David Amram, with Percy Heath and Dizzy Gillespie, 1986
In addition to his brilliance as a musician, composer, conductor and author, a major part of the 88-year old David Amram’s biography will forever be his role as Jack Kerouac’s musical collaborator, when, in the late 1950’s, their work together – an “intoxicating stew” combining theater, poetry, and jazz – was the first “performance art” of its kind.
In my 2002 interview with him, he said that during these performances he “never knew whether Jack was reading something that he made up on the spot or if it was something of his own. There may be something by Walt Whitman in there, or maybe a fragment of a poem by Hart Crane, or something from Shakespeare, Beowulf or Chaucer. He knew all of these French poets like Celine, and he would say ‘check this out’ or ‘dig this’ and start reciting a Celine poem from memory…I would listen very hard to what he was reading, and on the spot create music that the readings gave me ideas about.”
Jack Kerouac reading from On the Road, 1959
I heard from David via email over the weekend, who informed me that on October 19th at St. John the Divine Cathedral in New York, he and his quartet will be playing a concert celebrating the 60th anniversary of The Dharma Bums, Kerouac’s “quest for Truth” novel published the year after On the Road.
Amram writes that he and his group “will play music of the era when Jack wrote his classic book, as well as presenting music from around the world which Kerouac – as well as many of us – championed, long before the term ‘World Music’ existed,” Actors will read excerpts from the book to music accompaniment, just as Amram and Kerouac did in 1957/58.
The concert at St John the Divine Cathedral will be a fundraiser for the Kerouac Writers Residence located in Orlando Florida, located in the same little house where Kerouac lived when On the Road was published and where he returned to complete The Dharma Bums.
For complete information about the event, click here.
To honor David and his work, and to demonstrate how contributing important art just gets more important as we age (remember, David is 88 years young!), the entire energetic communication he shared with me is found below.
I’m still going like a nut-case, even after staying up most nights completing a new symphonic piece,and I am still able to do everything on my schedule and hopefully inspire younger artists and appreciators of all genres to hang in there and remain committed AND creative!!
After playing in Hartford with Willie Nelson’s band for Farm Aid (for the 30th time) I went for three nights in Denver performing, speaking, and reading from my three books (see poster below)
I left Denver and caught a plane to arrive just in time to appear as the artist-in-residence for the opening night reception in NYC for the new (and hopefully Annual) new festival in Greenwich Village, created to celebrate the amazing legacy of this neighborhood’s history as a center for the Arts during the past 150 years.
The Festival was created by England’s Liz Thompson, a devotee of Greenwich Village. She entitled it The Village Trip, (access all info at www.VillageTrip.com)
We had the opening reception for the Festival at the Washington Square Hotel in Waverley Place, between McDougal St and Sixth Ave., where I was put up for the whole festival. After being a Village resident for over 40 years (before the landlord paid off the judge and threw the whole block out….(an increasingly common occurrence in all big cities today)
It was great to be back in the Village again. Since i was honored to be chosen to be their first artist-in-residence, I decided to try to be like Rasputin, the crazy Russian who kept returning to his gig at the Palace, after supposedly having died,
After our whole block was forced to move from our beloved community, I decided to use Rasputin’s tenacious spirit and refuse to ever expire as a Villager, even though I had to relocate from NYC to upstate,so everything I did at all seven events during the Village Trip Festival was to CELEBRATE all the terrific people who shared that Village spirit in their art and in their lives and made it such a joy to be there for so many years.
During this joyous event, I tried to make today’s young people feel that they could find their own way to do the same thing!!
I wish you could have come to the festival. Five of the seven events were FREE!!!
I know you would have enjoyed the tribute to Edna St Vincent Millay and Jack Kerouac from 2-4 at Jefferson Market Library in Greenwich Village on Saturday afternoon Sept 29th. Since there was no admission charge, everyone who squeezed in were able to to bring their friends!!!
In addition to the two great classical soloists who played my “Greenwich village Portraits” at this concert, I invited my daughter Adira to read an excerpt from Jack’s classic novel “On the Road”, and provided music for the reading, as I did with Kerouac for NYC’s first-ever public jazz/poetry readings in 1957-58. Adira has done this for years!!
The readings took place at the end of the program at the Library, to conclude the concert.
The premiere of my “Greenwich Village Portraits “ was performed prior to the readings in its new form for the very first time as the featured event of this special tribute to Edna St Vincent Millay and Jack. We hoped that honoring their work would remind everyone of the many other great artists of all genres who spent time in the village, from O. Henry and Eugene O’Neil to the army of poets, novelists, painters, playwrights , dancers, composers, singer- songwriters, jazz, folk ,and global instrumentalists who work also reflected their the Village and which still gives the world so much to cherish.
Greenwich Village Portraits was dedicated to three of my favorite artists with whom I collaborated in the Village and was composed to celebrate their favorite Village streets.
The three movements of the piece were dedicated respectively to
Arthur Miller (McDougal St)
Odetta (Bleeker St)
Frank McCourt (Christopher St)
For this performance, a new video has been created with pictures of the Village and the streets and neighborhoods honored in the composition. as well as the documenting the three honorees.
This was the premiere performance of this version with Conrad Kline’s video accompanying the piece, and this new version will continue to be performed for the rest of this year as well as in 20l9 on a tour across the USA, Canada and Asia.by classical saxophone virtuoso Ken Radnofsky and his pianist Yoshiko Kline
For all the other events, I spoke on various panels, read from my three books, and played with jazz and folk musicians and a great student group from the New School Jazz Studies program..
I tried to make everyone who participated and those who came to look and listen feel all feel at home and get a glimpse of the rich ongoing spirit of Greenwich Village.
Almost every city in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, no matter how modern they have become, always has “an old town” to remind everyone that what a place is Today is determined by what it once was, and that the past is a precious resource as a way of understanding the NOW, wherever you are.
I hope that the renewed appreciation of what i have been doing for the last 65 years as a composer and performer will encourage all young composers and musicians to follow their hearts and stick to what they feel is their calling!
After the festival, I staggered back to Beacon NY where I live (when not on that endless road) to become a solitary nerd once again and composed around the clock and see if I can still put as many right notes on paper that makes those who play them and those who hear them FEEL SOMETHING when my newest composition PARTNERS: A Double Concerto for Violin Cello and Orchestra, will have its world premiere Dec 9th in Michigan.( I’m just finishing FINAL FINAL editing)
Here is what my manager Doug Yeager just sent out of highlights of upcoming performances of my classical compositions for the first half of the 2018-19 season. . I hope you can make some of the upcoming ones.
As he turns 88. David Amram is being honored with concerts, celebrations, awards and appearances worldwide.
But he finds it most rewarding that his concert music is receiving the acclaim that musicians have always felt that his formal compositions deserved.
Here are highlights of some of the early upcoming performances for the 2018-19 season.
September 2, Amram’s flute concerto Giants of the Night, commissioned and premiered by Sir James Galway, receives
its Asian premiere in Bejing by the National Symphony Orchestra of China.with flute soloist Nancy Stagnitta.
September 4thThree Lost Lovesfor alto saxophone, violin and piano has its Italian premiere Sept 4 for the opening of the Salieri-Zinetti Festival in Verona, with violin virtuoso Elmira Darvarova, prize-winning saxophonist Jacopo Taddei and pianist Luigi Nicolardi.
Sept 25 Amram’s Theme and Variations on Red River Valley for flute and strings with soloist Brook Ferguson and Violin Sonata and Elegy for violin and piano performed by violinist Yumi Hwang-Williams in an evening of Amram’s chamber music in Denver Colorado.
September 29, the new version of Greenwich Village Portraits for classical saxophone and piano will recieve its World Premiere in this multi-media version with a special video created by Conrad Kline which will then tour the USA, Canada and China with soloists Ken Radnofsky and pianist Yoshiko Kline as the feature opening event of the Village Trip,a new four day festival honoring 150 years of creativity in Greenwich Village. Amram has been chosen to be their first artist-in-residence for the entire festival.
December 9, Amram’s newest symphonic work, PARTNERS: A Double Concerto for Violin Cello and Orchestra will have its World Premiere in Ann Arbor Michigan, with soloists Jolyon Pegis cello and Maria Schleuning, two brilliant performers who, in addition to being members of the Dallas Symphony, have their own trio and perform and record as guest soloists with symphonies in the USA and abroad. Five other orchestras are already scheduled to play the piece.
December 18 Amram’s Violin Sonata will be played at Carnegie Hall’s series at the Weill Recital Auditorium with violin soloist Elmira Darvarova.
December 19 The Theater for the New City in New York will have their fourth annual Amram Jam, celebrating his 88th birthday with an evening of his classical chamber music compositions and a bevy of friends playing jazz, Latin, Native America and global roots music.
January 13 Amram’s Fanfare and Processional for Brass Quintet will have its NYC premiere at Merkin Hall., performed by the NY Philharmonic’s Brass Quintet
January 28, Amram will conduct his Elegy for violin and orchestra at Carnegie Hall with soloist Elmira Darvarova and a special all-star orchestra comprised of first-chair players from major orchestras around the world, assembled by music director George Mathew ,the founder and Artistic Director of MUSIC FOR LIFE INTERNATIONAL.
The program includes Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, conducted by Mr. Mathew.
As a composer, all my activities at jazz and folk festivals and different events where I perform all keep me in tune as a composer and a person by being able to collaborate with gifted musical artists who all love what they do and always are committed to sharing their gifts with others. Being with outstanding musicians of all genres reminds me that whatever blessings I have should be shared with others. This all helps me not to grow stale or get writers block when I sit all alone in silence to write new music.
Now that I am about to turn 88 this Novemeber 17, I understand what Dizzy Gillespie told me in June of 1987 when I was invited by him to be part of his birthday band for the PBS special celebrating his 70th birthday,
“When I met you in 1951 at your basement apartment in Washington DC, you were just a 20 year old hick hayseed.Now you have grey hair. It’s time to put something back into the pot.”
That’s what i try to do everyplace i go today, as a visiting composer, conductor, performer, speaker or whatever role I am assigned. I hope I can share some of those blessings bestowed upon me with a new generation and encourage everyone to work hard and follow the calling of what they feel that they were put here to do.
Freddie Hubbard, live in Paris, 1973, with Junior Cook, George Cable, Kent Brinkley and Michael Carvin
Interview with Bing Crosby biographer Gary Giddins, author of the new book "Swinging on a Star: The War Years, 1940 - 1946"
"Glossary of Jazz Slang" -- from Mezz Mezzrow's autobiography Really the Blues
Eight poets — John Stupp, Aurora Lewis, Michael L. Newell, Robert Nisbet, Alan Yount, Roger Singer, dan smith and Joan Donovan — write about the era of World War II
Great Encounters #22
Cassius Clay, Sam Cooke and Malcolm X -- the Clay/Sonny Liston fight, Miami, 1964
Jazz History Quiz #108
Though his work as pianist with the Savoy Sultans, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge and Sonny Stitt/Gene Ammons was important, he will always be most remembered as the pianist in Charlie Parker’s classic 1947 quintet. Who is he?