Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Radio Radio

XL Sun Spot
As a Musical Immigrant, radio has played a big part in my life. When I turned 10 (or 11, I can't remember) I received a transistor radio for my birthday. I listened to Buddy B on CKXL spinning the top 40 hits in the late 60s.

Since underground FM hadn't made it to my small city on the Canadian prairie, Calgary, I had to settle for the late night radio show on "XL" called Groove Yard. The DJ used to play longer and heavy songs like Hendrix which frankly scared the crap out of me under the covers at night.

Like many of my generation, radio influenced me to make music a priority in my life. When I got to high school I spun records over the PA system but I was too shy to use the microphone to DJ. I just wanted to share my music with the kids in the lunchroom. Frankly I don't think they could hear it very well with the tinny speaker.

The "pizza" logo from the 80s. 
Fast forward to university. The day I walked onto the U of Calgary campus, I also walked into the campus radio station CJSW. I worked up the guts to DJ and had a blast. Same in Windsor Ontario at U of W. Volunteered at CJAM.

Earned a communications degree and a journalism degree. I worked at two private radio stations as a news reporter then for more than two decades at CBC Radio Calgary, Edmonton, Windsor and Sudbury in many capacities, mostly as a current affairs producer and as a features reporter. I even got to produce a one hour radio documentary about Canada's travelling rock festival - Festival Express. I'm very proud of that.

So add it all up and radio was my life.

Now it's not.

I don't work in the business anymore so that, and digital music, has changed the way I consume radio. While in the news business, I only listened to news radio - CBC and our private competition to see if THEY were onto something WE weren't. 

Now I work in communications for a college, I am liberated from news/talk in the morning so I usually start with CKUA, Alberta's community radio station that plays an eclectic variety of music. I find some of their on air people insufferable and overly sincere and they work too hard to be clever but their taste in music is impeccable. 

I also flip to CBC Radio 2 which is Canada's FM service that follows a similar format to CKUA. I even tune into a clone of the old 'XL which is programming to my demographic but as soon as a commercial or DJ comes on I'm outta here. And, okay, I skip back to our local CBC station for news etc. but if it gets the least bit annoying I jump to music.

Of course we live in the world of time shifting and podcasting so you can listen to all these radio stations even if you're reading this blog in Bulgaria, which is extremely cool. As a musical immigrant I had the pleasure of listening to my late friend David Gold being interviewed on a Finnish radio station via my computer. That would have been unthinkable when I first met David about 10 years ago.

My big new radio passion is American public radio via podcast. I am captivated by Fresh Air, Wait Wait Don't Tell Me and This American Life. I am a loyal fan and they make up my nighttime listening.

I used to think Canadian public radio was far superior to US but I am sad to say our radio service has been left in the dust. I'm afraid the slashing and burning carried out lately by the Stephen Harper Conservative government will put the final few nails in the coffin of Canadian public radio - death by a thousand cuts as we said when I worked for the Mother Corp. and this makes me sad.

As for the future of radio in general? For one thing, private radio will pretty much always remain crap. But radio will survive and maybe even thrive. When it emerged as a force in the 1920s, people predicted radio would decimate the magazine industry and movie attendance. When television's popularity soared in the 40s and 50s, people predicted it would be the end of radio and movies. They're all still here.

When new media (like this internet "thing") bump into old media, the old seem to simply redefine themselves. Also, I'd like to remind all the young 'uns that podcasting is pretty much time shifting radio. 

I feel both fear and excitement for young people who are pondering future jobs in the media - DJs, newsies, video shooters etc. Conventional media radio, TV and yes of course newspapers are all in flux. Fear because those jobs are disappearing. Excitement because they may end up running their own radio/tv/newspaper on the internet as a blog. Something I couldn't dream of when I was a 10 year old listening to my transistor.  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Press Play> Vol.22 Harris Eisenstadt Jazz Composer, Drummer, Improviser

I am pleased to add one of Canada's shining lights in the world of jazz to my blog.Harris Eisenstadt's reputation in the jazz world has blossomed.

His home base these days is Brooklyn N.Y. He grew up in Toronto, studied music at the California Institute of Arts and has spent many months in Africa studying with master musicians.

Here's a nice succinct biography from

One of only a handful of drummers equally well-known for his work as a composer, Eisenstadt is among the most versatile and prolific musicians of his generation. 

His eclectic resume includes studies with some of the most respected names in both improvised music and West African drumming, and performances in genres ranging from film and theatre to poetry and dance to contemporary classical and opera.

Most active in jazz and improvised music, as both an in- demand sideman and a bandleader, he has performed all over the globe, earned commissions from organizations such as Meet The Composer and the American Composers Forum, and appeared on more than 40 recordings over the past decade.

You can get some insight into Harris' music when he talks about his Canada Day II project in this video. (He has since released Canada Day III

Harris visited Calgary on a recent tour through Canada playing most of the major jazz festivals and venues as a member of the François Houle Quintet plus Benoît Delbecq. I asked him if he would PRESS PLAY> I am pleased to tell you he complied. Here's Harris' answers to some questions about the records that have influenced his music.

What have you been listening to lately? What is on your iPod, CD player, turntable these days?

Cuban Bata, Senegalese Mbalax, Radiohead, Feist, Bjork, 1970s Springsteen, Craig Taborn, Benoit Delbecq

What is the record (okay maybe two or three or four or more ) that influenced your music the most?

All of the 1960s Miles Davis Quintet and John Coltrane Quartet records. The revolutionary drumming of Tony Williams and Elvin Jones... as well as the visceral power of the music and the beyond-distinct instantly-identifiable individual voices and group sounds.

What was the first record you bought?

Eric Clapton Time Pieces There was definitely a classic rock influence from my dad, who played the drums in a rock band in the '60s, though it was Time Pieces because I had somehow fallen in love with the song Layla. I don't remember my dad having Clapton tapes. I remember him playing along to Rolling Stones, J. Geils Band, Men at Work and CCR.

What’s your favourite cover tune? (Song and covered by whom?)

My One and Only Love John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman - This was actually one of the 60s Coltrane records I wasn't deeply into already when I met my wife Sara. She loved it and we listened to it endlessly for years. We still put it on regularly. (Written by Guy Wood and lyrics by Robert Mellin, recorded by Doris Day and Andre Previn in 1962)

What is the record that you count as a guilty pleasure?

Sade, Lovers Rock Guilty because the electro/smooth jazz/pop vibe can sometimes be a little much. Lots of chord suspensions, etc., but seriously, I love Sade's singular sound. It's as distinct as Miles or Coltrane. As soon as you hear it you know it's her. Guilty pleasure also because the beats/loops are pretty clean and surgical. It's not really my approach to groove playing at all, but I love it nonetheless.

Currently, what’s your favourite record to listen to on the road?

Mbaye Dieye Faye, Rimbi Rimbi pop star Senegal. I just downloaded a couple of his records on I heard him live in Dakar and I studied with his extended family, one of the handful of famous traditional drumming families in Dakar.

Which of your records is your favourite?

Canada Day III (Songlines) and Canada Day Octet (482 Music), my two new leader records III is a continuation of my working group's concept, adventurous and accessible song forms with lots of different structures for individual solo voices to emerge.
Octet is another in a series of long-form compositions for medium-sized ensembles and the first time I've tried expanding my already-existing working group rather than building a new ensemble from scratch.

What’s the record you bought that you wish you didn’t?

I can’t remember (maybe that’s a good thing!)

You can find him on facebook and on twitter @HEisenstadt and on YouTube