For the first time, two of Jewish Atlanta’s most important cultural institutions are joining forces to sponsor a week-long series of music and performance events.
The Breman Museum, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and Neranenah, formerly known as the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival , are jointly promoting “Side By Side” — five performances that will take place between Sunday, Aug. 21 and Aug. 28. Joe Alterman, the executive director of Neranenah, sees it as an important first step in an ongoing partnership.
“We’ve done some collaborating in the past, but with this week of programming we’ve both contributed funds and shared in the marketing. And, of course, we’ll share in the revenues. We’re truly partners. It’s probably the biggest partnership we’ve had with pretty much anyone,” he said.
To kick off the new series, Alterman will host the Atlanta premiere of a feature length documentary, “Live at Mr. Kelly’s,” at the Plaza Theater on Aug. 21 and perform with his jazz trio after the screening. The film chronicles the legendary Chicago nightclub and the jazz performances at the great London House restaurant there. Both of these important entertainment spots were owned by two Jewish brothers, George and Oscar Marienthal.
During the middle decades of the last century, they booked some of the greatest names in entertainment there and sometimes recorded their performances. At Mr. Kelly’s, singers like Barbra Streisand, Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald were featured. At London House, jazz greats such as Oscar Peterson, Coleman Hawkins and Sarah Vaughn recorded performances.
In the film, Ramsey Lewis, one of the most commercially successful jazz musicians of the time, reminisced with Alterman about all the great music that was created at the two nightspots.
Now 87, but still going strong, Lewis believes that the two clubs played a significant role in helping to racially integrate America during the civil rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Still, there was much prejudice to be overcome in the way Black performers were seen by the public.
“Money can’t change the color of your skin,” Lewis said. “No matter how much money and fame you have, you’re still an African American person. And there are many people in this country who see you as African American, therefore they color you with their thoughts. They color you and their feelings and color you with what they think you’re about at that time.”
Mr. Kelly’s, the Mairenthal brothers’ nightclub, also helped to facilitate a new conversation about race by presenting such Black comedians as Dick Gregory and Richard Pryor. In the film, show business historian Dan Pasternak says that laughter helped to change America.
“It wasn’t just for laughs. It was a way of talking about America, talking about segregation and opening some people’s eyes. And even when comedy isn’t overtly political, in a way, it always has a kind of subversive quality to it,” he explained.
The Side By Side events will be put on at different venues.
At the Atlanta History Center, there will be an evening performance on Thursday, Aug. 25, with music historian and jazz pianist Ben Sidran and his son, Leo, who is also a musician.
On Friday, Aug. 26, Rabbi Micah Lapidus, backed by the Hello, Goodbye and Peace Ensemble, will host a musical Shabbat celebration outdoors on the grounds of the historic Margaret Mitchell House on Peachtree Street.
And, on Saturday night, Aug. 27, the Loft at Center Stage Theater will be the scene of a performance by Grammy Award-winner Eric Krasno and The Assembly.
The week of performances concludes on Sunday, Aug. 28, with the comedy of Jessica Kirson at Round Trip Brewing Company, in what was formerly an industrial area on Atlanta’s west side.
The wide array of venues is a distinct departure for The Breman Museum, which usually presents its programming in the Jewish Federation building on Spring Street in Midtown, where its collection is housed. The Breman’s executive director, Leslie Gordon, views the programs as a way to shed that location-based image.
“We are definitely trying to have our name attached to things that are not in our space because the Jewish population isn’t just in one place. We want the Breman out there in different places. So we don’t want people to think if they aren’t in the building, they can’t experience The Breman.”
Alterman feels that this may be the right time to explore the partnership and what it can do for the community. It’s a kind of test, as he sees it, and he’s hoping for the kind of support and financial success that can bring Neranenah and The Breman even closer together.
“I’m really excited,” he says, “to see what comes next.”
Tickets to Side By Side are available at www.neranenaharts.org/sidebyside. Tickets also at www.thebreman.org/Events/The-Breman-and-Neranenah-Present-Side-By-Side-A-Live-Event-Series.
- the Atlanta Jewish Music Festival
- The Breman
- Joe Alterman
- Leslie Gordon
- Mister Kelly’s
- George Marienthal
- Oscar Marienthal
- London House restaurant
- night clubs
- Plaza Theater
- Round Trip Brewing Company
- Atlanta History Center
- Ben Sidran
- Leo Sidran
- The Loft at Center Stage Theater
- Margaret Mitchell House
- Rabbi Micah Lapidus
- Bob Bahr
- Arts and Culture
- Breman Museum
- Live at Mr. Kelly’s
- Goodbye and Peace Ensemble