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Jazz man coming to the Boro
Joe Alterman Trio plays May 10 at Averitt
W Joe Alterman
Joe Alterman, center, and his jazz trio will perform in concert on Thursday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at the Averitt Center. - photo by Fran Kaufman/Special

A song Joe Alterman played during a piano recital at age 12 got him kicked out of music school, but it set him on a future musical path of jazz that brings him to the Averitt Center next Thursday night. The Joe Alterman Trio will perform in concert on the Emma Kelly Stage at 7:30 p.m. May 10.

At the recital 17 years ago, Alterman said he decided at the last minute, unbeknownst to his teacher and parents, to play a jazz piece called “Boogie Woogie” instead of a more traditional piece he was expected to play.

With a laugh, Alterman said, “I got a standing ‘O.’ But the school was so angry that they kicked me out!”

Alterman said the only thing going through his mind at the time was, “I’m going to play what I want to play.”

Originally from Atlanta, Alterman moved to New York when he was 18 to study music at New York University. He has performed at such world-renowned venues as the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Center, Birdland and New York’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club, where he has opened many times for well-known jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis.

Only 29, Alterman already has released four critically acclaimed albums.

Alterman moved back to Atlanta a couple of years ago but continues to perform all over the country.

“I play feel-good jazz music,” he said. “It’s fun, feel-good music. Joyful music.”

Alterman said that some people claim not to like jazz — that it reminds them of their grandparents’ music or a dentist’s office.

“But they’ve never really heard jazz,” he said. “Once people come out and see it live, they always enjoy it. I get to turn them on to music that they thought they might not enjoy.”

The musician said that when he first asked to take piano lessons, at the age of 5, he didn’t know what jazz was.

“I had strict, European classical teachers,” he said. “I read and played what was on the page. When I first started lessons, I immediately hated it and wanted to quit, but my parents wouldn’t let me.”

Alterman said when he was 11, he wanted to play the guitar. His dad made a deal with him that he could take guitar lessons only if he continued piano lessons.

“My dad is a much better piano fan than guitar fan,” he said.

Alterman took guitar lessons for a couple of years, but then went back to the piano full time.

“My dad introduced me to bluesy-jazz. I heard ‘Boogie Woogie’ — something I could improvise with, something more personal,” he said.

That song may have got him tossed from music school, but he has no regrets.

“I’m still glad I did it,” he said. “That took me on my way. I found a teacher that taught jazz and improvisation.”

The Joe Alterman Trio consists of Alterman on piano, Kevin Smith on bass and Justin Chesarek on drums. He is confident that people will enjoy the concert — even folks who don’t consider themselves fans of jazz.

“It’s classified as jazz, but the response I usually get, the older people say it reminds them of the jazz they grew up with, like Oscar Peterson and Erroll Garner,” he said. “And the younger people say it reminds them of current jam bands, like Madeski Martin. It’s definitely jazz, but there’s something for everyone. Stevie Wonder to Marvin Gaye, and we put our own twist on it.”  

Jamie Grady, executive director of the Averitt Center, first heard Alterman perform in the fall during a performing arts conference.

“Not only was he amazing, but the whole room was talking about him,” Grady said. “He’s a rising young performer with a show not to be missed.”

Grady pointed out that Alterman will perform in Hilton Head just after the Statesboro event.

“It’s an opportunity to hear Joe Alterman here, instead of having to drive all the way to Hilton Head,” he said.

Sponsored by Colony Bank, tickets are $12 for house seats and $14 for box seats.


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