Dr. Edward Joffe: A Man of Multiple Talents
A 2009 Interview by Joseph d’Auguste
It is said that the person at the top influences all those below him. In that case, New Jersey City University is most fortunate to have Dr. Edward Joffe at the helm of the Woodwind and Jazz departments. He is a man saturated not only in musical talent but in great wisdom and experience. Passing on the traditions of the truly great woodwind teachers of generations before him, he offers his knowledge to all those who seek it. For the serious music student, this is so much more than just a college degree. It is an opportunity to work with one of the last true woodwind pedagogues in our country still actively performing and teaching. Being both a city university as well as a conservatory graduate, having worked with some of the greatest orchestras and performers of our time, he gives an honest appraisal of where music is headed today. He can guide the music student of the future to the best education available at a time when college costs are often prohibitive. His students not only rise to the top as artists but also find their own personal road to success in the music industry via his guidance. The following interview gives you a vantage point one seldom sees of their professors and insight to what the man is truly about. His overwhelming sense of humor is only surpassed by his dedication in helping his students grow both in ability and preparedness. Seeking a faculty of the highest caliber and a sense of professional ethics, students of Dr. Joffe and his staff at NJCU are ready to meet the challenges of a professional musical artist’s career.
Joseph d’Auguste. How did you personally get involved in a life of music?
Ed Joffe. I started playing piano at age 8 with my mother as my teacher. At 10, I started the clarinet followed by the saxophone, both of which my dad played. When I was ready for high school, I was accepted at both Performing Arts and Music and Art High Schools in NY, which were two separate schools at the time. (Today, LaGuardia High School encompasses both of them.) However, I attended the Bronx High School of Science, instead. I thought that would be a better choice since I could still study music privately as well during this time. I then attended Queens College for my B.A. in music education. I took music courses with some outstanding teachers and began studying with Joe Allard. I played with Jazz Bands as well as classical ensembles. My teachers were inspiring and many of my peers were outstanding players. Realizing my love for music superseded all else and that I had the potential to succeed doing what I loved as a career sealed my fate and I began my journey in earnest. After graduating from Queens College I went on to study at Juilliard.
Joseph d’Auguste. On a personal level do you have a particular type of music and or musician that you like?
Ed Joffe. Brahms, Mozart, Charlie Parker, Julie Baker, Harold Wright, Duke Ellington, James Taylor to name a few. Then there are Steely Dan, Sarah Vaughn, Stan Getz, Heifetz, Shirley Horn, Artie Shaw, oh yes and Simon Rattle and the Berlin Phil. It is impossible to choose one type. It depends on the day and my mood; the season or the weather; the moment in time. There is just so much music to choose from, so many types and now so easily accessible. It is nothing short of wonderful.
As to what I enjoy playing? Well, I love to play chamber music such as the Brahms Trio or Quintet or to play with a terrific rhythm section or even sit down and read Thad Jones, Billy Byers or Bob Brookmeyer charts with a big band. Then again, sitting in a great orchestra playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition (as I did last week with the New Jersey Symphony) is also fulfilling.
Joseph d’Auguste. Do you still have the same passion for music that you had when you first started?
Ed Joffe. I have much greater passion for music after living all these years and having worked in the industry. I have never let less than perfect situations affect my personal attitude towards pure music-making You must maintain your confidence, your integrity, and you must never let others take that away from you.
Joseph d’Auguste. What were your most memorable moments in the music industry?
Ed Joffe. My most memorable times took place when I was a student, studying with Tom Nyfenger, Eddie Daniels and Joe Allard at the same time. Playing was purely for the pleasure of creating great music and improving one’s skills and proficiency. It didn’t involve the music industry.
Joseph d’Auguste. What is the difference between NJCU and other musical programs found around the country?
Ed Joffe. We are a relatively small department and we are able to address the individual. Also, the adjunct faculty here is outstanding. The faculty is not only that of top players but active players. They are relevant in the music industry in the present and that makes a big difference. In addition, two-thirds of my adjunct faculty continues to teach at NJCU after many years (some for fifteen years or more), which signifies that they like their positions and their students. These are important factors as many colleges change faculty so often that you may begin your studies with one person and end the year studying with another. Conservatories may offer faculty positions to a myriad of very famous individuals but many are often consumed with their own schedules and really have little time for their students. Also, NJCU’s proximity to NYC offers a great arena for opportunities far beyond what most other places in the country can offer. Our students gain employment and experiences far surpassing most other schools. Finally, I think the fact that we encourage our students to take courses outside of their major area of music concentration is somewhat unique— jazz majors can participate in chamber ensembles; education majors can play with jazz performance majors; classical vocalists can sing in the jazz vocal ensemble, etc.
Joseph d’Auguste. Why did you choose to teach at NJCU as opposed to a conservatory?
Ed Joffe. First, it was a gig that was advertised seventeen years ago, not too far from my house, and teaching in an area of music that I enjoy—woodwinds. The fact that it blossomed into doing jazz studies and a thousand other things as well was a bonus. If there had been a conservatory job advertised, I would have auditioned for that as well. However, nowadays there are fewer students pursuing careers in music and therefore the conservatories are marketing themselves via name musicians they can offer on staff. This does not mean a better teacher or a more dedicated faculty. Also, the attitude of many of the students at conservatories, although they are very talented, is often one of entitlement and over self-confidence, making it difficult for the teacher at times. Overall, I prefer to teach the type of students I encounter at NJCU. They are basically very nice people, are willing to listen to the advice of their teachers, and are serious about improving their abilities. Moreover, they want to learn what is truly needed to be a success in the industry.
Joseph d’Auguste. How do you prepare for such diverse responsibilities and still have time to practice all of your instruments?
Ed Joffe. They [responsibilities at NJCU] virtually landed in my lap and I accepted the responsibilities of running each one at various times. Organization is the key for my survival. This week alone, I will be playing at NJPAC with the New Jersey Symphony on saxophone. In addition, I will be teaching my doubling class which will emphasize saxophone, flute, clarinet and piccolo. I will give lessons on several instruments, teach an Instrumental Conducting class, a Jazz Improvisation class, and rehearse the NJCU Jazz Band. That is in addition to all of the administrative responsibilities. So it is impossible to practice all of my instruments at all times. I have to concentrate and give my attention to the demands of the moment. From week to week the emphasis changes but it keeps you on your toes. As a professional, your date book is essential. It is your right hand and you cannot mess up with tardiness or missing a rehearsal, or forgetting any of your appointments. If you do, you can literally end your career. You must be extremely prepared with reeds, the music, having your clothes ready to go at a moment’s notice, etc. Intelligence and responsibility are two things you must have to succeed in my position or any position.
Joseph d’Auguste. Are you personally glad you chose music as a career? What is most satisfying for you in your own music?
Ed Joffe. If you can earn a living doing something you love then you have made a good life’s decision. I have two friends who are top physicians. I believe they love what they do but their passion also emerges when they are listening to or playing music. I get to do what I love all of the time. As to what brings me the greatest satisfaction…I guess I must say it occurs when I am playing with a few friends without the “stage pressures” one must bear. Playing great music of any kind in an ideal setting is as probably as good as it gets.
Joseph d’Auguste. Do you advise choosing a career in music? Will there be employment in the future?
Ed Joffe. Since the music industry has downsized tremendously, you need to be a person who is willing to learn and grow on a continuing basis — that is the type of student I wish to teach. Only the student who is passionate, talented and has patience should attempt the process of becoming a professional person in the music industry. In addition, one must be able to articulate oneself in writing because you will need to be able to write grant applications for yourself. They will be the successful artists of the future.
It is scandalous to take a student’s money for a college degree in an area that you know that they do not have the ability to succeed in. Thus, it is my obligation to find students who truly show talent and ability. Yet, it is important to know that there are other venues in the music industry some might wish to pursue if performance is not their forte. I believe in truth and honesty. Liking music is not enough…you must love it and want to do it every day of your life. Due to present economic times we cannot give false hope to those who truly do not have the ability to succeed and will not be able to secure music as a lifelong occupation. This economy is not favorable to the mediocre student. You can continue to have fun with music but I do not believe in giving students false dreams if I do not believe in their ability to succeed.
There will always be a music industry, but it will continue to change dramatically and therefore it is essential that one understands that only the best prepared will survive.
Joseph d’Auguste. Can you site some successful graduates of NJCU and the career paths they pursued?
Ed Joffe. I’ve taught music in schools for 25 years— 17 years at NJCU, 3 other years at another college and another five years in elementary, middle school and high school. Most of my students are surviving in music—Freddie Hendrix, Dave Schumacher and Nathan Eklund (jazz); Jeff Nichols, Steve Lyon and David Noland (Broadway); to name a few. Also, Peter McCullough (bass player) and Mike Soprano (trombone) are in a successful rock band and have a record deal in the works. Guitarist David Crum was voted one of the best music teachers in New Jersey by faculty and students alike. Ed Kwityn at first wanted to be a performer but worked so well with his hands has found success working for the Powell flute company. Many more are on Broadway and still others are on the road.
Success is really measured by how much you truly love what you are doing year after year. It cannot become a rudimentary job that you just do day after day. Music is not just a job you hold down but also a lifelong priority.
Joseph d’Auguste. How does tuition at NJCU compare with other colleges?
Ed Joffe. We are at the cheaper end of college tuitions. It is about $5000/semester for New Jersey in-state students and about $8000/semester for out-of-state students. Our proximity to Manhattan and the caliber of teachers we have here make it a win-win situation at NJCU. Undergraduate degrees can run you five to six times as much at other schools and you will still need a Master’s degree, which you can then pursue if you feel that is what you need and want. I advise all students, whether they choose NJCU or some place else, to look for the best teachers who are intimately involved into today’s music industry without bankrupting your families.
Joseph d’Auguste. Is there a difference between the teachers of today and those of yesterday?
Ed Joffe. Teachers today have to promote their students to people in the industry due to the fact that there are not that many jobs available. We will recommend you if we think you are worthy and those recommendations weigh heavily in obtaining positions. Orchestral opportunities as well as those on Broadway are limited and auditions are not just handed out. DJ’s and electronic music have taken many of the jobs as well as the downward spiral of the economy.
Joseph d’Auguste. What do you recommend that a high school student who wishes to study music at NJCU do ahead of time to gain entrance into the program or any other music program?
Ed Joffe. You must decide at least a year ahead of time that you are seriously committed to a musical career and then, first and foremost, study privately with a high caliber teacher of your instrument. Your band or orchestra teacher, although they might be talented, do not have the time during the normal school day to teach you the skills that you will need to gain admittance into a college of music. Second, you must visit the schools that you are interested in, observe classes, and converse with faculty as well as students. You must find out exactly what you are being offered. Will you be in the orchestra? Who will you be studying with and how much playing will you actually be doing at your school? It is imperative to know the answers to these questions before choosing a program.