Atlanta Jewish Music Festival
Under the leadership of a new Director, Joe Alterman, Atlanta Jewish Music Festival (AJMF) kicks off its 10th season (March 7-16) with an exciting roster of performers and a fresh new take on the question, “what is Jewish music?”
To Alterman, Jewish music is way more than a genre, it’s about Jewish people influencing, playing, interpreting and creating great music. Alterman believes that Jewish music is best defined by its story, not its melody. For him, the Jewish music story is a rich and expansive one, covering jazz, rock, pop, R&B, and more. One central Jewish story to be explored in this year’s festival is how Jews and African Americans collaborated to produce, perform, arrange and profoundly shape 20th Century American music. “We’re excited to showcase artists who best reflect the rich cultural heritage and contributions Jewish people have made to the world of music, as well as the stories behind the songs,” he says.
Opening night at Atlanta History Center, on March 7, features the Grammy-winning Bill Charlap Trio playing the songs of Leonard Bernstein, in tribute to Bernstein’s 100th birthday. Charlap has performed with Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand and Diana Krall among others, and Time magazine called him, “someone who approaches a song the way a lover approaches his beloved…no matter how imaginative or surprising his take on a song is, he invariably zeroes in on its essence.” See the trio play here.
Another AJMF headliner is the legendary Ben Sidran, a musician and scholar who will perform Thursday, March 14, at the AA Synagogue. Sidran has written about Louis Armstrong’s Jewish influence in his book, There Was A Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream. He tells how Armstrong worked for a Jewish family, the Karnsovskys, during his childhood in New Orleans. The money he earned made it possible for Armstrong to purchase his first trumpet.
Sidran writes, “Jews gave Armstrong a wellspring of feeling from which he could draw throughout the rest of his life. Specifically, it came from the singing he did every night at bedtime in the Karnofsky home. After supper, he and the others would sing Russian lullabies as they rocked their baby to sleep. “We all sang together until the little baby would doze off,” he remembered. “When I reached the age of eleven, I began to realize it was the Jewish family who instilled in me singing from the heart.”
On its final night, AJMF pays tribute to Chess Records. “We’re weaving in the Jewish story of the label’s founders through an evening of blues music. We show how the Chess brothers’ Polish background, and the musical similarities between the Polish/Klezmer music of their youth and American blues, helped them change the world by signing people like Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, Etta James, and more.