Choice Magazine, November, 2008
Kirkus Reviews, 2004
The St. Petersburg Times, St. Petersburg, FL, January, 2002

Praise for "Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac"

"From composer Amram, "Offbeat" is a pleasingly exuberant memoir of wildly creative and encouraging times performing with Jack Kerouac.

"It's not so much an autobiography really as an unpretentious, freewheeling festival of highly diverting tales: the nights Amram and his beat buddy spent at the Five Spot and Bickford's and Circle-in-the-Square; their early improvisations, such as Orizaba 210 Blues; making Pull My Daisy with Alfred Leslie as their contribution to the New Cinema; the pleasures of working with lyric artists; the downtown life in New York City, "checking out old friends, rapping with strangers and hanging out in the style that was still the major source of Saturday night entertainment." But beyond telling some good stories, Amram wants to convey what his group of pals was all about, to get past the Beatniks as a merchandising trend and reveal their motivations. This never comes across as a lecture; Amram is too passionate for that, and he has a way with the patter: "We were told we were offbeat, but we felt we were on the case." Amram serves up Corso, Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and others as decidedly quirky but generous souls welcoming to the table everyone who had an open heart. They were looking for "the diamonds in the sidewalk," always "trying to catch lightning in a bottle," free spirits who took their creativity seriously, even if some realized too late that creativity was a "natural gift" that didn't require diving to the bottom of a bottle. Creative output would be their measure, not the limelight-- or as Gary Goodrow said, "If you stick to your principals long enough, you can successfully avoid being fashionable for the rest of your life." Amram includes stories about shows that used Kerouac material after he had died.

"A piece of pure entertainment that also reveals the individuality of Amram's friends and gives the Beat stereotype its walking papers."

- Kirkus Reviews, January 15th, 2002



"David Amram is a national treasure, and his memoir, Offbeat, is an account of how he got that way. It is a great rolling river of a book, packed with details of Amram's relationships with the likes of Jack Kerouac. If you wanted the 'inside' story of the Beat movement, here it is. Like Amram himself, it is vital and energetic and it sings. I envy anyone picking up this book. It's almost as good as listening to Amram himself"

- Frank McCourt


"A loving evocation of the sweetness, energy and inspired looniness of the Beat era and the artists who changed American culture."

- Joyce Johnson


"Regarding Offbeat: Chaos brought together two extraordinarily gifted minds to form a comet which lit up the sky."

- Kurt Vonnegut


"David Amram is a musical prodigy with a genius for friendship. Offbeat tells an uplifting story of his close association with Jack Kerouac in vivid prose and riveting anecdotes.An essential new addition to the growing literature of the Beat Generation."

- Douglas Brinkley


"This fascinating book must put PAID to the myth that Jack Kerouac was ever the King of the Beats or the Father of the Hippies. In Offbeat, we get to know many of the legendary painters, poets, musicians and film makers of the Fifties and Sixties, and get to know Jack kerouac as well. Amram recounts his enduring friendship and artistic collaborations during Jack's lifetime, and his continuing efforts on Kerouac's behalf to the present time of his own incredible career and creative genius. What stories! A book for your library."

- Carolyn Cassady


"David Amram is full of terrific beatific tales!"

- Lawrence Ferlinghetti



From Choice Magazine
November, 2008
Humanities \ Language & Literature \ English & American

Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac.

By David Amram - Paradigm Publishers, 2008. 333p index afp; ISBN 9781594515446 pbk, $19.95

Amram is a distinguished jazz musician and author of classical music and film scores, including The Manchurian Candidate and Splendor in the Grass. His score for the classic Beat generation short film Pull My Daisy (1955), in which he appears, has linked him forever with Kerouac, who wrote and narrated the film. The present rambling but intelligent book provides insights into Kerouac and the Beat milieu, certainly. Amram was, in fact, more than a sidekick to the Beats, and this reviewer would have appreciated a more detailed discussion of his own creative work. But Amram is good on people and events, and his spirit is generous--and he is clearly pleased with his life and contacts. The book includes some excellent photographs, presented in no particular order. The index is limited to names but is long, Amram having apparently met just about everyone in music, art, and literature. The book provides no astonishing revelations, but it deepens understanding of the Beat milieu and the aspirations of its iconic figures. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers, all levels. -- B. Almon, University of Alberta





From Kirkus Reviews
2004

"From composer Amram, Offbeat is a pleasingly exuberant memoir of wildly creative and encouraging times performing with Jack Kerouac. It is not so much an autobiography really as an unpretentious, freewheeling festival of highly diverting tales: the nights Amram and his beat buddy spent at the Five Spot and Bickford's and Circle-in-the-Square; their early improvisations, such as Orizaba 210 Blues; making Pull My Daisy with Alfred Leslie as their contribution to the New Cinema; the pleasures of working with lyric artists; the downtown life in New York City, "checking out old friends, rapping with strangers and hanging out in the style that was still the major source of Saturday night entertainment." But beyond telling some good stories, Amram wants to convey what his group of pals was all about, to get past the Beatniks as a merchandising trend and reveal their motivations. This never comes across as a lecture; Amram is too passionate for that, and he has a way with the patter: 'We were told we were offbeat, but we felt we were on the case.' Amram serves up Corso, Ginsberg, Orlovsky, and others as decidedly quirky but generous souls welcoming to the table everyone who had an open heart. They were looking for 'the diamonds in the sidewalk,' always 'trying to catch lightning in a bottle,' free spirits who took their creativity seriously, even if some realized too late that creativity was a 'natural gift' that didn't require diving to the bottom of a bottle. Creative output would be their measure, not the limelight - or as Gary Goodrow said, 'If you stick to your principals long enough, you can successfully avoid being fashionable for the rest of your life.' Amram includes stories about shows that used Kerouac material after he had died. A piece of pure entertainment that also reveals the individuality of Amram's friends and gives the Beat stereotype its walking papers."

Kirkus Reviews

Click here to see advance quotes for Offbeat.





From The St. Petersburg Times
January, 2002

by Paul A. Bergin

In October, 1957, Jack Kerouac, Philip Lamantia, Howard Hart and David Amram staged the first public poetry-music performance at the Brata Art Gallery in New York. It was the first group statement by artists who would quickly - and speciously - become known as the Beats, and it is the moment most chroniclers of the period regard as the birth of the Beat Generation.

In Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac, celebrated composer, jazzman and now memoirist David Amram acknowledges the Brata performance as a watershed moment, but for reasons wildly different than those offered by observers interpreting the event from the distance of years. Far from being a coming-out party for any sort of group or literary "school," the performance was a celebration of the openness to collaboration and experimentation and the spirit of inclusiveness that was increasingly characterizing the work of a loose community of hugely gifted and decidedly diverse artists during one of the most exciting periods in American art, music and literature.

It is a theme the author returns to - like a soloist restating the melody line - throughout this engrossing, provocative and convincing first-person account of what it was like to participate in the creative maelstrom that engulfed New York in the late 1950s. Particularly, what it was like working closely with Jack Kerouac, who produced some of the most strikingly original American prose ever written despite being ignored or reviled by the literary establishment for most of his productive years.

The first two-thirds of Offbeat cover the period from the author's earliest collaborations with Kerouac to the latter's death in St. Petersburg in 1969. This episodic account, shot with telling minutiae that both entertain and inform, uses both the poetry-music performances and the making of the film Pull My Daisy as springboards to thoroughly debunk the notion that the "Beats" were a coterie of self-indulgent elitists, contemptuous of American society and values, interested only in shocking the squares and raising hell. A lot of merchants got rich pandering to naive believers in that beatnik myth, but it was never anywhere close to the truth.

What Kerouac, Amram and their colleagues - which included such diverse and decidedly non-beat figures as Robert Frank, John O'Hara, Larry Rivers, Steve Allen and dozens more - were actually doing was proposing a new aesthetic, based in openness to experience and nurtured by open exchange of ideas and techniques. Between artists, and between artistic disciplines, as well.

One of the most valuable aspects of Offbeat is the discussion of Kerouac's desire that his writing convey the spontaneity and immediacy of the spoken word within the limits of a structured and disciplined work of art. In a larger context, and using different terms, that is what nearly all of the men and women who have come to be identified with the period were trying to do. Painters were directing underground films. Poets were adapting the rhythms and cadences of jazz and scat singing to the printed page. Jazz was moving into the symphony hall.

The publication in 1957 of On the Road forced Kerouac to retreat from the public eye, first to Long Island and eventually to St. Petersburg. Though they saw each other less frequently thereafter, the author and Kerouac continued to work together with undiminished enthusiasm and were discussing new projects as recently as a few days before Kerouac's premature death.

The last third of Offbeat covers the period from Kerouac's death to the present. Less episodic and less detailed than the first section, it is most valuable for its narrative of the ongoing restoration of Kerouac's literary reputation and of Amram's continuing collaboration with his old friend, using restored tapes and new technology that make completion of unfinished or merely contemplated projects possible.

There is an an elegiac tenderness to the closing chapters, as well, wherein the author faces the deaths of still more friends and colleagues, most notably Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso.

Today, at 71, David Amram is one of the few individuals alive who can authoritatively bear witness to that extraordinary period. In Offbeat, he has done just that, with humor, rare grace and, throughout, a nonjudgmental but undisguised desire to set the record straight. He has succeeded, contributing a volume of boundless worth to the body of literature concerning an accidental creative confluence that will probably always be called the Beat Generation even if that term is, as the author so convincingly demonstrates, utterly meaningless.


OFFBEAT REVIEW SIDEBAR

Experiencing Amram

by Paul A. Bergin

In 1975, my friend Randy Burns, a recording artist whose career had run aground and who was then booking music acts into Jocko's, a venerable Irish saloon hunched comfortably, if somewhat disreputably, on New Haven's main drag, mentioned to me that David Amram was coming to town. I was familiar with the name, I told him, but had never heard any of his music, as far as I knew.

"Be here," he said.

David's first appearance, playing with Charlie Chin, a classical guitarist, and Brian Torff, at that time chanteuse Cleo Laine's bass player, was only modestly attended, but it got the word out, and the rest was, as they say, history.

That combo played three or four more dates at Jocko's in the next few months. Every time the house was jammed. And not just with listeners.

Amram was, and I expect still is, a musical pied piper. He drew followers. Many carried instruments. All were welcome to play. At the gigs that I attended, and I think I was there for all of them, these visitors ran the gamut from a sophisticated, obviously classically-trained soprano saxophonist to a whacked-out escapee from the Yale marching band who showed up one night wielding a bright blue, electrified Sousaphone, wanting to sit in.

He was welcomed. Everyone was.

One night, the bar lost power. When the battery-powered emergency lights kicked on, David suggested that they could wait for the power to be restored, or just keep playing, without amplification. It was no contest with the audience, and was accompanied by something previously and since unheard-of in the realm of commerce. Eerie, really. The joint stopped selling booze.

Believe it. The waitresses retreated to the bar, and the bartenders retreated to the backbar. Sitting in the near-dark, you couldn't hear a bottle rattle, an ice cube clink, or even a lover's urgent whisper until the trio took a break half an hour or so later. Then the applause was deafening.

As if on cue, the power came back on then, and all present came back to earth, but with the awareness that we'd all not only witnessed, but also been a part of, something very rare.

A moment when art trumped commerce and we all went to the moon on gossamer wings. It was more than just one of those things.

Life contains too few such moments. Thanks for that one, David.

Play on, man.





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