Atlanta Jewish Music Festival Director On Fluid Definition Of ‘Jewish Music’

Joe Alterman became the director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival last year.

What is “Jewish Music?” It’s a question that Joe Alterman has been wrestling with lately.

Alterman became the director of the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival last year. Speaking with after he took the position, he told us his mission was to expand people’s definitions of Jewish Music.

Now, with the festival beginning this week, we thought it was a good time to ask how this year’s lineup helps to accomplish that mission.

“The trickiest thing about this is that the words ‘Jewish Music’ really do imply a genre,” Alterman tells “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes, “and people, they assume it’s the Horah before anything.”

This year’s lineup — the first under Alterman’s direction — features musical acts like jazz pianist Bill Charlap, brother-sister duo Lawrence, and the ATL Collective, as well as discussions with music and cultural critics about Jewish people’s contributions to music.

“To take someone like George Gershwin,” Alterman said, “who said he wasn’t a Jewish composer, he was an American composer. That’s hard for someone like me to honestly answer the question [of whether that means] they’re shunning their Judaism or if they’re redefining what it means to be Jewish in America. I think it’s the latter.”

“It’s what makes the music uniquely American,” Alterman says, “that’s what makes it special.”

The Atlanta Jewish Music Festival takes place March 7-16 at various venues throughout the city.

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