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JESPY House band to rock federation meeting
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JESPY House band to rock federation meeting

Disparate tastes merge to create fusion of sound

Michael Preston, cultural arts coordinator at JESPY House, said the J Street Band could become an “example of success to the disabled community nationwide.” Photos by Robert Wiener
Michael Preston, cultural arts coordinator at JESPY House, said the J Street Band could become an “example of success to the disabled community nationwide.” Photos by Robert Wiener

When asked what kind of music is their favorite, the seven members of the J Street Band give seven different — and seemingly incompatible — answers.

Bryan Krantz plays piano, all varieties of saxophone, and composes music for the band. Calling himself an “equal opportunity musician,” he was quick to declare, “The only thing I don’t like is country.”

Atara Stern, a vocalist and pianist for the group and its only female member, said she “actually does like country music” as well as opera and alternative rock, but confessed, “I don’t like the blues.” 

If Stern provides the high notes, Dan Reuter handles the low ones on his electric bass. Both of them enjoy alternative rock, but he does not care for opera. “It’s all that high-pitched singing,” he complained.

Jon Banilower, the group’s percussionist, likes music from the ’50s and ’60s but counts Gloria Estefan — the Cuban-American singer whose greatest successes started in the ’80s — among his favorites.

Ethan Solender, who said he thinks of himself as a “metal head,” enjoys the music of Darkthrone and Immortal, two black metal bands from Norway.

Roger Baron is J Street Band’s trumpet player; his taste ranges from the rock music of the mid-1960s to that of the ’90s.

And Khair Marshall, calling himself “a phenomenal drummer,” said he loves to sing and rap — and enjoys professional wrestling. 

To Michael Preston, the cultural arts coordinator at JESPY House, the band members’ musical tastes have combined into a group effort with delightful results.

“I’ve been wanting to start a band at JESPY House for some time,” he told NJJN. “So I reached out to all the musicians here and integrated their styles. It is a fusion of everything — jazz, rock ’n’ roll, ballads, and alternative rock. 

“But no opera yet,” he hastened to add.

The band members are all clients of JESPY House, the South Orange-based nonprofit organization and residences whose mission is to enable adults with learning and development disabilities to achieve their full potential and lead independent lives. 

The members chose the band’s name after they first got together last December, and according to Preston, it has no connection to the liberal Israel advocacy group of the same name. 

Rehearsing in one of the JESPY buildings, located on a quiet side street in South Orange, 

the group was preparing for an upcoming performance at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Greater Metro West NJ. The event will take place Wednesday, June 7, on the Aidekman Family Jewish Community Campus in Whippany. 

And despite the members’ varied musical likes and dislikes, they emerged as a solid ensemble as they played such contemporary songs as “Love on the Brain” by Rihanna; “Imagine” by John Lennon; and “Tonight,” an original work by Krantz (music) and Solender (lyrics). 

The J Street Band is also scheduled to perform on Oct. 7 at the New Jersey Disability Pride Parade in Trenton. 

“I see the J Street Band growing in popularity and becoming an example of success to the disabled community nationwide,” Preston told NJJN. He aspires to organize a Woodstock-like festival featuring performers with disabilities by the fall.

What the JESPY musicians are demonstrating, Preston said, is that “despite being disabled, if you believe in yourself and follow your dreams, you can accomplish anything with a little hard work.” 

In addition to the music from the J Street Band, the June 7 event will feature “Challenges to the Contemporary Jewish Community” a talk by Avraham Infeld. A consultant on tikun olam to the Reut Institute in New York, he is also a faculty member at the Mandel Leadership Institute in Israel. 

The federation meeting will also include a tribute to Leslie Dannin Rosenthal, the organization’s outgoing president, and the presentation of the president’s Bamberger Award to Arthur Schechner, recognizing his outstanding service and leadership. Schechner raised $2 million in memory of his wife, to build the Judith Ruback Schechner Recreation and Wellness Center, better known as Judi House, at JESPY. Judith Schechner served as president of the organization.

Arthur Schechner also served as president of the Daughters of Israel nursing home in West Orange, was the founding president of the federation’s Jewish Community Housing Corporation, and was the first chair of MetroWest Cares, a network of services for community seniors.

Also at the meeting, Lisa Buber and Alan Schall will be honored with the federation’s 2017 Julius and Bessie Cohn Young Leadership Award.

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