, “I met Joel and Dan while living in New York City. I moved to New York City in 2003 to pursue my Masters degree at the Manhattan School of Music, and I had the opportunity to play with Joel and Dan on various gigs while I was there. I was thrilled to bring them back to Canada to perform, first with my quartet and now with Turboprop.”


Cervini’s collaborations have been a springboard for several Canadian musicians, and many of these musicians have included Cervini in their ensembles. He espouses, “The jazz scene in Canada is a wonderful and supportive place to work. As a young musician, I had a chance to play with a handful of older musicians who encouraged me and inspired me. One of the first tours I ever did was to Japan with pianist Gene DiNovi, who played with Benny Goodman and Peggy Lee! This encouragement just furthered my desire to play music as my career.”


He observes, “I started playing the drums at the age of 9, and I started playing drums in a big band pretty soon after. I’ve always had a pretty strong sense of rhythm, so I was attracted to the drums for that reason. Plus, they are so fun, and I had a TON of energy as a kid. By the time I was in high school, I knew I wanted to pursue a career as a jazz drummer. I just feel at home when I’m behind the kit. It’s my happy place!”


“Because I started playing in a big band at such a young age,” he stipulates, “I fell in love with Jazz pretty early. Having studied classical music (on piano) for a long time, I was attracted to the freedom and fun vibe of jazz. Some of the artists I loved the most when I was younger were drummer Tony Williams, pianist Bill Evans, pianist Oscar Peterson, and trumpeter Maynard Ferguson.”


His influences in jazz all had a penchant for writing original material, and Cervini continues along that route. He admits, “I started composing music when I was in university, and I really enjoyed that from the beginning. I enjoyed trying to capture emotions and convey loved ones through my music. I’m a very collaborative person, so performing in an improvising ensemble is a perfect outlet for me. I love interacting with other musicians, and supporting them, and having them support me musically.”


Cervini does not fear going where his collaborators take him. He embraces the adventure. It’s a trait that Cervini displays in his spare time, too, as he shares, “I have 2 young children, so when I’m not working on music, I can be found hanging out with them, and driving them to hockey, gymnastics and music lessons!”


“I’m also an avid sports fan,” he mentions, “and I spend lots of time supporting the professional Toronto sports teams. Lastly, I enjoy exercise and playing sports, and I play both Ultimate Frisbee and Softball on a weekly basis.”


Based in Toronto, Ernesto Cervini’s collaborations take him on sonic adventures. Cervini opens his arms to old friends in the music sphere and is equally open to working with new friends. Allowing these artists to take him where they will, the result manifests into an enthralling experience for the musicians and the audience as well.

About Susan Frances:

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Born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in eastern Long Island, I always enjoyed writing and made several contributions to my high school literary magazine, The Lion’s Pen. Influenced by writers of epic novels including Colleen McCullough and James Clavell, I gravitated to creative writing. After graduating from New York University with a BA in Liberal Arts, I tried my hand at conventional jobs but always returned to creative writing. Since 1998, I have been a freelance writer and have over three thousand articles to various e-zines including: Jazz Times, Blogcritics, Yahoo Voices,, Authors and Books (,,,,,, BTS emag,,,, Hybrid Magazine, and In 2013 and 2014, I was a judge in the Orange Rose Writing Competition sponsored by the Orange County chapter of the Romance Writers of America located in Brea, California.

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