January 26, 2017 | Jeff Kasowitz
UpStarter Jeff Kasowitz is co-founder of the Jewish Studio Project. JSP activates creativity in individuals and communities to make meaning in our lives, promote positive social change and inspire a Judaism that is vibrant, connective and hopeful.
What inspired you to make the album?
The Arba’im Shanah (40 Years) project began two years ago around my 40th birthday. My family had just moved back to California and I was coming off a year as a stay at home dad and working on the launch of the Jewish Studio Project. Adina, my partner and JSP Co-Founder, gave me this amazing birthday book in which she collected references to the number 40 in Jewish texts and commentaries. One of the texts talked about forty being both a completion and a new beginning and that really resonated with me and the life transitions I was experiencing.
Leading up to that time, a bunch of melodies had come to me while I was spending time with my first son, Remy, during the early months of his life. During our drive across country, these melodies started to live with me and in some ways become the soundtrack to shifts that were taking place around my 40th birthday. Adina was really into the melodies and saw, well before me, that perhaps they should be part of a larger project that could be shared. So she and some other family members bought me some recording studio time to begin the process.
What was the process?
This project was really a giant leap into the unknown for me and one that took me way out of my comfort zone. I really didn’t know where it was all going until maybe a year in. The project evolved organically and I just trusted the creative winds to take it where it was meant to go. This was probably the greatest learning.
One thing that became clear pretty early on was that the project was essentially about interpretation through melody and arrangement – spending time with Jewish texts and themes (some well known and others less so), asking questions about them, and exploring them through music to find relevance and new meaning. Sometimes the melodies came first, others it was the text. Then the work in the studio creating the arrangements really solidified the interpretations of the prayers and passages.
Who else was involved in the making of the album?
The album really turned out to be an exercise in collaborative inquiry and connection across difference. It involved an extraordinary group of individuals that I call The Near and Far. Some of them are my closest people. Some have become dear friends. Others, I am still just getting to know. Here was a fairly random group of musicians – diverse across faith, political beliefs, music style, etc. – all working on an album with Hebrew words and Jewish themes and engaged in a process of asking questions and interpreting text. It was truly fascinating to do this in an interfaith context and I think it was the melding of these differences in spiritual influence and creative expression that made for such a unique, authentic and ultimately uplifting album.
How does the album relate to your work with JSP?
The process is an example of the methodology we use with JSP and it represents the kind of creative engagement with the Jewish tradition we seek to inspire, the building of creative confidence and trust in the creative process we hope to instill, and the connection that can happen through learning and creative collaboration – the empathy we try to build through our work, particularly among those who have different views and perspective.
How did your experience with UpStart impact the album?
UpStart has been critical to JSP’s development in so many ways, and we see UpStart as a true extension of our team. In terms of the album specifically, the encouragement and excitement about it from the UpStart staff and community helped me see this project as something that would be valuable and provide meaning and hope to uplift people during these uncertain times.
In terms of the music, we’re hosting a JSP Shabbaton in Ojai, CA at the end of February that will also serve as the Southern CA album release concert for Arba’im Shanah. A lot of the musicians on the album live in that area, so it will be a real treat to play live with them. I’m also beginning to think about a similar concert in the Bay Area later this year.
Check out the album and purchase a copy of it here.