Museum goes virtual to present jazz exhibit during the pandemic

Rare behind the scenes photographs of Jazz legends hang in a midtown Atlanta museum

ATLANTA — In a gallery at the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum in Midtown Atlanta, there are 80 black and white photographs that take you back to a golden era.

“First and foremost, you’d hear wonderful music,” said Tony Casadonte, who is the curator of “A Jazz Memoir”: photography by Herb Snitzer.

Snitzer is a Jewish American photographer who tells stories of legendary African American musicians through the late 1950s and early ’60s. Those were very trying times.

Content Continues Below

“Once he fell into the jazz world, it really became evident to him how closely they were related, and that the struggles of civil rights and what the music represented was all intertwined,” Casadonte said.

The museum’s executive director, Leslie Gordon, says Snitzer knew all the greats: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie. The list goes on.

“You’re catching a moment in time with these artists that you’d probably never see if you were simply listening to them perform. So his ability to become close to these artists, and their trust and faith in what he’s doing comes through,” Gordon said.

People 2 People Content:

Curators began preparing the exhibition in January with the hope of opening in April. They did not expect a pandemic.

“What’s been amazing for us here at The Breman is this situation with COVID has pushed us to think creatively. We’d already committed to an exhibition. So we said, ‘Why not go ahead and do it?’. So that’s how we decided to move forward -- by going virtual. We have a really amazing 360-degree tour online so people can literally walk through the gallery just like they were here,” Gordon said.

Gordon and Casadonte say that, given the conversations and challenges our nation is having today, Snitzer’s work from 60 years ago has never been more relevant.

“The credo Herb tries to live by is that inequality for one is inequality for all. It was part of Herb’s character and life to document these struggles,” Casadonte said.

“This is the fabric of American classical music. It’s an American art form but deserves to stand up there with the greatest classical musicians of all time. He realized their treatment was not what it should be. That’s why I believe he was allowed into their world and their lives,” Gordon said.

Virtual gallery tours will continue through the end of the year at TheBreman.org.

Google for Startups invests nearly $2.5 million in 35 Atlanta-based Black owned businesses