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Harris Eisenstadt: From Mbalax to Canada Day

By Published: October 5, 2009
AAJ: Getting back to the writing angle of things and how you're active enough with different pots, what are some of the things that you find factoring into your work, outside of music, that inform your day to day?

Harris Eisenstadt

HE: It's difficult to make a connection between what you come up with at the piano and what you hear in your head and then sketch out, and where it all came from. I certainly draw great inspiration from other music and art forms, from cultures all over the world, as well as literature and film. Nature is also very important—the four pieces I wrote for the nonet are inspired by depictions of nature in woodblock prints, small paintings on wood from the 19th century in Japan. I looked at prints that I liked a lot—by Hokusai, Hasui, and Hiroshige—sketched some ideas, and before I knew it I had these pieces. I certainly draw inspiration from composers Toru Takemitsu, Charles Ives, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Olivier Messiaen. I've been studying harmony and counterpoint with a wonderful teacher, Paul Caputo, over the past few years and that's been a tremendous source also.

AAJ: You mentioned teaching film music in Senegal.

HE: That came from the person I went with having a more concrete background in scoring film. I've only scored one film myself, but I played on a few soundtracks (a byproduct of living in LA). We worked with an amazing organization in Dakar, a center for student filmmakers with some access to cameras and film equipment. My co-composer friend said, "Why don't you bring some examples of your writing and talk about your work." I learned a lot during the process, and would like to do more film composing, but I always seem to return to writing for groups that I play in. Seems like it's the responsibility of the 21st century musician to be a composer as well as a performer. It's not that I wouldn't like to sit in the audience and hear my music performed... just doesn't happen that way too much.

AAJ: Who are some drummer-composers that have inspired you?

HE: It's a pretty under-represented population—Max Roach
Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
, Gerry Hemingway
Gerry Hemingway
Gerry Hemingway
, and John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
John Hollenbeck
come to mind... there are others.

AAJ: One of the captivating things about your music is that one doesn't hear it as "drums first."

HE: I appreciate that—I'm pretty self-effacing in terms of the role that I play in my compositions, and maybe it's part of my personality. I'm not a particularly bombastic person or player, and I think my approach as an instrumentalist informs my approach to writing. I don't see a quintet composition as an opportunity for an extended drum solo with horn backgrounds, because I want to involve everybody in different ways. I feel like Paul Motian
Paul Motian
Paul Motian
1931 - 2011
has been a big influence in a sort of non-drum-centered approach to ensemble writing and playing, being supportive first and foremost. That's what's really important to me—being sensitive to a group situation.

Selected Discography

Harris Eisenstadt, Canada Day (Clean Feed, 2009)

Achim Kaufmann/Mark Dresser/Harris Eisenstadt, Starmelodics (Nuscope, 2008)

Harris Eisenstadt, Guewel (Clean Feed, 2008)

Adam Rudolph Organic Orchestra, Thought Forms (Ruby Red, 2008)

Convergence 4tet, Convergence 4tet (FMR, 2007)

Harris Eisenstadt, The All Seeing Eye + Octets (Poobah, 2007)

Paul Rutherford/Torsten Muller/Harris Eisenstadt, The Zone (Konnex, 2006)

The Diplomats, We Are Not Obstinate Islands (Clean Feed, 2006)

Harris Eisenstadt, Ahimsa Orchestra (Nine Winds, 2005)

Harris Eisenstadt, The Soul and Gone (482 Music, 2005)

Photo Credits

Pages 4, 5: Peter Gannushkin, Courtesy of Harris Eisenstadt

Page 2: Courtesy of Harris Eisenstadt

Page 3: Scott Friedlander, Courtesy of Harris Eisenstadt

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Download jazz mp3 “Song For Owen” by Harris Eisenstadt