Jeffrey Ernstoff — Exactly One Hour with An Unstable American Musician
You know, I don’t quite know what to make of that hour and forty-five minutes with Mr. Unstable Musician. There were good jokes, bad jokes, wise anecdotes, preaching to the chorus, audience participation, music theory lessons, maps, and sometimes a little music. Out of nowhere, after a certain preamble — most went on for God knows how long — he said the word cool and played “Cool” from WEST SIDE STORY while Peter Erskine backed him up on drums. From the way he was tuning his flute, he was going into it, but here’s the good part: Jeff Ernstoff is a phenomenon. Do you know that song? Boy, boy, crazy bo-oy… he feathered through the introduction, the boo da BAT da boo da boo da boo DAT part, the scat element, the staccato stops and the melody like — well, it was like having your ears massaged by Jeffrey Ernstoff. Such fierce applause after his joke festivus that on the scale of mostly I’d give it a mostly worth the tongue-tied false starts, the indulgent self-referential monologues, the filler bullshit. Mostly. (They mostly come out at night mostly.)
Jeffrey Ernstoff comes to stage pushing a shopping cart and playing his Saxophone. But he is simultaneously the overhead projectionist, the therapist, his own biographer. Funny in the Ivy League way that funny is — do you know what I mean? Wrote a splendid piano ditty that got him into the WGA (worth it — I wish I had a copy). Plucks eight different horns from the shopping cart, tells this sort of knock-knock joke with the drums, jams with his peers, tells stories, does impersonations, teaches class. Lots of surprises.
Ernstoff is not junk bonds at all. You have to nurse him a little like your weird Uncle Ernst until he feels ready to play for you, but when he does, my boy, when he does. About half-way through, he further explained an autobiographical Beatles connection to his past — he was in a band that covered the Beatles called “The Beatles Five” and it’s an early theme in his act — which goes on way too long — activated the cheesiest Joe Jackson Night And Day Steppin’ Out Casio drum synth, and started to play flute scales. And this became melody. And he said some off-the-cuff remark like, “…and when you get better, you can play it like this…” And it was over. I’m quoting De La Soul. “Do all the things that her mind could do nothing but cling to/Millie bucked him and with the quickness it was over…” He played “Fool On The Hill”. Or …it began that way… I’m not sure what happened. It was eternity in there.
He brought his peeps up. Gregory Itzin (who plays “bad” President Charles Logan on “24”) read poetry and a bleearrgh (for lack of a better term) of lesser known quotations about Jeffrey’s chosen motif over an improvisation. Or is it idiom? A fellow wonders. Les Thimmig, who taught Jeff his horn, came up and demonstrated amazing walk-on-water virtuosity in a Gershwin salute, with, and these are his words, “A big schmiel on the intro”. A big, dirty whoopee cushion of a glissando to kick off “Rhapsody In Blue”. I got his email.
From the leaflet: “This show has no message — at least not one that I put there intentionally – unless you haven’t already realized that the term Unstable American Musician is redundant.”
You know what I think? I think a big fat guy on the beat just keeps walking and says, “Suit Yourself!”