The song written in 1927 by Harry Woods goes, “Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money / We may be splashy and fun / But we’ll travel / Singing a song / Elbow side by side.” “Side By Side” is also the title of a new music series presented in Atlanta by Neranenah, formerly known as the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival.
Pianist Joe Alterman is Neranenah’s executive director, and he joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes via Zoom along with father-son music duo Ben and Leo Sidran. The pair will perform at the Atlanta History Center on Aug. 25, and they shared a conversation with Alterman about the new musical series before their show.
Highlights of the interview:
Following the tradition of the great Jewish arts communities:
“Everything is “next door” as we have Bremen [Museum] and Neranenah, but I think there’s more to it, as we both like to go a bit backwards with the music, for example; as with Neranenah, all of our concerts have a story component,” Alterman said.
“We both want to bring a ’92nd Street Y’ to Atlanta, in a sense,” he continued. “It’s actually a YMHA, in Hebrew, in New York. It’s a community center that, you know, has a gym and all that, but I would go when I lived in New York. I’d go hear Aretha Franklin, I’d have a conversation with somebody or I was going to hear Gene Wilder, and it was amazing. They just brought so much great art to New York, and in a city that’s saturated with so much art, I love that there’s this Jewish center, a center “Jewish,” known as one of New York’s great cultural centers. York, and I think both Neranenah and Bremen really strive to bring great things like this to Atlanta.”
What do we mean when we talk about Jewish music:
“It is impossible to define it. A slightly longer answer would be, it is music that in some way evokes or underlines a Jewish narrative. The music that is used, the liturgical music and the secular music made by Jewish composers has a certain kind of narrative, and I think that narrative not only defines what Jewish music is, but also what or who a Jew is. it is,” said Ben. “Because ‘There are no Jewish notes on the piano,’ I like to say.”
Leo Sidran on growing up surrounded by music:
“If it wasn’t for Ben, I wouldn’t be acting because of course playing music in our house growing up came naturally,” Leo reflected. “I’ve often thought about how there was never a question or a choice or a decision, but just a reality. It was something that was happening. Not that it was imposed in any way, but there was just music, and the our way of communicating, of connecting, of hanging out was through music. I mean, probably the most used word in my house… was “jam”. “You want jam?” .. .. Maybe Ben knew, maybe my dad got it before I did, that there was something really special that was taking hold and forming.”
He continued: “When I was still in college, he started taking me on the road with him and just told me to go with him, and again I was like, ‘Well, you’re not serious. When are we going to do the serious thing?’ And here we are, 25, 30 years into this kind of long, drawn-out jam session, which is Talmudic in its own way because it’s constantly full of commentary. It’s like a running musical commentary that goes back over 30 years.
Neranenah and the Bremen Museum will present their new “Side By Side” live performance and conversation series at Atlanta venues, August 21-28. The full schedule and other information are available at https://neranenaharts.org/sidebyside.