Father and son team Ben and Leo Sidran play jazz for Neranenah

The Breman Museum and the music festival team up to present a series of concerts.

They say you can’t go home again, but Leo Sidran is home, walking into his boyhood bedroom, as he talks on the phone.

He is discussing the topic at hand, which is playing drums in an upcoming gig with his father, jazz pianist Ben Sidran.

The concert, at the Atlanta History Center, is part of a series sponsored by Neranenah (formerly the Jewish Music Festival) and the Breman Museum, a series that examines the impact of the Jewish experience on music and culture in the U.S.

In 2012 Ben Sidran literally wrote the book about Jews and popular music. It’s called “There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream.” It traces the outsize influence of this small group — less than 2% of the population — that wrote the songs, opened the clubs, started the record labels and built the infrastructure, creating an impact way out of scale with its size.

Credit: Ben Sidran

Credit: Ben Sidran

In his musical life he has also lived that story, touring with the Rolling Stones, writing and recording with the Steve Miller band, producing records by Mose Allison and Van Morrison, and playing, performing and recording jazz with his son, Leo.

The life he created with Leo is a direct response to the life he was denied with his father, a stylish but absent man, who never saw Ben become a professional musician, who disengaged from his family and died early and embittered, an aspiring writer who became chained to writing ad copy.

Credit: Javier Gonzales

Credit: Javier Gonzales

Said Leo, “I grew up with the ghost of my grandfather, around me, how he impacted my dad, his untimely death, how Ben had to become an adult on his own.”

“When my father died he left an empty wallet and a stopped watch,” said Ben Sidran, talking on the phone from that same house in Madison. “He left nothing behind. Absolutely, when I saw Leo’s face appear, the day he was born, I knew I was going to be a different father.”

The difference is dramatic: Ben and Leo’s lives are wrapped around each other. They tour and record together. They “bubbled” together during the pandemic. And for a few weeks each summer Leo and his 11-year-old daughter Sol leave their New York City home to stay with Ben and Judy Sidran in Madison, where he can occasionally hear the lions roaring in the nearby Henry Vilas Zoo.

“For the better part of my life my dad has been my best friend, and he’d say the same about me,” said the son. “That’s not anything you can manufacture. It’s intentional. He got lucky and I got lucky too. It worked and we liked each other and learned from each other. We’re excited by what the other person is doing.”

Leo started playing and writing music at age six. As a teenager he disappeared into his home studio each day after school and all day on weekends. Ben had an ongoing relationship with rocker Steve Miller (he wrote the lyrics to “Space Cowboy”) and Leo, at age 16, contributed four songs to Miller’s 1993 album “Wide River.”

Leo has emulated his father, but it’s legitimate to say that they emulate each other. Ben has taken up the guitar, like his son, and will add that to the mix in the Aug. 25 show.

They both have made a practice of interviewing fellow jazz musicians, Leo for his podcast “Third Story,” and Ben for his long-time NPR programs “Sidran on Record” and “Jazz Alive.” (Sixty of Ben’s recorded interviews were collected in a 24-disc boxed set called “Talking Jazz — An Oral History.”)

As he walked to the zoo to meet his daughter, Leo spoke on the phone of his unusual upbringing, writing, recording and touring as a professional musician while in high school, turning himself into a “mini-adult.” His father, who “wanted to have a second shot at childhood, got that by almost being like a kid with me. We met in the middle.”

In his memoir, the painful but engaging, “A Life in the Music,” Ben writes of performing with Leo: “I was no longer the father, no longer the cop or the guy who was supposed to have all the answers. I was just the guy on the keyboard and he was just the guy on the drums and either it swung or it didn’t. Music was the great leveler for us, a way to stand toe-to-toe and look each other in the eye.”

Though he hasn’t written out a set list (”I don’t do that”) part of the Atlanta History Center show will probably involve Ben and Leo interviewing each other and Ben will likely describe his early influences, the hard-bop piano trios of Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons, and especially the wry, concise, songwriting of Mose Allison.

Ben produced several of Allison’s albums, and Sidran’s unstudied vocals and chunky piano lines echo the Allison touch. “He was one of the people who, when I was 16 and 17, saved my life,” said Ben. “I heard one of his records and I knew there were places to go and people to see.”

With the waning of the pandemic, the Sidrans also have places to go. They toured Paris, Madrid and London in May and June, and are joyful to be back on the road.

Fans feel the same way. “Everybody realized it wasn’t the music they missed: it was the musicians,” said Ben. “It was the hang and the people, the life. We’re never going to go back to the way it was, but, having survived it, the music is definitely a healing thing for people.”


“An Evening with Ben and Leo Sidran”

7:30 p.m. Aug. 25; $15-$50. Atlanta History Center, 130 W. Paces Ferry Road, Atlanta. The Sidran concert is part of a “Side by Side” series presented by Neranenah in collaboration with the Breman Museum. Also in the series is a screening of the documentary “Live at Mister Kelly’s” (with a score by Neranenah executive director Joe Alterman) Aug. 21 at the Plaza Theatre; and a “Musical Shabbat” at the Margaret Mitchell House, featuring the Hello, Goodbye & Peace Ensemble on Aug. 26. neranenaharts.org.