Here is a multimedia journey through my life and music career, told chronologically through the words of some fine writers from venues and news media, and through the songs themselves-- a digital scrapbook of press articles, photos, videos and audio clips. Enjoy!
From the Night Eagle Café News, Binghamton, NY 1997:
Originally from New York City, Jody Kessler began playing guitar at the age of nine. She received musical instruction from a wide range of fine guitarists, including Paul Simon and Martin Simpson. At the age of fourteen she bought a Fender Telecaster and began playing in a high school rock band. They were terrible! But being a fourteen-year-old female electric guitarist in the early seventies, Jody drew a big crowd. When the "turbulent teens" were over, Jody realized that her heart remained true to the beautiful resonance of her beloved acoustic guitar.
In 1980, Jody traveled though Europe for many months with only a backpack and guitar. From the streets of Paris to the tunnels of the London Underground, and from spiritual communes to folk clubs, she wove a web of followers throughout the European continent.
After returning to America, Jody played the folk circuit with Lorelei, a trio of women known for their stunning harmonies and gorgeous instrumentals. When Lorelei disbanded in the mid-eighties, Jody worked on her juggling act: perfecting the balance between parenting, a "straight gig" as a classroom teacher, graduate school, music, martial arts, and spiritual practice. During this time, she also earned a reputation as a children's entertainer in the much-loved duo West of the Moon. When the juggling balls finally dropped, Jody came back full-circle to what she knew was her right livelihood and her deepest dream: sharing her gift of song.
Lorelei, circa 1981
Jody is a seasoned performer who relates well to diverse audiences. Her fans tend to be progressively minded people of all faiths who appreciate music that speaks to our common heart, women who celebrate life by embracing the feminine spirit and creativity within, and anyone who appreciates great songwriting, crystalline vocals, and masterful guitar work.
Whether it be a large concert hall, an intimate coffeehouse, or a festival stage, Jody has the ability to capture the hearts of her listeners. Knowing that music has the power to heal, inspire, enlighten, empower, and create community, Jody reaches down into our deepest places with her instrument and voice. Some songs may evoke tears, others lift the spirit, while others may inspire you to get up and dance to her acoustic guitar. "Kessler's impressive vocal, musical, and poetic talents express what she see through the eyes of love," says the Syracuse New Times.
Centre Daily Times, State College, PA, November 27, 1998
by Andy Adelewitz:
Jody Kessler's music simply rises above the world and tells us how things ought to be.
Kessler, a singer-songwriter from Ithaca, NY, is an adept guitarist, having received musical instruction from such masters as Martin Simpson and Paul Simon. But her true essence is her honest, straightforward and often downright empathic lyrics. Addressing issues from love and spirituality to sexual violence, Kessler tells it sometimes like it is, and sometimes like it ought to be.
She released her second album, Leap of Faith this summer. Kessler's pristine voice and acoustic guitar are behind the
bulk of the music, with sparse accompaniment from some
of Ithaca's premier musicians.
Kessler's songs deal with profound issues that affect every person, giving her an infallible appeal and strong personality. "Dominoes" deals with broken relationships and gossip and the fear that comes with not knowing where love will lead.
In "My Darling, My Only," Kessler expresses the sadness and confusion of a mother whose child and new husband do not get along.
"Walk Without Fear" was written at the request of a rape crisis center and calls for an end to sexual violence and the silence regarding it. She wrote the especially touching "A Path to the Divine" as a marriage proposal for her husband.
The underlying theme on much of Leap of Faith, however, is announced in the album's title. Kessler's faith and spirituality and those of the rest of the world are all fair game for song fodder. "As Long As We Believed" celebrates all spiritual life that's true and genuine. In "Homesick," Kessler finds herself "homesick for God," looking back at her life and the lost purity of spirituality.
...Despite her musical style, Kessler is anything but behind the times, and she is an artist one can't help but connect with, comprehend and respect.
From the TV series "Horses Sing None of It", a production of The Folk Project in Mendham, NJ. 1998 live studio performance with host Ralph Litwin.
Music & interview begin at 1:05.
Musician Mixes it Up for Fans,
By Dan Aloi, Elmira Star-Gazette, October 2000
Singer-songwriter Jody Kessler likes to mix it up—she uses humor, spirituality, and real life stories in her music.
…Kessler recently released her third solo album, “No Solid Ground.”
…“I’m trying to write more songs inspired by real-life people ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff’ was based on an article I read in the paper about a woman who had cancer.”
She also balances the heavy subjects by getting the audience to laugh. “The song ‘Hocus Pocus’ is really kind of tongue-in-cheek,” she says. “I often get people laughing; it depends on the audience. I try to inject humor not only in the song but in the way I frame the songs. A lot of the songs are serious, so I try to inject a little levity in there.”
Spirit has moved Local Artist, Minister
Roger DuPuis II, Ithaca Journal 2005
Long before she was a reverend or a troubadour, Jody Kessler was a kid with a guitar.
Even as she was coaxing “Oh my Darling Clementine” form the strings in her Manhattan apartment, the young Kessler had no clue that those pre-adolescent performances would put her on the path toward a vocation of spreading hope and spirituality through music…
…Initially, Kessler took her act to folk venues.
The experience proved somewhat unfulfilling.
“People eat, talk. Music is kind of an afterthought," Kessler said. “Even at the best ones, you have to compete with the cappuccino machine.”
She performed at a few progressive churches, and it was there that Kessler started to feel that she had found her niche. More than just being a captive
audience, of sorts, she noticed that the congregants were listening to her words and pondering their import.
A case in point was her “Stone by Stone,” a testament to the power of forgiveness.
That song, she said, has inspired people to tell her hand accounts of how it led them to mend fences with loved ones.
…Soon, some encouraged Kessler to think of her work as a music ministry. She ultimately took their words literally. Last year she was ordained as an interfaith Minister through The New Seminary in New York.
Like her music, Kessler’s spirituality traces its roots to a collection of eclectic influences…Raised in a secular Jewish household, her work draws upon wisdom form Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, Judaism, Earth-based religions, Taoism and other traditions.
Her worship service themes include such topics as “Honoring Our Divinity, Celebrating Our Humanity,” “The Only Constant is Change,” and “Interbeing: We Are All Connected.”
“I try to get people to drop out of the head and into the heart, “ She said.
Kessler Ministers with her Heartfelt Music
By Chris Kocher, Press & Sun Bulletin, Binghamton, NY 2005
The first hint that Jody Kessler isn’t your average musician is her business card.
One side reads “Jody Kessler, Singer/Songwriter” and has a photo of her with her guitar. The other says “Rev. Jody Kessler, Interfaith Minister—A Ministry of Song and Spirit” and shows her in purple-and-white religious robes ornamented with symbols from various faiths.
Listeners to Kessler’s music shouldn’t be surprised.
Through four CDs, the Ithaca-based performer has penned heartfelt songs stressing simplicity, spirituality and interconnectedness that’s often lost in modern-day life.
“Whether it be destiny or chance/ I find myself pulled into this dance/ with the many twists and turns of circumstance/ I just open to the mystery,”
she sings on These Things I Can’t Explain, from her latest CD, Bare Bones.
It’s that kind of transcendence Kessler wants her songs to
have, rather than writing only about her personal relationships and feelings.
“I feel in my songwriting that I’m moving in the direction of writing things that have more of a general appeal, more than just my own stuff,” she said.
Much of Kessler’s work show a strong streak of social consciousness: The Ballad of Chris and Pat finds a same-sex couple looking to get married; a woman walks across the country to preach about non-violence in Peace Pilgrim; and Big Boxes take on the “ticky-tacky” sameness of retailers like Wal-Mart and Office Max
And some of it is just good old-fashioned storytelling: Fly With the Wind is based on the true story of an injured eagle and one man’s quest to help it fly again: Who Woulda Thunk It? Tells of a polar-opposite couple who share a common heart; two people meet for a new chance at love at an Ithaca landmark in The Moosewood Café.
…The ministry isn’t a path Kessler foresaw growing up in a secular Jewish household in New York, but she fell in love with music at an early age. She remembers her family listening to 1960’s folk music such as Peter, Paul & Mary and the Kingston Trio, as well as show tunes.
Kessler grudgingly began learning guitar at age 9, after her mother vetoed other options.
“ I said I wanted to play the violin—she covered her ears and said, ‘Oh, no you’re not!’ ” Kessler said. Because her family lived in an apartment, drums and piano were ruled out.
As she grew older, she wanted to study music full time, but a Cornell University summer course taken while still in high school left discouraged—she received a D in music theory. She now sees that the teacher was trying to cover too much too fast.
So Kessler ended up a psychology major and went into teaching, still doing music on the side, until one day in 1995 she decided she had to quit her day job and pursue her dream.
“I didn’t really get the courage to do music full time until I was 38 years old,” she said.
As Kessler sought her niche as a performer, progressive churches became favorite venues, and ministers touched by her spiritual songs began to ask her to lead services and retreats. Eventually she felt called to take classes at the New Seminary in New York, and she was ordained last year as an Interfaith Minister.
“The philosophy of the school is that all religions have something positive to offer, “ she said. “We can extract jewels of wisdom from each of them, learning to find the commonalities and respect the differences.”
These days, while she knows how to reach broader audiences at coffeehouses such as the Cyber Café, the majority of Kessler’s work is performed at churches and spiritual centers.
It’s a journey that makes her quite pleased: “ All the things I’ve learned in the past have come together in the music ministry I do now.”
The Inspired and Inspiring Callings of Jody Kessler
By Molly A. Daniels-Ramanujan, The Epoch Times, August 12 2009
Jody Kessler has spent her life cultivating two equally powerful vocations. She is a successful folk musician and an ordained interfaith minister. The combination of her two vocations nourishes both. Jody’s voice touches me like rain over parched earth.
Hers has not been an easy journey. There were many twists and counterturns. She hung out with folk musicians in Central Park, learned to play the guitar and sing in the oral tradition, lived on the edge (trying out psychedelic drugs), joined the Guitar Study Center, practiced yoga, became a school teacher, lived through failed relationships, and finally found a measure of harmony when her search for spiritual meaning and her music came together.
As singer-song writer, Kessler has four collections of songs: Another Day of Loving, Leap of Faith, No Solid Ground, and Bare Bones—which use images and stories from life. But her forthcoming disk—which “has devotional chanting inspired by Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Arabic chants from many different faiths and cultural traditions”—brings together the folk singer and ordained minister.
As in the case of most artists, the fire of her creativity comes from the crucible of life. Her best songs are infused with her mystical yearning to reach God, who is our home — from whence we came, and whither we shall return. This yearning for the divine gives her singing voice a resonance that is all her own.
The lyrics offer no certainties; they express a longing to find transcendence above and beyond a quotidian existence.
All her life, Kessler has felt the gaping dark center in life. An artist’s work, if it is any good, comes out of a perceived incompleteness.
Kessler was born in New York to a non-observant Jewish family, where no one had siblings. Each was an only child born to parents, similarly raised with no sense of an extended family. Added to that, there was no talk of religion. Jody was gnawed by a hunger for “a community, a tribe, a tradition.”
At folk venues, and at Saturday concerts in different churches and spiritual centers, where she leads the service as a guest minister, audiences find a connection to the yearning in her voice.
Her song titled “The Golden Ring,” from the CD No Solid Ground, expresses her lifelong search. The song tells it simply: Her grandfather took her to a carousel when she was 6, and while she was going round and round, he said, “Jody, look up, and each time your horse comes round to this spot, reach your arms out, stretch, and try to get a hold of the golden ring.” If she were to reach the ring, she would earn a free ride. She tried but could not catch the shining ring. The song goes on to say, “So close and yet so far.”
The ring that she tried to reach is for Jody emblematical of her life’s search. It stands for the wedding ring and the mystical oneness with God. “A thin veil,” she says, “keeps me separate from God.”
However “a moment of stillness brings a glimmer of the truth that I have always held the golden ring. So there’s a sense of knowing that comes through: Underneath all that searching and yearning, the ‘golden ring’ of God’s loving presence has been with me all along. What my life is about now is remembering the truth, and helping others remember that as well.”
Touching that Heart Space: One Love to Release CD of Devotional Chants
Jim Catalano, Ithaca Times, January 06, 2010
The ever-eclectic Ithaca music scene adds another color to its palette this week with the release of "Devotional Chant," a new CD from One Love. The quartet will play a show at 8 p.m. Friday at the Ahimsa Yoga Center in the Dewitt Mall.
As its title indicates, the CD draws from a variety of ancient and contemporary prayer songs and chants from many traditions, including Hindu kirtan, Sufi zikr, Judaism, Buddhism and others.
"I've always loved chanting-this is not anything new for me," says band leader Jody Kessler, who is also an interfaith minister. "I've always been into doing various rituals and prayer through music. I thought I wanted to put together a band that would take all of the juicy qualities of kirtan, zikr and other devotional chanting and invite people to experience it with us. And not necessarily limit to one particular spiritual path or religious culture.
"And this is where the interfaith part comes in-so that people can really see that it doesn't really matter what religion you feel connected to, or what tradition you're working with--the practice of opening one's self up in prayer using music as a vehicle is extremely powerful."
The band, which also includes Joe Smellow, Doug Shire and Kristin Sharkey, likes to involve the audience at its shows. "There's another chant leader who calls his work a 'co-formance,' which I like, because it's an experience that we invite people to participate in," Kessler says. "We need that participation to lift the energy and make it juicy and alive, especially when many of those chants are call and response. It gets really high energy, and there's a lot of dancing that goes on."
"One of the things that's unique about chanting that's different, say, from singing hymns, is that there's a certain repetitive quality to it that allows one to drop out of the thinking mind and into the heart," adds Kessler. "When we're trying to remember the words to a hymn we're still sort of within our rational minds, because we're thinking about the meaning of the words or what comes next. But there's something about a very simple repetitive chant that allows one to lose one's self in it, to drop out of that rational mind and really touch into that heart space."
From BhaktiFest 2014:
…we were inspired when receiving an overwhelming amount of emails, posts, and exclamations from people… but one band--One Love--stood out amongst the many nominations. One Love, based out of Ithaca, New York weaves together traditional mantras with original melodies and fresh musical arrangements. We can't wait to have them bring their uplifting and celebratory 'musical prayer' across the country and onto the Hanuman Stage to perform live at Bhakti Fest West!