As a music major in college, there were times when a full day of intense music study would leave me feeling drained. At the end of the day, I mentally couldn’t take in any more.
Despite this, I always found myself wanting to listen to something on my walks home, and in those moments I yearned for music that was just as beautiful as the music I’d been studying all day — Music that I instinctively would relax to instead of wanting to analyze.
Upon reflection, these long walks home from New York University were nearly as important to my musical development as classes themselves. I found that some music drew me deeper into my thoughts, while other music made me want to look up and around, accentuating the beauty of my surroundings.
Filled with both memorable, hummable (and deceptively simple) melodies yet deeply musical, complicated and involved ideas and arrangements, I found exactly what I was looking for in Billy Joel’s 1977 album, “The Stranger.”
It became one of those albums I could count on not only to soothe and relax, but also to surprise. Upon each listen, I’d find something that I hadn’t heard previously, something that would make me smile in delight.
Which is one of the reasons I’m so excited that ATL Collective will be reimagining this classic album on Saturday, March 24, as a part of the ninth Atlanta Jewish Music Festival, in part because the Collective is so much more than your average cover band.
“We are essentially music scene gardeners,” said Micah Dalton, a founding member of ATL Collective. “Our goal is to think about each show like we’re making our own record of a record.
“We like to take the songs that aren’t hits and make them hits. We give those songs to people who we feel are really suited to take a song on, and, not that it would be better than the original version, we’re not saying that, but giving them the agency to make it their own and add just another dimension.”
Not giving away too much, he added: “The goal is to do that with a little bit of the album. The rest of the album is not necessarily note for note. There is some of that, but it’s a little more true to form.”
Speaking specifically about “The Stranger,” Dalton said: “This is one of those records I’m excited to do because if you take away every single production element on most of these songs, they are just monster songs. Everybody knows them. We’re also excited about introducing some of the elements where Joel hints at R&B grooves to kind of capitalize on those moments a bit more.”
Which is one of the things that got me further excited. Hints of groove were one of the most satisfying surprises I’d discover while listening on my long walks.
No matter how much we enjoy cover bands, both the reason that artist is now being covered and the reason we enjoy the music are that the artist, by being true to himself or herself, tapped into something unique, something that only he/she has.
By encouraging members to be creative individuals and not simply musicians playing a part, ATL Collective pays tribute to these artists in an honest way that honors the spirit, mindset and approach of the artist being honored.
I sadly wasn’t familiar with the music of Jacob Jeffries during my period of long New York walks, but I wish I had been. After spending time with his music, which strikes me as wonderful, feel-good and melodic pop music, I’m convinced that it would easily fit into my walking soundtrack, subconsciously encouraging me to look up and out, reminding me of the beauty of everything around me.
Another reason to be excited about this performance is that Jeffries himself may be treating this show with just a little extra care.
“My early memory of this record is my uncle had the album,” Jeffries told me. “I picture looking at this album cover and thinking, ‘Oh, this looks cool,’ and then never really listening to it. You just picture album covers in your head and wonder what they sound like. Then I grew up, and the record speaks for itself. There’s a heavy respect that permeates from my family for Billy Joel. My cousin, my uncle’s daughter, named her first-born Vienna last year after Billy Joel’s tune from the album. ‘Vienna’ is an incredible arrangement.”
Joe Alterman is an Atlanta-based jazz pianist and a project coordinator for AJMF9. He is performing Sunday, March 18, at the Marcus JCC as part of the festival. Visit joealtermanmusic.com.