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Interviews

Harris Eisenstadt: From Mbalax to Canada Day

By Published: October 5, 2009
Harris EisenstadtAAJ: What was the impetus for returning to New York? Was it always in the cards?

HE: It was, but LA is the kind of place where you blink and a year goes by so it happened later than I thought it would. Opportunities came up, and I took them.

AAJ: There are a lot of great players in LA, too.

HE: Indeed, and it's difficult because the profile of the music is so low in Los Angeles. There are musicians who have been out there doing great work for decades, and it's a testament to their belief and resolve in what they're doing because getting noticed is very hard. People like [cornetist] Bobby Bradford
Bobby Bradford
Bobby Bradford
b.1934
trumpet
, [reedman] Vinny Golia
Vinny Golia
Vinny Golia
b.1946
reeds
, [bassist] Steuart Liebig, and [drummer] Alex Cline
Alex Cline
Alex Cline
b.1956
drums
have been there forever. What's nice about LA is that I got to work both with musicians my own age and the older players who were glad to have young improvisers interested in what they were doing. In some ways, I am a product of that environment; when people see young and hungry players, they find a way to work them in real quick. I got to work with Leo, Vinny, Steuart, Adam, recorded a little with Bobby Bradford, and with many other great musicians as well. It was a very productive period. Living in LA also made me realize that New York is not the only place to have a life as a creative musician—a perspective I feel fortunate to have had.

AAJ: Some people think of the jazz world in New York as somewhat ageist against younger players. Is that a misconception?

HE: To speak about New York musicians as one thing is impossible, as there are hundreds of players doing interesting things that in some cases overlap, in others not. If you talk to one musician, they might say if you haven't logged your time as an apprentice/sideman, you're doing it wrong, whereas others might say that you should start documenting your work right away. There are so many perspectives here, but I do think that in some cases the ageist thing might be true. There are so many musicians from every generation and so many micro-scenes. I feel like even though I've been here three years, there are a lot of players younger than myself who have arrived since I got here. It's too difficult to talk about the entire creative environment here, and though that's a daunting concept, it's also very inspiring. That's why I came back.

AAJ: Obviously, with your schedule shifted towards family as well as music, things are different for you—but what's in the pipeline right now?

HE: I'm sort of wondering that myself. I knew when we got pregnant last year that I would have a quiet summer and a busy fall that's mostly local. Canada Day has a little East Coast tour for a week and Nate Wooley's quintet also has some gigs, as well as Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone Duo's new quartet. Clean Feed is starting a European booking agency this fall that will hopefully have some work for both Canada Day and the Guewel group in 2010. I'm looking forward to Canada Day coming out on October 6th and hoping that it will be well received. We have a ton of material that hasn't been recorded yet, and I'd like to put together another Canada Day record for sometime in 2010. My nonet, Woodblock Prints, will continue—we did a weekly month-long residency in March, and I have a book of compositions for that band that I'd like to record next year.

Harris EisenstadtThere are a bunch of gigs in town with other people's groups this fall—projects led by [reedman] Mike McGinnis, vocalist Kyoko Kitamura
Kyoko Kitamura
Kyoko Kitamura

vocalist
, pianist Ursel Schlicht, and saxophonist Jason Mears. There's a few ad hoc trio gigs with pianist Angelica Sanchez and Ellery Eskelin, bassist Trevor Dunn and guitarist Jonathan Goldberger, and stuff with trumpeter Dave Ballou
Dave Ballou
Dave Ballou

trumpet
and trombonist Ben Gerstein. Adam Rudolph's Organic Orchestra has some gigs this fall, and UK pianist Alexander Hawkins
Alexander Hawkins
Alexander Hawkins
b.1981
piano
is doing some gigs and recording a bunch of the South African expats' music with [altoist] Rob Brown
Rob Brown
Rob Brown
b.1962
saxophone
, [bassist] Mark Helias
Mark Helias
Mark Helias

bass, acoustic
, and myself. Oh yeah, and John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
asked me to come play the November Stone improv night—that should be fun. I'm probably forgetting some stuff but that's what comes to mind.

AAJ: You also teach, right?

HE: Well, the realities of New York being what they are, we have a nice place but it isn't cheap, so in addition to gigs I teach for three organizations—Carnegie Hall world music classes, the Brooklyn Conservatory, and the Manhattan New Music Project, for whom I teach music in high schools. For the most part, I'm going into New York public schools and underserved communities, and it's tough when I get home from a gig late and have to get up and teach all day. I definitely enjoy it, but between playing, writing and teaching, hanging with Sara and raising Owen, that's my daily grind.


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Download jazz mp3 “Song For Owen” by Harris Eisenstadt