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 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!!!
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.
“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.”