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31. Jan. 2017

An Interview with Drummer Harris Eisenstadt

On the morning of Friday, January 20th after a few sips of freshly brewed coffee,  I picked up the phone and quickly calculated the time difference between Vancouver, BC and Brooklyn, NY.. 3 hours.
10am, Vancouver time meant 1pm Brooklyn time. Better be quick to dial up Harris Eisenstadt of Old Growth Forest. I was on a mission to catch the prolific drummer for a quick Q+A phone call before he rushed off to his afternoon plans.  At 1pm maybe he was about to sit down for his lunch, or maybe he was busy getting organized for his North American tour. Either way, he was expecting my call... (ring..)


Harris: Hey, Harris speaking. 

Heather: Good morning Harris, Heather here from Coastal Jazz in Vancouver! It's so nice to have the opportunity to chat with you before you arrive in Vancouver so soon. We are very excited to welcome you and your four-piece jazz quartet "Old Growth Forest" on Friday February 3rd at the Western Front!


Harris: Thanks Heather we are looking forward to it too, and especially to our performance in Vancouver, a city that feels almost like a second home.

Heather: There must be so much for you to organize before you guys hit the road! How does it feel to be both a drummer in your ensemble as well as the tour manager as you get everything set up for your journey across the States and Canada in the days ahead?

Harris: It is certainly is a mighty task. I'm in charge of organizing all the gear, transportation, bookings, and schedules for the tour as well as maintaining my musical preparation for the many shows ahead. It is a huge undertaking! Thank goodness it is all under control. The tour will run from February 2 - February 12 with our first show in Seattle. From there we fly north to Vancouver on February 3rd!

Heather: We are so happy to welcome you to Canada. I'd love to hear more about your connection to Vancouver as a special destination on your tour and hear about why it feels like a second home to you. What history to you have here?


Harris: Well, I grew up in Toronto, but spent some time in Vancouver and fell in love with the beauty of the Pacific Northwest as well as the city and its people. My family still lives in Canada (most of my family is in Toronto, but I have family in Kelowna, Calgary, and Ottawa), so returning to Canada always feels like I am returning to my roots, and am connecting to a special part of my past. It is like a home-coming. 

Heather: I'm sure that impacts your performing too when you are here. I bet it will be very special to play for your Canadian friends and family throughout the tour ahead. On a similar note, I can't think of a more suitable name for a PNW themed jazz-quartet than "Old Growth Forest!" Did you draw on your Canadian roots when choosing this name for your ensemble? Why "Old Growth Forest"?  

Harris: Haha yeah, it's funny for me to look back on, but most of my ensembles tend to have references to places or memories of my past. My group "Canada Day" refers to my Canadian roots, "Golden State" to my time in California, and "Old Growth Forest" has a similar referential genesis. The nature of Old Growth Forest is a revival of an old idea. My band mates Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke and I chatted years ago about forming the group, but only recently did we manifest it into its current state. The idea of our quartet lay dormant for a while, somewhat like the dormancy and slow-growth of an ancient forest. 

Heather: I noticed that your self-titled album "Old Growth Forest" has a beautifully titled selection of musical tracks. Every selection references a species of tree such as "Redwood" "Spruce" and "Fir". Do you have a favourite track, or should I say tree? ;)

Harris: Haha yes I do in fact! It happens to be the first track on the album titled "Larch." Larch to me is a hasty track, a little precom-posed, but also improvised. It is suggestive and exciting, and very much encapsulates the tone of the record as well as the musical style of the musicians I perform with. 

Heather: Wow, I'm looking forward to hearing that track.  So Harris from what I understand, you have had an incredibly diverse exposure to many musical styles throughout your career. In terms of education, you have studied classical, jazz, afro-cuban, as well as composition at Colby College in Main, the New School in New York, as well as Cal Arts. Of course many other experiences outside of your formal musical training have influenced your performance style as well. Can you speak to a certain individual or experience in your past that has stood out as a particular influence on your musical identity today?

Harris:  Wow! Well, I could go on and on! That's a huge question for a musician to answer concisely since our art is a product of our environment and the musical connections that we have. There are so many individuals and experiences in my past that have influenced me throughout the years. To pick one though, I would have to say my experience working with the trumpeter/percussionist Leo Smith was one of the most influential moments in my life. Leo is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, improvisor and educator who I met while studying music at Cal Arts. He inspired me extensively, and to this day has imprinted his teachings on my musicality, composition, art-making and overall my humanitarian view of the world. 

Heather: Thank you for sharing that, Harris. Leo sounds like the kind of teacher who many of us would be lucky to meet. I have one more topic that I'm curious to ask you about. You are so well versed in the jazz-genre of percussion performance, but also have done a lot of community-based drumming workshops as a teacher and mentor to many different kinds of people. Why were you drawn to this kind of work? How does group drumming facilitate connection in your workshops?

Harris: We all know that music is a language and has the ability to be a metaphor for many aspects of life. Community arts partnerships have allowed me to work with groups of all ages and backgrounds-- from workshops in schools to corporate workshop events. Drumming in its most simple form is a basic motion that many can easily grasp and it proves to have instant accessibly to a group. Drumming is incredibly dynamic and provides a means for a group to connect without verbal language. Drumming is also poly-rhythmic, much in the same way that language is. When a group of people are drumming in tandem, they are opening themselves up to the world of music, art, and communication. It is a fantastic thing to witness and to facilitate.

Heather: It's so interesting to hear about how your career is meaningful to you both on and off the stage. Thank you so much Harris for your time and for your thoughtful conversation. Vancouver is lucky to have Old Growth Forest visit the Western Front on February 3rd! Best wishes to you all for the start of your tour. 

Harris: My pleasure! Thanks Heather and looking forward to meeting the team at Coastal Jazz!

Heather: Likewise Harris! Take care Harris and see you soon! (click)

For more details about Harris Eisenstadt and Old Growth Forest's performance in Vancouver, please visit the Coastal Jazz and Blues Society's event page here. 

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