Eisenstadt finds success after trading in his goalie pads

Drummer Harris Eisenstadt
ON THE ROAD: Drummer Harris Eisenstadt, who grew up in Teddington Park and Forest Hill, never forgets where he came from, nor the moment he switched from a career in hockey to music.

Twenty years ago, Harris Eisenstadt left his life in midtown Toronto for what he thought was the start of a career in hockey.

At 18, and then a fresh graduate from Upper Canada College, he went on a hockey scholarship to Colby College in Waterville, Me.

Once he discovered he’d be riding the pine as a third-string goalie for Colby Mules, Eisenstadt returned to one of his passions that had been iced over in favour of sports.

“I realized at the time, simultaneously, it wasn’t something I wanted to pursue and music came back into my life,” the 38-yearold said in a recent conversation.

The professional drummer was in town with his wife, bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, and 4-year-old son Owen, visiting his family.

Eisenstadt hasn’t called either Teddington Park or Forest Hill home in two decades, having lived in Maine for four years — for college, naturally — then in Los Angeles for seven years before finally settling in the Big Apple. But he doesn’t forget his Canadian roots.

“I would say, being Canadian in general, and I mean Toronto is obviously a big city — an urban, international place — there’s a
perspective there,” he says, pausing to reflect. “Being Canadian and living in the States, it’s quite influential.

“Even though I’m not moving back here any time soon, I love where I’m from and I’m proud to be Canadian. There’s a sense of a little bit more humility in being a part of one of many great countries on the earth, rather than the U.S. ‘we’re No. 1’ type of thing.”

That’s good, because starting this month he’ll spend the summer touring his home country, visiting jazz festivals in Hamilton, Montreal, Edmonton and Ottawa. He’ll also be travelling to the Netherlands for the North Sea Jazz Festival, July 11–13.

With all the travelling, he’s not worried about slowing down, as it’s the beat he’s been drumming since leaving home.

“I’m 38, so I’m at the end of an emerging career and in the beginning of a long-term career,” he says. “I don’t feel I have the luxury or desire to rest and take stock.”

When he’s not touring he’s an adjunct professor at the State University of New York, at both the Empire State College and Maritime campuses.

But it’s not often he’s idle. And Europe is where Eisenstadt likes to visit most, because, as he says, they’re more open to all musical artforms.

“It certainly hasn’t been pop music after World War II, but Europe has traditionally valued the arts more than the U.S., and Canada is somewhere in between,” he said. “Especially living in New York, many of the great musicians in the world live there, and there are 20–30 gigs every night just within any given genre.

“It’s different when you show up in some mountain town in Austria that has a long tradition of a presenter putting on concerts,” he adds. “It’s gratifying knowing that there are people who aren’t taking live music for granted.”