Donal Fox Trio brings genre-bending spontaneity to Amphitheater tonight

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ILLUSTRATION BY MAURICE DUNN | DESIGN EDITOR

World-class pianist, conductor and improviser Donal Fox is known for his fusion of classical and jazz music — though he leans to the spontaneity side of jazz. The Donal Fox Inventions Trio won’t know what they’ll be playing for audiences at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the Amphitheater until well after they’ve arrived.

“When I get into Chautauqua and I feel what it’s like there and I see the halls and the Amphitheater, pieces will come to my mind at the moment, and my band members know that,” Fox said. “There’ll be times where I’ll put the actual set together two hours before we play to keep everyone on their toes.”

Fox has taken the likes of classical musicians such as Bach and unraveled them to insert elements of jazz. He often fuses it with Afro-Latin notes found in works by such artists as tango composer Ástor Piazzolla. Fox attributes this blend of styles to his own diverse upbringing around different genres of music.

“I’m 6, 7, 8 [years old] and I’m just digging it,” Fox said. “It’s an artistic household, and I’m going, ‘I like this music [and] this music,’ and I start training, and meeting new teachers, and going to institutions and there’s a tendency to compartmentalize.”

Fox’s hybrid of classical and jazz has brought forward an imaginary musical bureaucracy. His passion sometimes garners criticism.

“I call them the genre police,” Fox said. “There was an article written that I was confounding the genre police, but it’s not a conscious effort. These are [the types of] music I love.”

From Carnegie Hall to Jazz at Lincoln Center, Fox has performed around the country with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Dafnis Prieto. Fox was the first African-American composer-in-residence with the St. Louis Symphony, and he has transferred to several music programs around the world. In 2008, Fox received the Academy Award in Music from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

A Steinway Artist, Fox has toured as a soloist and in a quartet in addition to his performances with the Inventions Trio. Whether Fox is accompanied on stage or not, the musical impulse doesn’t change.

“That’s the way the music works,” Fox said. “You have a sense of where you’re going to begin, probably end, and somewhere in the middle this should happen. In between those things, we’re making up things on the spot.”