A classically trained musician, Jesse studied drums and percussions. She moved to Israel in 1989 from Miami Beach, Florida, and when she's not drumming, Jesse is also a talented photographer and videographer.
When did you start studying music?
I started playing violin, very badly I may add, at age seven. I quit when I was nine, thank G-d, and realizing that I had been blessed with rhythm, asked my parents for drums. I got them two years later and started playing around age 11. These days, I play mostly percussion and a bit of guitar.
My first drum teacher was my cousin Joel, and then I learned from a great teacher, David Fine. His uncle was first percussion chair in the New York Philharmonic. He was a very talented percussionist, and I learned on a really intense level with him.
I had started performing comedy routines in school when I was eight or nine, and done lots of plays (my mother, a"h, was a drama teacher) so performing music was also comfortable for me. I think I was thirteen when I first started performing music.
I first saw Tofaah play a few weeks after I made aliyah. It was such an amazing joy to dance the night away on the roof of the Israel Center in Jerusalem!
Later, I filmed the band for promotional videos, so I got to know everyone as a videographer first, not as a musician. When the band's regular percussionists went on vacation, Yona needed a sub, so she asked me. I guess Yona saw that I fit in - that I had the right amount of "zany" - so the percussion section expanded. That was in 1993.
Why is the "female" part of "female percussionists" the most defining?
I remember when I was in junior high and high school - people would say to me, "You're the best girl drummer I know."
So, in my humility (oy!) I'd ask them, "Am I the best drummer you know?" and often the answer was yes, which then led to the question, "So, why do you call me a girl drummer - just call me a drummer!"
(It isn't just female percussionists or female drummers who get this. Same thing happens in photography - being called a "woman" photographer, instead of just a photographer!)
At the first concert I played with the band, Mindy and Yona performed a song Yona had just written. None of us had heard it before. It was so beautiful, the entire percussion section couldn't play for a few minutes afterwards because we were all crying. The song was Returning (It's on the For All Time album.)
Praising Hashem through music, singing a prayer, connecting with the ultimate Jewish songwriter, King David, is so important.
I just love to bring simchah to Jewish women, and when I see all those happy faces, and women dancing and singing and enjoying and laughing - that's everything!