I have met Jeffrey through his wife Sonia Coman Ernstoff. I was, at the time, in charge of organising the second annual gala of Alianta, an DC based non-profit promoting Romania in the Unites States. Jeffrey put together this amazing pot-pourri of Romanian and Romanian inspired music for our cocktail hour and intermezzos. It was enchanting. Then I’ve seen him perform at the Harvard Club in New York and I experienced first hand his work and talent, his power of improvisation.
I had the chance to see Jeffrey’s first show with “Exactly 67 minutes” last month and I loved it instantly: I enjoyed the music, I laughed out loud at his jokes, I appreciated his interaction and perfect sync with the three musicians that he has met few hours before the show. This is why I thought I should give Jeff a hand with his show to be more known and to you a chance to attend it, if you are in DC on May 19. But until that, let’s find out more about Jeff:
Daniela Kammrath: Why jazz?
Jeffrey Ernstoff: When I was a 7th grader, just starting to play the saxophone in school band, I was at my friend’s house, and heard music coming from his older brother's room. Almost as in a trance, I got up and stood outside his brother's door, transfixed, and, in retrospect, somehow aware, even at that age – that what I was hearing was a sublime expression of humanity: Now, in retrospect, I know that what struck me was how the music so beautifully combined confidence and fear, joy and sadness, structure and freedom, emotion and intellect. The album was Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. After explaining what jazz improvisation was, my friend’s brother handed me the album, saying “take this home and listen as much as you want," which I did, playing along and improvising as best I could. It was all so expressive and so liberating, so “true.” It changed my life. Ever since, that album and what it exemplifies have been my bible - a manifesto for the freedom to explore. I love all kinds of music - but for me, as a player, jazz maximizes that.
D.K.: Who are the people that have inspired you the most in your career?
J.E.: The musicians are far too many to count – but if were limited to just 3, they’d be composers Claude Debussy and John Williams, and saxophonist Sonny Rollins. In terms of special events and the people with whom I’ve had the honor to work – again limited to 3 - Oscar-winning actor Sydney Poitier, Special Events director Tommy Walker, and the founder of Special Olympics, Eunice Kennedy Shriver.
D.K.: What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishments?
J.E.: That’s easy: Being the music production coordinator and consultant for 3 Olympic Ceremonies, the writer/director for the dedication of Arthur Ashe Stadium with Whitney Houston, and turning people of all kinds to great music of all kinds.
D.K.: What are the failures you’ve learned the most from?
J.E.: When I failed, after many attempts, to get a new percussion piece funded for a performance with a major orchestra, I learned that sometimes, you just have to let go of something about which you’re passionate. It’s hard, but you have to know when it’s time to give it a rest.
D.K.: How did you come about creating this show?
J.E.: I’ve always loved the combination of music and comedy. (I guess that’s why Wagner knocks me out.) But seriously, folks, I’ve always been horsing around on the bandstand, so it’s just an outgrowth of that.
D.K.: Where is the best place for you to create?
J.E.: In my mind. That way, it’s rent free.
D.K.: I really appreciated your jokes and the interactivity with the public you incorporated in your show. Is stand-up comedy anywhere in your future?
J.E.: More like sit-down comedy. (Let the other guys do the hard stuff.)
D.K.: Your favorite instrument(s).
J.E.: As player – woodwinds and percussion. As a listener, the orchestra AS an instrument.
D.K.: Is there a question I did not ask, and you wanted to answer?
J.E.: “What’s your connection to Romania?”
My wife is Romanian, and through our 3 trips there, I’ve visited Sinaia, Brasov, Sibiu, Bucharest and her home town of Constanta–all wonderful - and all with a wonderful sense of welcome. I’ve met and played with some very fine musicians there, and had a lot of fun doing it – not to mention attending several ALIANTA Galas in DC, and hanging out with great Romanians here in NYC and Washington, DC. Great folks.