Friday, August 14, 2015

High School All-Stars Alumni Interview: Zach Ostroff

California got a reprieve last year and welcomed one of its native sons back into the fold when Zachary Ostroff, High School All-Stars bassist from 2009 to 2011, made the move from an East Coast university to a West Coast university to complete his studies (incidentally, the two are tied this year for the #4 position on the list of top ranked universities in the nation). With this move, Zach not only brings the West’s jazz average back up a notch, he is also a passionate student of environmental science and climate change, and spoke with us this summer about how he is finding ways to champion one via the other.

What is your favorite memory of the High School All-Stars?

"My favorite memory of the High School All-Stars was performing one of my compositions for the entire SFJAZZ Collective -- Matt Penman, Eric Harland, Stefon Harris, Mark Turner, Miguel Zenon, Ed Simon, Robin Eubanks, and Avishai Cohen -- right after watching them rehearse their arrangements of the music of Stevie Wonder. Those guys are my heroes! I remember feeling so relieved and grateful that we didn't mess it up (at least too badly). They were so supportive of what we were trying to do at that age. Looking back, I'm still in awe at what an opportunity that was for all of us."

Zach playing in the All-Stars Combo

Tell us about your time in New York.

"Before transferring to Stanford, I attended Columbia University for two years in New York City where I studied Sustainable Development in Jeffrey Sachs' newly founded program of study, following my passion for climate change mitigation. During that time I was also fortunate to get to play with some of my heroes, particularly Taylor Eigsti and Dayna Stephens, two Bay Area natives who have been creating some of my most cherished music since I was twelve years old. I will never forget one of my first gigs in New York, playing a trio show with Taylor and Dayna -- no drums -- at Le Poisson Rouge, double billing with one of my favorite bands, Tigran Hamasyan's trio featuring Sam Minaie and Nate Wood. New York forces you to learn so much about who you are as a person and a musician. I've met so many of my favorite people and artists in that city and it gave me an arena to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. For this reason, I think if given the opportunity, every young musician should spend some time there. Though there's no rush either; New York isn't going anywhere and some of the most beautiful music this country has to offer is happening in other places, too."

You're doing some work with Warner Music this year involving environmental action; can you give us quick description of what that looks like? How else would you like to see environmental studies work symbiotically with music?

"As a member of the first year of the Stanford/Warner Music Group Leadership Initiative, I've been on the ground at Warner Bros Records and Rhino Records in Los Angeles creating a few projects that will use climate change action as a means of spurring support for the artists and label, and vice versa. These projects will continue into my upcoming senior year. In my eight weeks here so far, I've become more and more convinced that music is the world's greatest cultural driver of change, and harnessing it in the right ways will help push this country and world towards the ambitious political agreements necessary to ensuring a safe and livable planet for future generations of people. Stay tuned for what's to come."

Zach playing at the 2014 All-Stars Alumni Jam Session 

What advice would you give to rising High School All-Stars?

"If I had two pieces of advice for a young, aspiring, inspired musician, the first piece I would offer is, "Keep finding new ways to fall in love with music every day." For me, this can happen when I hear a new inspiring record of any genre, when I play through a movement of the Bach Cello Suites, when I play along with a Paul Chambers bass line from Soul Station, when I learn lyrics to a Hoagy Carmichael song or a Chance the Rapper verse. You never know where you'll find it, but when you do, that feeling will keep you going for years along your musical path. The second piece would be, "Learn everything you can from everyone you meet, but be courageous enough to let the world know who you are through your music." Music constantly amazes me because I can learn so much from literally everyone I meet and play with, regardless of age or experience. But I think that with all that I've learned over the years, the moments where I've made the greatest musical strides have been when I've spent focused time learning to express my music in the clearest way possible. And that can take courage sometimes, but to me, that's what jazz is all about. Just this morning, I read a Thelonious Monk quote, giving advice to a young drummer: "A genius is the one most like himself." And I know that for all of my favorite musicians, they lived with records of many genres for years, and eventually synthesized all of this musical knowledge into a clear approach for how they wanted to play and sound. The learning never ends, and I'm so thankful for that fact."

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