Geographic inspiration shapes Harris Eisenstadt's songs

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      Let's get one thing straight: Canada Day isn't performing on Canada Day. But if you catch the Brooklyn-based quintet in Vancouver, chances are it'll play “Vancouver”.

      Got that?

      Okay, let me explain. Canada Day is the name of the band led by Toronto-born percussionist Harris Eisenstadt, who hits the stage with trumpeter Nate Wooley, saxophonist Matt Bauder, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and local resident Tommy Babin on bass. A proud northern patriot, Eisenstadt wanted to call attention to the strong Canadian presence in the New York City jazz scene, which also includes former Vancouverites Michael Blake, Seamus Blake, and Chris Tarry. As for “Vancouver”, it's one of three tunes that he's named after cities he's performed in—and the only love song among that number.

      As the drummer explains on the line from the home he shares with bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, his tribute to our city appeared first on Starmelodics, a 2008 trio record with pianist Achim Kaufmann and bassist Mark Dresser.

      “Canada Day has played it from time to time,” he notes, “but has never recorded it. It's more like a love letter to the city than any kind of specific setting of what Vancouver is or isn't.”

      Also in Eisenstadt's repertoire are “Halifax”, which appears on Canada Day's self-titled 2009 debut, and another tune from Starmelodics, “Seattle”.

      “I went to undergrad school in Maine, which is not so far from Nova Scotia, and my friends there would always joke that everything in Halifax is in black-and-white,” he says. “Dark is maybe too easy a way of describing it, but the brooding nature of Halifax is definitely something I was going for. And while there's also something sombre about ”˜Seattle', there's something sweet about it as well. It's a ballad, and it's dedicated to [Seattle-based pianist-composers] Wayne Horvitz and Robin Holcomb, whose music inspired me as much as the city itself.”

      The peripatetic Eisenstadt says that many sources inspire his expansive yet intricate compositions—including, on Canada Day, an Isaac Bashevis Singer short story (“Don't Gild the Lilly”) and an alfresco dip in a California redwood forest (“After an Outdoor Bath”). So far, though, he's resisted naming a tune after his birthplace, even if that's meant turning down a request from on high.

      “”˜Halifax' was the third in the series, and I don't think there's any more,” he says. “But we played ”˜Halifax' when I was in Vancouver in '08, and [TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival artistic director] Ken Pickering yelled out ”˜How 'bout “Toronto”?' He was giving me a hard time, but I've never quite found the inspiration to write a piece about that city—even though I love Toronto and grew up there.”

      Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day plays the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Saturday (July 3), and the Ironworks on Sunday (July 4).