Ostroff’s opus: A hidden musical star on campus

Nov. 11, 2014, 2:46 p.m.

Don’t be surprised if you recognize one of the stars of HBO’s new series, “Masterclass,” walking around the Stanford campus. That would be transfer Zachary Ostroff ’16: bassist, singer and environmentalist.

Ostroff spent this summer in New York, finishing part of the filming of the TV series which features a world-renowned violinist, Joshua Bell, teaching and interacting with several aspiring musicians. Ostroff was hand-picked to be a part of this group and to perform with Bell in New York and London.

“It was an amazing experience. We were rehearsing in Baryshnikov’s dance studio and Joshua’s apartment,” Ostroff explained.

“His apartment is actually modeled after a violin,” he added with a laugh.

The group also performed in the same D.C. train station that Bell had played in anonymously a few years ago as a sort of social experiment to see which passersby would take notice of an incredibly talented musician performing in a subway station.

“We basically did a reprise, but instead of doing it as a secret we announced that we would be performing. This time thousands of people showed up,” Ostroff admitted.

Starting with the piano when he was five and continuing with the guitar when he was eight, Ostroff has had a love of music ingrained in him. For his dad’s 40th birthday, they had father-and-son bonding time over learning to play guitar.

“Music is my first language and definitely something that is a part of me as much as my left and right hands are,” he said.

To Ostroff, the most important part of creating music is the connection one makes both with fellow band members or musicians, and with the audience.

“Music is about creating an emotional palette for people to feel something within,” Ostroff explained.

Though Ostroff has had many achievements including playing for the Grammys alongside Esperanza Spalding, being the only jazz musician to be awarded the Presidential Scholar of the Arts in 2011 and being named the youngest faculty member of the Stanford Jazz Institute in 2013, Ostroff believes his highest achievement is being able to play music he loves on a consistent basis.

He admitted that getting to see Justin Bieber cry over losing the Grammy was up there on his list of achievements, however.

Ostroff transferred to Stanford this year from Columbia University in order to take advantage of the resources Stanford offers under the Earth Systems major. Stanford’s greater dedication to sustainability also impressed him.

Ostroff has tried to make an effort to dedicate himself to his schoolwork at Stanford but admitted he had to miss the first few days of fall quarter to travel to New York City for the World Climate March where he performed alongside Bell for President Obama, U.N. delegates and other world leaders.

This event was special for Ostroff, who believes his passion for the environment and music are interconnected.

“Music is an art form based on compassion,” he explained, “And I think that extends to my compassion for other human beings on this planet and everything that lives and breathes here.”

Ostroff has been impassioned to do something about climate change since he was in middle school, which was around the time Al Gore’s documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” came out and struck a chord with him.

“The responsibility I feel within music to produce art of the highest quality is similar to the responsibility I have to this planet,” Ostroff said, “Whether that means playing music, writing music that is inspired by those sentiments or putting on shows that encourage awareness.”

Free downloads of his music can be found on his website, zacharyo.com.

Contact Elizabeth Wallace at wallacee ‘at’ stanford.edu.

Liz Wallace, class of 2018, is a reporter for the Stanford Daily with a love for environmental science, literature, and late night discussions over mugs of hot chocolate. Wallace hails from Winston-Salem, North Carolina and can be contacted at [email protected].

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