harris eisenstadt

drums
composition

interviews

FIRESIDE CHAT WITH HARRIS EISENSTADT
Fred Jung

Although Los Angeles locals barely find mention in mainstream, national media outlets and even less in the one representing our own city, alternatives like the LA Weekly, Wire (UK), and Signal to Noise have given amble coverage to the region's ignored. Hope exists with legends of the past (Horace Tapscott, John Carter, Billy Higgins, Teddy Edwards), definers of today (Vinny Golia, Bobby Bradford, Nels Cline, Adam Rudolph, Wadada Leo Smith, Jeff Gauthier), and the promise of tomorrow (Harris Eisenstadt, Jason Mears, Kris Tiner, Noah Phillips). Eisenstadt, advocated by Leo Smith, Golia, and Rudolph, is bound to push the envelope further, but whether that is given attention is sadly left to those who chronicle the music and not to those who play it. So in an effort to correct the wrong, Eisenstadt, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: My dad played drums and I would hear him playing along to old rock and roll cassettes. It just seemed cool. Those were the earliest memories, probably around five years old. By the time I was nine, I started taking snare drum lessons. I did the concert band thing and started playing in proverbial high school rock bands, trying to copy John Bonham and went that route. That was long before there was any interest in anything remotely to do with jazz.

FJ: What motivated you to attend CalArts?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: I had finished my undergrad and was living in New York in '97. I was working for the Knitting Factory and stage managing one of their venues for their jazz festival and Adam Rudolph and Yusef Lateef were playing on the festival. I was talking with Adam about the music and mentioned that it would be nice to go back to school again at some point, but was lamenting that there wasn't anything around that resembled the Creative Music Studio, Karl Berger's school in the Seventies, which Adam had taught at. He said that Leo Smith had started a program at CalArts and I should look him up. I got in touch and it went from there.


FJ: How significant was your time at CalArts?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: Leo has been very, very influential. I got there and if you are in his program, you are thrown into a situation where you take composition lessons from him, you play in his ensembles, you take his seminar classes, and then you fill it in with the rest of the stuff you want to do. He really encouraged as interdisciplinary and sort of art based in a way, more than strictly music base in terms of approaching creativity. From the start, it was find your own voice. Be an individual. Be an improviser, a composer, a performer, and interpreter. Be a multifaceted and versatile musician and at the same time, as individual a musician as possible.


FJ: After leaving CalArts, want did you find waited for you in Los Angeles regarding opportunities?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: I finished in 2001 and when I came down and moved into town, I did find it difficult as far as finding places to play, not as far as finding people to play with. I think the first band I put together in L.A. was with David Johnson, Scot Ray and Steuart Liebig. I had heard Scot and Steuart in Vinny's groups. Here are these guys who had their own voices and were part of the L.A. creative music scene. They were totally willing to play and get involved in a project and they didn't even know who I was. The venue thing was hard at the time and it is still hard. I don't see that changing. It is balanced by these great, experienced players that are willing to play with you. Vinny has been a big influence as being a consummate individual, setting the example as someone who is a really amazing instrumentalist, a really prolific composer, and someone who tries to put himself in all kinds of different situations and is really open to all kinds of different situations. Vinny is a facilitator for the scene here. He is an advocate for a lot of people, which is really inspiring. Leo too, Leo most so of anyone in my musical life. He was a complete influence. There is also Adam Rudolph. He has been amazing as a creative musician and amazing rhythm thinker. He is someone I play with all the time and hang out with all the time and is like an older brother. He has been generous with his time and insights.

FJ: How did the Kreative Orchestra of Los Angeles begin?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: I was in Gambia for two months last year studying Mandinka drumming and my teachers had an ensemble and saw these guys working together and was wondering what was the dynamic and through my friend, the interpreter, it became clear that the master drummer and the "deputy" had joined forces, each with their own band, but joined the bands together to be the baddest group in the region. When I got back, I got to it. I wanted to have a large ensemble, but I wanted to co-lead it. I asked my friend, the great saxophonist and composer, Jason Mears, who I am totally inspired by all the time because of his intensity. He is so on it and I love what he does as a leader. We decided to do it. The logistics of it are a total pain in the ass because to get a dozen people's schedules together for very little bread, and for the love. As a result, Vinny is not able to do as much stuff as he would like because of the scheduling and logistics. Mike Vlatkovich, the great trombone player is in the band and he lives in Portland as well as here, so he is not able to make everything all the time. And there aren't that many places to play. All these things make it a colossal pain in the ass, but at the same time, it is incredible to have twelve people after three rehearsals, nailing this shit and playing their asses off.

FJ: Why the trip to Gambia?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: Adam put me in touch with his old friend, the kora player Foday Musa Suso, who lives in Gambia half the year. I was completely floored by the music from the moment I heard it and studied it deeply. At the same time, studying a culture's traditional music, you can never get everything, but you can't get the essential element by not seeing it in its environment.

FJ: You are scheduled to go into the CIMP studio with Jalolu, an interesting quintet featuring Roy Campbell, Taylor Ho Bynum, Paul Smoker, and Andy Laster, in late October.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: I haven't played with that group. It is a new configuration. It is inspired by African horn and drum music, which is very back and forth and rhythmic and not a lot of melodic development. You hear these horn ensembles from Africa where it is twenty guys playing horns that have one pitch on them. It is the chorus of all these horns that makes the interlocking melody. It is a collective horn thing with the drum ensemble. So I sent off a recording from a gig a couple of years ago to Bob Rusch's CIMP and he liked it and suggested I do something. It is a nice opportunity to work with those guys. I love Paul Smoker and Roy Campbell's stuff very much. I really dig Andy Laster as a composer and bari player. Taylor is great. It should be fun.

FJ: And Boxes of Water, a collective.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: Yeah, that is very much a collective. It is Noah Phillips, Cory Wright, Aaron Cohen. The group is a couple of years old and our first record came out on Evander, Phillip Greenlief's label in the Bay Area. That is a really enjoyable thing to revisit when we get together to do that. They are good friends and nice to play with.

FJ: You spent the better part of September in the UK and Europe, playing with Euro improvisers John Butcher, John Russell, Phillip Wachsmann, and Biggi Vinkeloe.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: Yeah, the gigs with Biggi Vinkeloe, a Swedish alto player and flutist, and Biggi is coming out of this Ayler meets Lee Konitz thing, free, energy music, but also lyrical. That was different from my trio gig with John Russell and John Edwards, which was raucous with Russell ripping Cream quotes. Butcher, Wachsmann, and Tony Wren was a quiet gig and focused and lovely. Pat Thomas was more active and had more density to it. Depending on who you play with in L.A., you are either going to run into someone who is more ultra-texture and minimal or just firecracking.

FJ: So is there an L.A. sound? There is certainly one that Chicago is defining and the loft and downtown sounds have been lauded in my time.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: It is a tough one to wrap my head around. I think of a sound to a lot of records that came out of 9Winds in the Eighties. Everyone is an accomplished player technically. I do feel and this is true of New York too, where there are a million little scenes, that whatever is going on, it is a notoriety thing. In Chicago, Vandermark is getting notoriety, but there is everything else that is going on as well, whether they get any notice or not. There are a lot of great improvising, creative musicians here, who are versatile and able to go in any direction.


FJ: And you just finished recording with Sam Rivers.
HARRIS EISENSTADT: It was incredible. I went to hear him play at the Jazz Bakery and was just talking to him after. A friend of mine is his former manager. I was just rapping with him and he asked me if there was a studio around. I said, "Yeah," and he was like, "OK, let's hit." This is literally what happened, Fred. He shows up at one. We hit until four. It was amazing music. The guy is blowing circles around us. We get done and we're sitting outside and he's like, "I have a gig, but if you think we don't have enough, I can come back after the gig." He wanted to come back at midnight and start recording again. It was in Adam's studio. The next day was his eightieth birthday and he wanted to do this. It was an incredible experience. The guy is total inspiration as a human being. We should all be like that if we're lucky.


FJ: And the future?
HARRIS EISENSTADT: I know that L.A. will continue to have great music being played and made by lots of creative people. I would hope that there is more fucking audience. I don't know the answer to how to get more interest, how to raise awareness of something most people don't know about, but I hope there is just as much music being made and more recognition of it and more opportunities for people to present stuff, more audience, and more bread for people so they can do this shit. I don't know if that will be the case because there is great stuff going on, but venues go in and out. I hope L.A. has more stability as a scene so all this great music can just blossom more.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight.