Walking into the Mort Harris Recreation and Fitness Center, patrons are met with the familiar burst of air conditioning, the cranking of the turnstile and the low hum of exercise machines.
Today, however, there is another sound thrown into the mix. Melodies of guitar, cello and violin can also be heard as String Avenue performs.
String Avenue is a musical trio that performs at parties and events across the Detroit area. Its members include juniors Tristan Russano on guitar, Christian Sands on cello and Sean O’Connell on violin.
Russano has a background in metal and rock music, but gained an interest in jazz through a teacher in his senior year in high school at Grosse Pointe South, he said. Back then, Russano was on the football team, but he chose to major in jazz studies at Wayne State after being offered a full-ride music scholarship.
Born and raised in Detroit, Sands is a proud product of the city. Sands attended Detroit public schools, where he began playing cello nine years ago. He said he considers cello performance to be his pride and joy, which led him to declare a major in cello performance in the music department at Wayne State.
O’Connell is another member from Wayne State’s music department. O’Connell began playing violin when he was just seven years old, after a flyer he saw struck his curiosity. Since then, O’Connell declared his violin performance major and he plans to continue on to the University of Michigan to study music composition for graduate school.
The band was formed approximately one year ago by Russano and Sands. The two would practice jazz together, with Russano playing chords and Sands playing melody.
After weeks of preparation, they decided to play at an open mic night at the Sunrise Sunset Saloon in Grosse Pointe, which has since burned down.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking because you didn’t know how it was going to go,” Russano said.
The performance at Sunrise Sunset Saloon was recorded by an unnamed audience member in the crowd and posted on YouTube.
Being published online brought String Avenue more attention. From there, they were discovered by the Director of Campus Recreation, Dr. Christy Nolan.
In the band’s early days, the two members had occasional guests join them for a session, incorporating different instruments and musical styles. Not long after first live act, Sean O’Connell was added to complete the trio.
“Sean is a great violin player,” Russano said. “We soon realized we sounded better with him.”
The trio is now set up on the elevated platform in front of the rock climbing wall at the entrance of the center. While most in the rec center continue on with their day, others sit down to listen.
Sometimes a group gathers around in the couches by the stage, watching and listening to the local musicians.
Jenae Thompkins-Rutland, communication major and MHRFC buildings operations supervisor, said the trio brings great value to the center.
“I think it adds quality to the gym,” she said. “It also allows Wayne State musicians an opportunity to showcase their talents.”
String Avenue attracts a lot of attention at the facility and she said that there are not many gymnasiums that seek out live entertainment for patrons.
“The music selection they chose works well with the ambience of the gym,” Thompkins-Rutland added.
The members of String Avenue say they choose from a selection of 40 songs and they change it up for each event based on what they feel like playing.
“String Avenue has allowed me to learn how to improv and learn countless jazz charts,” O’Connell said. “It's nice to step in and out of different musical worlds on a regular basis.”
Lately, there has been talk about introducing new music to the set list.
“I’ve arranged two rock songs for our trio and I’d like to start playing that and start experimenting with different genres,” Russano added.
While people take time out of their day to listen to the band, String Avenue stated they want to remain focused on expanding their horizons.
“For the group, I’d like to start playing more at restaurants,” Russano said.
The members are looking towards their future. One possible next step is to have a consistent gig at a local bar or eatery, though Russano said he appreciates, and plans to stay at their current location.
“This gig is the best gig in the world,” Russano said. “It’s very unique.”