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What’s Canada Day? 

click to enlarge Canada Day - PHOTO BY JIM NEWBERRY
  • photo by Jim Newberry
  • Canada Day

North of the border, Canada Day is a federal holiday commemorating the first day in July 1867, when three British colonies united to become a single country, Canada. It's akin to our Independence Day, but more about interdependence. Then there's the New York City improv combo, Canada Day, founded by Harris Eisenstadt, a drummer born and raised in Toronto.

The quintet version of Canada Day (there's also an octet) is coming to the West Coast this week for a couple of dates including a Redwood Jazz Alliance show Thursday at the Arcata Playhouse. Along with Eisenstadt in the drum chair, the band features trumpeter Nate Wooley, who fronts his own quintet (with Eisenstadt on drums), tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, who also leads the drummer-less combo Paper Gardens, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, whose band Waking Dreams includes Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, and one other Canadian, British Columbia-born Berklee grad Garth Stevenson on bass. While every member of the band is a composer in his own right, Eisenstadt writes the tunes, creating a framework for interdependent improvisation.

Eisenstadt left Canada when he was 19 to move to New York, headed west for a time to earn his MFA at Cal Arts in L.A. (and play with some of his heroes, Wadada Leo Smith and Sam Rivers among them), then returned to New York City. "When I came back, I wanted to have a working band that I would develop over several years and several recordings and tours," he said in a call from his Brooklyn home. Since 2007, there have been two Canada Day records; another is in the can ready for official release later this year (alongside an octet record).

How does a drummer write for and lead a band that's as much about melody as rhythm? He says it's a question he's asked a lot. The short answer: He writes the tunes on piano. "There are more and more drummer-led groups in jazz now, which I see as a healthy thing. Art Blakey and Max Roach came before -- Max is someone I drew inspiration from as a bandleader too. He was thinking about things conceptually first and foremost as a leader.

"Yes, you're the drummer, so you write from a rhythm perspective -- you know melody and harmony are always part of it -- but it's always from the drum chair. But it's not like the drums are set up in front of the band and it's solo, solo, solo, and the same with the next tune -- it's not like that at all. Instead it's about ensemble interaction and music with lots of twists and turns, some very accessible stuff, some very adventurous stuff alongside each other."

Rhythms from the African diaspora provide some of the adventure -- Eisenstadt studied drumming in Gambia and Senegal and liturgical Cuban bata drumming in New York. He says, "I have an interest in polyrhythms and in multiple rhythmic layers, rhythmic modulations. Tempos become faster, become triplet tempos, those are the things that float my boat -- that's a big part of my interest, trying to find new ways to imagine rhythm."

The Redwood Jazz Alliance presents Harris Eisenstadt's Canada Day quintet in concert Thursday, March 1, at 8 p.m. at the Arcata Playhouse, 1951 Ninth St. Tickets are $15; more information at

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Bob Doran

Bob Doran

Freelance photographer and writer, Arts and Entertainment editor from 1997 to 2013.

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