“We are a band of uniquely abled performers,” says Bryan Krantz, an enthusiastic member of JESPY House’s J Street Band. “We want to be recognized because we’re capable of performing like any other band.”
Since starting in 2017 with the help of Michael Preston, who is JESPY’s SWEA (Social Wellness & Expressive Arts) Facilitator and the band’s music coordinator, the talented group of musicians who just happen to have Intellectual and Developmental disabilities, have performed throughout the state of New Jersey and beyond.
They’ve turned up the heat on stages at Disability Awareness Day at Millersville University in Pennsylvania; the Disability Pride Parade in Trenton; Maplewood’s Art in the Park; the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ Annual Meeting; local synagogues; and the first annual Rock the Block in South Orange.
These performers enjoy rocking out to all types of music. Their repertoire includes everything from heavy metal, blues, and jazz to R&B, hip hop, punk, and fusion rock. In addition to Krantz (piano and saxophone), J Street band members include Michael Jaslow (vocals), Khair Marshall (drums), Ethan Solander (lead guitar and vocals), Dan Reuter (bass), Roger Baron (trumpet) Michael Nimrod (rhythm guitar), and Thomas Fresco, Harold Evans, Ari Gershman, and Eric Specht (congos).
When asked what lead him to singing, Jaslow had the perfect answer. “I like speaking in front of crowds,” he says. “I participated in the JESPY poetry group. So, I wanted to trying singing because I thought it was something that I could do.”
Krantz, who has trained classically, has been playing piano since the age of three. He says the foundation helped him excel in various forms of music. Along with some of J Street’s other members, Krantz and Jaslow also help write some of the band’s songs. The group has written 12 songs to date that they’d like to record. “We tried different recording options but they didn’t work out as well as we’d like,” Jaslow explains. “So, we’d like to put it out there that we want to record in a professional studio and release an album.”
The subject matter in their songs sets them apart from other bands. J Street are especially proud of their first single, titled "Living with a Disability". They describe the song as an anthem for the differently-abled community. This sampling of the song’s lyrics is impactful and thought-provoking:
“We might have been born different.
We might have been born the same.
We have been bullied but we’re not gonna play that game.
Many of us have a choice. . .
A choice to be heard.
We love to raise awareness and spread the important word.”
The band rehearses several times per week and will be performing, along with several other groups, at the Disabled American Performers Music Festival (also known as Rock the Block) in South Orange, NJ on July 13, 2019.
“By starting this band, we were really advocating for people with I/DD and proving that they could do what they put their minds to,” says Preston. “It’s important to encourage them to work on stuff that they really love.”
JESPY House serves 250 adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities ranging in age from 18 to 70. For more information, log onto jespy.org.