The members of The Emergitones have two main things in common: They are all talented musicians, and they are all emergency physicians. Those shared interests were enough to bring five band members from all over the country—Michigan, California, Florida, and New York—together to form a jazz band built on principles that transcend both music and medicine.
“As emergency physicians, we kind of play jazz in our work life,” explained founding member Earl Reisdorff, MD, FACEP, executive director of the American Board of Emergency Medicine (ABEM). “With jazz, you have a melody line and a chord structure, which is kind of your harmonic road map, and you just take off and go. It’s not unlike working in the emergency department. You’ve got fundamental skill. Wherever the patient takes you, that’s where you go.”
The Emergitones got its start when Dr. Reisdorff and his longtime friend Greg Henry, MD, FACEP, discovered a shared interest in music. Dr. Reisdorff, a pianist, and Dr. Henry, a drummer, started sitting in as part of the jazz trio that plays during the opening reception for the annual Michigan College of Emergency Physicians meeting. Dr. Henry heard Julliard-trained clarinetist Martin Rossip, MD, playing saxophone during an ACEP wellness event and soon recruited him to join the group. Then they connected with Judith Dattaro, MD, a vocalist from New York City. The most recent addition to the group is Larry Hobbs, MD, FACEP, a bass player from Fort Myers, Florida. The Emergitones play together during various emergency medicine events, including the Wiegenstein Legacy Society reception at ACEP18.
Since their geography makes it impossible to practice, The Emergitones lean on the free-flowing nature of jazz music and their own improvisational skills, finely honed in the emergency department, to harmonize. When not playing with The Emergitones, each band member is active on the music scene year-round. Dr. Reisdorff is a professional composer whose choral works are played all over the world, and Dr. Henry is often hired for weddings, polka bands, and other gigs. Dr. Hobbs played bass in nightclubs throughout college and medical school, toured cross country in the Robin Zander Band in 2014–2015, and now subs as a bass player for local jazz, dance, pop, blues, and rock bands. Dr. Dattaro was lead singer and keyboard player in an ’80s pop-rock band that played throughout New York City and helped support herself through medical school by singing at church services on the Upper East Side. Dr. Rossip has toured with several well-known groups and musicians such as The Temptations, The Four Tops, Eartha Kitt, and Jerry Lee Lewis. He recently transitioned to being a full-time musician, playing 100 gigs a year.
According to The Emergitones, it’s easy to find similarities between practicing emergency medicine and performing with a band. Both environments require collaboration and the ability to respond intuitively to the emotions and vibe of others around you. Teamwork is key, according to Dr. Rossip. “The most satisfying shifts are when everyone is working together to help the patient—nursing, admin, consultants, family, etc.—with each person doing their best to help the others do their jobs as well as possible,” he said. “The same goes when playing music on stage: The audience always picks up on the performers’ interactions and also their attitudes toward each other. It’s a great experience when each player’s first goal is to make their bandmates shine.”
For Dr. Hobbs, it’s all about the thrill: “The absolute rush of being onstage is very similar to the rush I get with my challenging patients and clinical situations in the ED.” Dr. Dattaro agreed, saying that emergency medicine and music both have “drama, pace, impact, tempo, and passion.”
There is a common rhythm to both the emergency department and the stage, according to Dr. Rossip: “The intensity and thrill of it all—the whole ebb and flow of moments of relative quiet building up to moments of extreme excitement and then back again.”
Jazz has the fundamental musical elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm, but it has a little something special, too—improvisation. It’s that creative, flexible nature that appeals to emergency physicians, who have to be similarly adaptable to stay in tune in the emergency department.
“In emergency medicine, you can’t be rigid. You can’t treat every patient the same way,” Dr. Reisdorff said. “In our field, that ability to figure things out and improvise—I think really does make you a better emergency physician.” He said the ability to change is essential in jazz as well because jazz musicians will adjust what they are playing based on the sounds they are hearing.
These emergency physicians and jazz musicians have practiced and trained in both disciplines enough to expect, and enjoy, the unexpected. “You never know exactly what’s coming, but you’re generally pleased with the results,” Dr. Henry said.
For The Emergitones, music is both personal and communal. On an individual level, they turn to their musical outlets for solace, relaxation, and reinvigoration. It helps them wind down and find balance after long shifts in the emergency department. However, art is meant to be shared, and having a band of musicians who live in different parts of the country is a testament to music’s magical way of bringing people together. The Emergitones formed a special connection through purpose, profession, and passion, and that has a nice rhythm to it.
What’s on Your Playlist?
- Judy Dattaro, MD: “I start every day with classical music. I always complete my medical EMR charts to John Denver.”
- Larry Hobbs, MD, FACEP: “My best friend is the bass player for AC/DC. Whenever one of their songs hits the radio, I get excited. I can’t say any one band or even type of music is my favorite. Artists who really put their whole talent and heart into their music is very recognizable to me and enjoyable to listen to.”
- Greg Henry, MD, FACEP: “Everything from opera to ’60s rock to jazz of all types. I am currently madly in love with the jazz vocalist Jane Monheit and don’t mind freely admitting it.”
- Earl Reisdorff, MD, FACEP: “My Pandora stations range from Howard Hanson to Dmitri Shostakovich to Bill Evans and Ella Fitzgerald.”
- Martin Rossip, MD: “My favorites are Michael Brecker, Bob Berg, and Andy Snitzer. Chris Botti is the only one my family can stand me playing.”
Ms. Grantham is a communications manager at ACEP.