Pianist Joe Alterman’s affection for Jewish musicians and melodies are some of the many qualifications he brings to his job as Atlanta Jewish Music Festival’s new director.
Before returning home last year, the fourth-generation Atlantan lived and performed in New York, where he learned how to network and say “yes” to every opportunity that came his way. These are skills he believes will help him direct the festival.
“While I have experience and know a lot about the music industry, I think the mindset I have developed of how to bring this form of music to a lot of people and present it in the right way will be very helpful in this role,” he said.
One of Alterman’s goals in his new position is to break down people’s preconceived notions about different types of music and define what Jewish music is. “I think before it was more about presenting Jewish artists, but I now think we should look at it a little differently and say, ‘yeah we want to present a Jewish artist, but we also want to showcase Jewish compositions or pieces of music that Jews have produced.’”
Alterman thinks people would like to learn more about Jewish composers mostly because good music is timeless. “I think a lot of people miss hearing beautiful melodies, and when you listen to songs which were written for Broadway you are really listening to the American songbook, and it doesn’t get more beautiful than that,” he said.
Alterman began playing the piano after asking his parents for lessons when he was 5. He initially wanted to quit, but after his father began purchasing old blues records, his interest eventually grew. Alterman says he does not know if his Judaism plays a role in his music, but he draws his inspiration from renowned singer Tony Bennett and mentors such as American jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis.
Former AJMF director Russell Gottschalk said about Alterman, “I am really excited about Joe taking over the position and following in my footsteps. I think he is going to be a fantastic second-generation leader, and with our strong board, I think we are going to have a super successful season planned and beyond.”
Gottschalk said he is eager to see the direction the festival is headed and that programs will remain consistent such as the festival’s partnerships with the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, Atlanta Kosher BBQ Festival and Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
“I hope that AJMF stays a strong partner with the big Jewish cultural organizations in Atlanta and hope we can continue to try to experiment. I really enjoyed trying to do new things, and as the director of AJMF, I know Joe has some interesting new ideas. So I really support that experimentation and am eager to see what new direction he will take,” Gottschalk said.
As he takes on his new role, Alterman says he is not looking to top Gottschalk, but to build on his work based on his own background and knowledge of music. “I love being creative on the piano, but this allows me to be creative in a different way, and is very stimulating,” he said. “It’s not just that I am working for the festival, but it’s part of my legacy too. I don’t just look at this as a job; it’s important to me that it is successful, and it will be successful.”