THANK YOU! Today we look back on this year’s wildly wonderful, totally sold out festival, and the many months of work in the lead up to AJMF, and are overjoyed with the outcome. Thank you to the artists, venues, our donors, sponsors, marketing and media partners and, most importantly, everyone who came out to support and enjoy this year’s festival. We can’t wait to share what we have in store for 2020. It will be music and it will be Jewish. What exactly that means, we’re still and always exploring.

See photos from the festival here.


Thursday, October 17
A Conversation with Ben Sidran & Rev. Dwight Andrews

Pianist, author and producer Ben Sidran and composer, musician, pastor and educator Dwight Andrews will come together to explore the depths, the confluences and co-operations, and the sometimes fraught conflicts and contradictions, of this significant cultural partnership that has shaped the history of American Popular Music from Jazz to Blues to Rock and Roll, from the Juke Box to Broadway, from the days of Tin Pan Alley to today’s Hip Hop explosions.

Presented by Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, The Breman Museum and First Congregational Church

WATCH HERE: (Filmed & Edited by Jacob Ross)

Saturday, March 16
VENKMAN’S @ 6 PM & 9:30 PM
ATL Collective 
Relives The Sounds of Chess Records 

This is the story of two Jewish immigrants from Poland. It’s the story of the greatest blues and early rock n’ roll music ever recorded. It’s the story of the migration of blacks up the Mississippi from the Jim Crow South. It’s the story of American idealism, hope, risk-taking, and cultural barrier breaking. But it’s also a story with strains of exploitation that perpetuates stereotypes. This is the story of Chess Records. Arguably the greatest independent label of all time, Chess Records, and the Jewish brothers who ran it, introduced the world to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Bo Diddley, and Chuck Berry.

The label was founded in the early 1950s by Leonard and Phil Chess. Born Lejzor and Fiszel Czyz in Motal, Poland, the family emigrated to the south side of Chicago from Europe in 1928. After working various odd jobs, Leonard and his brother opened a club called the Maconda Club. It was there that they began hearing a new kind of music—Delta blues, songs of struggle and perseverance. And maybe Leonard heard in this music the echoes of his own family’s immigrant struggles, of displacement and searching for a better life, maybe even of a mournful prayer sung in the old shuls of Europe. Leonard and Phil followed the lead of Alan Lomax, the great Jewish discoverer of the music of the Deep South who once said, “it is the voiceless people of the planet who really have in their memories the ninety thousand years of human wisdom.” The Chess brothers found and made popular so many of those previously voiceless musicians. 

Leonard discovered and recorded songs that permanently changed the landscape of music. In doing so, he created a new kind of cultural equality and openness and ushered in the 60s, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and even the rebellious culture of the teenager. The risks were high, and the potential return wasn’t anything close to that of the majors. So Leonard put his own dollar on the line, and he had to work harder than anyone else to make it. Initially he did everything, even distributing these records out of the back of his Cadillac, crisscrossing America to get his artists into all the shops and to grease the palms of all the relevant DJs. Though never exactly illegal, he signed deals that now would never be signed, offering very low royalty rates and often retaining all the publishing. But Leonard took chances on acts that others weren’t willing to take chances on and put artists on the map who might otherwise still be unknown.

Chess Records (like nearly all the independents of the time) was eventually bought out. And thus as the 60s came to an end, so too ended an incredible era of music making. It was also the end of a certain kind of convergent immigrant story—both Jewish from Europe and African American from South to North. So tonight, in partnership with our friends at the ATL Collective—who curate amazing events around town, handpicking the best local and national acts to collectively recreate the finest music ever made—we bring you The Sounds of Chess Records, a retrospective of a cultural moment unlike any other. Our program includes a set of songs that speak to the complicated and contentious story of American music and the business of American music. This story, involving both the black and Jewish communities, is vital to tell in America, especially today, especially in Atlanta.


Friday, March 15
TEMPLE SINAI @6:30PM (service) @8:15PM (conversation) 
Friday Night w/Alan Light (Rolling Stone rock critic)
Jewish Contributions to American Music: Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys & Beyond

Alan Light has been one of America’s leading music journalists and authors for more than twenty-five years. Currently, he is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and Rolling Stone and the co-host of the daily music talk show “Debatable” on SiriusXM.

Alan has written numerous books, including The Holy or The Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley and the Unlikely Ascent of ‘Hallelujah”, which Kirkus Reviews named one of the best books of 2012, and Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain. His most recent book is Johnny Cash: The Life and Legacy of the Man In Black

Alan is also the co-author of Gregg Allman’s best-selling memoir, My Cross To Bear (William Morrow/Harper Collins), which Rolling Stone and Billboard named one of the best rock & roll memoirs of all time, and was the writer of 2018’s acclaimed two-part HBO documentary Elvis Presley: The Searcher

Alan was a Senior Writer at Rolling Stone, and then served as editor-in-chief of Vibe and Spin magazines. He has interviewed and profiled hundreds of artists including U2, Beyonce, the Rolling Stones, Eminem, Led Zeppelin, Taylor Swift, and Tom Petty, and he is a two-time winner of the ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award for excellence in music journalism.


Thursday, March 14
Ben Sidran 
There Was A Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream

Musician, author, scholar and music producer Ben Sidran has been a major force in the history of jazz and popular music for a half century – having played keyboards with or produced such artists as Steve Miller, Mose Allison, Diana Ross, Boz Scaggs, Phil Upchurch, Tony Williams, Jon Hendricks, Richie Cole and Van Morrison – and, since publication of his landmark history of Jews in American popular music, There Was A Fire: Jews, Music and The American Dream, he has traveled throughout the United States giving midrash performances that include songs, stories, history, philosophy and more.

Ten years in the making, There Was A Fire: Jews, Music and The American Dream was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award and is Sidran’s response to the fact that there was not a single work that comprehensively covered the participation of Jews in American popular music. It struck him as odd that a group never exceeding 2% of the population seemed to contribute 80% of the American songbook. Ben realized that he could write that book. He had no idea it would take 10 years.

Sidran says, “Along the way I learned a lot and in the end I think I was able to unravel the mystery that is the interaction of popular music in America and the Jewish penchant for social justice, and also answer some key questions, like Who is a Jew in America? What is Jewish about popular music in America? and What’s the prognosis for the future?”


Sunday, March 10
Salute To Hollywood: 
Jewish Contributions to Academy Awards® Best Original Songs (Feat. Bob Spiotto and Deb Bowman) 
Presented by Molly Blank Jewish Concert Series / Produced by Atlanta Jewish Music Festival

What do the songs “Beauty and the Best”, “Que Sera Sera”, and “White Christmas” have in common, in addition to being winners of the Academy Awards® most prestigious music award? They were all written by Jewish composers! Bob Spiotto, dazzling performer and director of programs at New York City’s Friars Club, will be taking us on an entertaining journey through the glamorous history of Jewish contributions to music and film. Guesting with Spiotto will be wonderful Atlanta vocalist and actress, Deb Bowman. 

Did you know?

“Over The Rainbow” (1939) The melody to this classic song from Wizard of Oz came to composer Harold Arlen while driving down Sunset Boulevard with his wife one day during the 14th week of his 14 week contract, when he and “Oz” lyricist Yip Harburg were still searching for the film’s “key song.”

“The Way You Look Tonight” (1936). This 1936 Academy Awards® Best Original Song winner was written for the movie Swing Time by two legendary Jewish writers, composer Jerome Kern and lyricist Dorothy Fields. Fields, who once stated that “a song doesn’t just come on – I’ve always had to tease it out, squeeze it out,” remarked that, upon hearing Kern’s melody for the first time, “I went out and started to cry. I couldn’t stop, it was so beautiful.”

Academy Awards® is a registered trademark of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Corporation. The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival is not affiliated with, sponsored or endorsed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Corporation. All rights reserved.


Saturday, March 9
A Jewish-led brother/sister musical phenomenon whose “rich nine-piece arrangements pay tribute to Motown, Muscle Shoals, and everything in between” (Relix Magazine)

Meet powerhouse brother-sister fronted eight-piece pop-soul band Lawrence. Hailing from New York City, where Gracie and Clyde grew up listening to Stevie Wonder, Randy Newman, and Aretha Franklin records in their family living room, the pair’s writing has been as much influenced by Motown and Muscle Shoals as by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David. Clyde explains that Lawrence is, in a sense, the siblings’ version of “Jewish storytelling … dating back to people like Carole King, and we try to fall into that tradition. Our Dad is a comedy writer and, being Jews from New York, it feels so relatable to us.” 

Judaism and show business were intertwined from the start for Gracie and Clyde. “Growing up, our Mom, a dance teacher, would put on plays on each Jewish holiday to help explain the story and significance of that holiday,” Gracie says. “In fact, to me, Jewish holidays were always about putting on plays with music.” That influence has remained in their sound and performance, where you may hear a shofar blast over an R&B groove and electro arrangement. A Hora may blend into a Jackson 5 cover.

At age six, Clyde was admitted as the youngest member to the Songwriters Guild of America. In addition to the band, Clyde has composed songs and score for films such as Miss Congeniality, Music and Lyrics, The Rewrite, Landline, and an upcoming Disney film Noelle. Gracie is an accomplished actress, and can be seen as a series regular in the CBS mystery One Dollar. She has also appeared on Broadway in Brighton Beach Memoirs, in films such as The Sitter and Did You Hear About the Morgans?, and on television shows such as The Good Wife, The Americans, and Younger.

Lawrence released its sophomore album, aptly titled Living Room, in 2018, and it rose promptly to #2 on the iTunes R&B/Soul chart, earned a featured placement on Spotify’s “New Music Friday” playlist, and led the band to its late-night television debut on NBC’s Last Call with Carson Daly. Lawrence has sold out headline shows across the country and appeared at festivals including Bonnaroo, Outside Lands, Firefly, Okeechobee, Hangout, and many more. It’s no surprise that they’re in such high demand, with their infectious energy, electrifying arrangements, and irresistible (and dare we say Jewish) charisma.

Thursday, March 7  
Bill Charlap Trio
Somewhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein 

Bill Charlap is one of the premier pianists in the world. Known for his interpretations of the great American songbook, he has performed with a host of legends, including Tony Bennett, Phil Woods, Gerry Mulligan, Wynton Marsalis, Freddy Cole and Houston Person. His 2016 album, Tony Bennett & Bill Charlap: The Silver Lining, The Songs of Jerome Kern won the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Album. His trio, with powerhouse rhythm section, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington, is one of the most renowned in all of jazz.

Charlap hails from quite a musical family. His father, Moose Charlap, wrote most of the music for Peter Pan, and his mother, Sandy Stewart, was a Grammy-nominated singer who toured with Benny Goodman and performed regularly on the Perry Como Show. They got Bill started on the piano at age three, and he never looked back. This year, he celebrates his 15th year as Artistic Director of the Jazz in July festival at the 92Y in New York City and is the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey.

According to Time, “Bill Charlap 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.” It is this sensitive and perceptive approach to his playing and, perhaps more importantly, his listening that sets Charlap apart. “Jazz is about being yourself,” he says. “Not trying to be something that you think other people want you to be, but also embracing everybody and celebrating the individuality of the people around you. I think that those are human ideals. They are also Jewish ideals.” 

Tonight, we bring you Bill Charlaps Trio’s Somwhere: The Songs of Leonard Bernstein. The 2004 Blue Note release that our evening’s performance is based on received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album. When we asked Charlap about Bernstein and where he thought his religion fit into his music, he said “there’s a sense of prayer. There’s a sense of expansiveness. There’s a Talmudic type of knowledge, and a wit to anoint and lift and educate.”  It is perhaps through Charlap’s incredible interpretative abilities that we can best appreciate the genius of Bernstein, how he integrated his spirituality, his joie de vivre, and his powerful intellect into all his compositions, and how (like Charlap himself), Bernstein’s work sits at the perfect intersection of classical, jazz, and the American popular song.

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