by Carole Verona
Singer/songwriter Jesse Ruben will have done his job well if you come away from his solo concert in Pastorius Park on Wednesday, July 8, 7:30 p.m., feeling better about yourself and about what’s going on in your life. “I try to write about things that are interesting to me and that will have an impact on the people listening,” he said in an interview last week. “I would like people to be able to relate to what I’m writing and singing about and maybe feel like they’re not so alone in the universe.”
Jesse, 28, describes himself as a modern day folk singer with a lot of pop and storytelling included. His music is lyric-driven and inspired by major life events, specifically his own recent bout with Lyme disease, an accident which left his best friend paralyzed and the death of his grandfather from complications related to Alzheimer’s disease.
“Those three events informed my writing for a period of time. With all of them, there are themes and topics that aren’t discussed as much as they should be. For me, it’s interesting to explore those things and write about them because they affect a lot of people.
“Lyme disease has been at the forefront because it has been such an intense event in my life. I started feeling weird on Christmas Day, 2012. I got my diagnosis in September, 2013. I was so sick that I wasn’t able to function. One day, I just had to decide that I wasn’t going to do music for as long as it took. So for 18 months, I didn’t write, play or do any of that. I was basically living at the doctor’s office. It has only been five or six months since I have been able to write, perform and feel like a functioning member of society again.
“Even the fact that we scheduled this conversation and that we’re actually having it is a big deal. There was a period when I thought I’d never be able to do anything like this ever again. So I appreciate it now even more than I did before.”
In July 2005, Zack Weinstein, Jesse’s best friend, was paralyzed as a result of an accident. “Zack’s getting hurt was the most difficult thing I had to deal with at the time, and I really wanted to do something for him.” Jesse wrote “Song for Zack,” became involved with the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, performed at several shows for the foundation and ran in a few marathons to raise money for the cause. He is currently in touch with the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and the Tick-Borne Disease Alliance to see how he can get support for their programs.
“As a creative person and an independent artist, it’s easy to focus on yourself all the time,” Jesse said. “How many fans do I have? How many Spotify plays did I get? How many songs did I sell today? Being involved in things that are more important gives me a little bit of perspective day to day and allows me to have an impact on more people.”
Jesse grew up in Upper Dublin, attended Upper Dublin High School and graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston with a degree in songwriting. He spent a year and a half in Nashville, writing, performing and seeing as many shows as he could before moving to New York, where he’s lived for five years. His parents still live in Upper Dublin, and his twin sister Molly lives in center city.
“My family is very musical,” Jesse said. “My father is a professional musician, his father was and his father was. Their big claim to fame is that my dad, Peter Scott Ruben, and my grandfather, Harold Ruben, were both bandleaders, and they were invited to play for Ronald Reagan at the White House.
“I have always been musical. Some of my earliest memories involve listening to Elvis, the Beatles and Frank Sinatra, all of whom I still love passionately to this day. When I was a junior in high school, I began taking piano lessons, but it really wasn’t my instrument. I decided to take guitar lessons, and the first time I sat down with the guitar is the first time my life made sense. I knew immediately that I wanted to write and perform songs.”
Jesse’s fifth CD will be released in the fall. The title of the CD, “A Reply to Violence,” comes from a Leonard Bernstein quote: “May this be our reply to violence, that we make music more passionately, more wonderfully and more devotedly than ever before.”
More information about Ruben’s music and concerts at jesseruben.com. More information about the concert series at chestnuthill.org. If it rains, the show will take place at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, 8000 Cherokee St.