There was that week, five years ago, that history will remember for the panic and the sweat of fear. It will recall the smell of death, the sorrow and the pounding drums sounding the noise of war.
Here, there was silence. Quiet, but not calm. The kind of silence that fills an empty room after the party has ended and everyone has gone home; when all that remains are the lipstick traces on empty glasses and the lingering stench of crowded ashtrays hovering in the air.
Ten million astrologers, but no one could say that something bad was coming? A truck backfires on the corner of Broadway and Caroline Street. People waiting at the crosswalk flinch. Some visibly jump. The ones who do talk about it are reduced to muttered nuances: Aw, Christ. Ah. God. Oh, no.
While the schools try to deal with the dilemma of shielding the students, or talking them through it, society itself seems unsure about whether it should go into lock-down mode, or power up and mobilize.
Fight and flight. At night, the only sound in the sky is the rumble of fighter jets patrolling heaven, two F-14's at a time. There was the silence and there was David Amram.
It was Amram's friend and co-collaborator Jack Kerouac who tagged him with the nickname 'Sunny Dave' nearly a half-century earlier. It was when the two were young men focused on recreating American music and the spoken word with something that was later called The Beat Generation.
Kerouac reached his creative peak in the 1950s. He would not live to see the 1970s. Amram survived and his list of collaborators would grow.
Leonard Bernstein to Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg to Arthur Miller, Willie Nelson to Sonic Youth to Frank McCourt. He would compose more than 100 works, stand as conductor for major music festivals in Brazil and Cuba and Kenya and Egypt, and score songs for the films 'Splendor in the Grass' and 'The Manchurian Candidate.'
After all this, from being a young man in a one-room apartment in lower Manhattan to a grown man in his 70s cultivating organic vegetables on his upstate farm, he remained Sunny Dave. And tragedy or not, he was honoring his commitments.
Five days after the towers collapsed in lower Manhattan, with the rubble of concrete and dust and twisted metal still smoldering, David Amram walked into Shepard Park and onto the stage at the Lake George Jazz Festival. More than 2,000 people assembled on the sprawling lawn. For many, it was the first time they had been to a public place since that miserable day.
Amram bowed humbly to the crowd and turned around to face the 36-members of the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra. He picked up his conductor's baton and led the ensemble into a musical opening of 'The Star Spangled Banner.' On the sloping hill of the grassy park some instinctively saluted, Many cried and behind the bandstand, on the waters of Lake George where the music was carried, passing boats slowed to a stop and started waving small red, white and blue flags that they held in their hands Amram conducted the Glens Falls Symphony through an orchestral set of classical music. The audience watched and enjoyed. The stage was cleared and he introduced the T.S. Monk Sextet.
Amram sat in and improvised jazz riffs. The audience watched and enjoyed this as well.
Blessed with an amazing talent of inspired musical coordination, Amram invited both jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra onto the stage to play together.
It was a refined orchestra. It was free jazz. It was an exhilarating collaboration - past and future -- of the blending styles of the world It was Sunny Dave's gift to America and the music that broke the silence.
Tommy Goodman and David Amram have their own comfortable rhythm -- so comfortable that they don't need to practice before Sunday's jazz performance at The Turning Point in Piermont.
"We're not even going to rehearse, we come from a common place," says Putnam Valley's Amram.
They met almost 50 years ago, when a mutual friend "used to rave to me about what a great performer he was, doing classical and jazz," says Amram.
There was a time when jazz wasn't a respectable pursuit, so no classical musician learned jazz or admitted to wanting to play jazz.
"David Amram and I have classical backgrounds," says Nyack's Goodman, who studied piano with Paul Hindemuth and Nadia Boulanger, who taught Aaron Copeland and was a friend of Stravinsky. "I was very lucky," says Goodman. "I had the GI Bill and got to study in France with her (after World War II) then with Hindemuth in the U.S.
"David and I compose from both classical and jazz side of the tracks," he says.
Goodman is composing an opera, and Amram is doing "Symphonic Variations on a Song By Woodie Guthrie" for the Guthrie Foundation. His other composition, recently finished, is a book titled "Nine Lives of a Musical Cat," due out in 2007.
Amram will open on Sunday: "I'll be playing French horn, assorted pennywhistles, the shanai -- a Middle Eastern ancient oboe; dumbek -- a Middle Eastern drum; piano and Latin percussion."
Pianist Goodman, bassist Mark Hagan and drummer Charlie Descarfino will join Amram for some jazz standards and Goodman originals. After Goodman, Hagan and Descarfino play, Amram will join them to close the show.
"We'll be doing classic pieces like 'Autumn Leaves,' a work by Thelonius Monk; a song I wrote with words by Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neil Cassady for the film 'Pull My Daisy' -- I was in the film. I make up words on the spot," Amram says.
"Playing at The Turning Point, you get energy and never get composer's or writer's block," he says. "When you play you are replenished."
Goodman has been replenished there since before it moved to 468 Piermont Ave.
"My late wife and I played at The Turning Point 25-30 years ago when it was at Xavier's current location," he says. "I was doing commercials and I used to stop there on Fridays as a decompression point. So we agreed to split the cost of an electric piano, and Lisa and I played classical -- she played recorder. After dinner, they had a house rhythm section and we invited friends to have a jam session on Sundays. We did it for four, five years, then stopped because we got busy."
Local performances have been satisfying for musicians for centuries, Amram says.
"Mozart played in cafes, Brahms, Beethoven did it," he says. "Doing something regional is the most important. Every place I've been, there's a (growing) sense of small is beautiful. You don't have to play a stadium to have something wonderful happen."
Amram loves sharing music, especially across generations.
"One of the joys is to work with young people. When they see older people working and enjoying what they do, it's very beneficial," he says.
He recalled seeing the old pros like Tommy Dorsey when he got interested in jazz and how they fostered young musicians.
"Tommy Dorsey was so grateful when people would walk in -- he created such a great atmosphere," he says. "Being with him was a crash course in everything. Our conservatory was hanging out with older people. We went to the 'University of Hangouttology.' We're graduates, active members and students."
So, he asks, "how do you get people interested in music? Go out and play it so they feel comfortable with it."
Kind of like two lifelong friends sitting down to jam.
Years ago...I would have known that David Amram was playing The Cornelia Street Café by hanging out at The Kettle Of Fish or The Gaslight Cafe. David would have come bounding in with all his enthusiasm and told me in person. Then, the lot of us would have told a few stories and shared a few songs. David could always ignite a group of people wherever he went. This time, he contacted me by email. Not as much fun, but it works.
The feeling that 'somehow it's gotten away from us all' is common among old hipsters and artists from the fifties and sixties. Last Monday evening, at The Cornelia Street Café, David Amram took the audience home again. Just in case you've never heard of him, David Amram is not an easy act to describe. He plays too many instruments to remember...he talks about his old pals Miles and Kerouac, recalling stories that spin you into yesterday with a warmth and love so genuine it escapes no one. His jazz is a wonderful mix of everything and everyone he has encountered.
Most Amram fans will agree that he has played and recorded with everyone great since time began. He becomes a member of the audience from the stage, and he does this every time he performs. His trio is excellent; his stage persona is the same persona you'd find if you ran into him while he was parking his car. In his seventies now, there's no stopping him, and you'd have to catch a show of his to understand what I mean.
I first met Mr. Amram at a Grove Press Party at The Village Gate...say...1972. There was shrimp the size of lobsters...and champagne, and nothing but top shelf booze. My girlfriend Cory and I dropped in to have a little fun. After people were done talking, the entertainment began. It was David Amram, and I'd never heard of him. His performance astounded me. He drew me in using no false effort, which so many performers fail to understand.
If you're going to tell stories and share experiences between songs, don't do it to increase the response from the audience when your songs are finished. Do it as he does it...make the stories and the songs one, and nobody does that better than David Amram. He's a classic, a treasure, and he's the genuine thing.
David is a performer constantly grateful for the musical life he's lived and continues to live. Each time he performs he shows us how it's done...he shows us that we can still be as happy as he is, and sometimes I think that's all he's trying to make us realize. From 'Take The A Train' to 'Pull My Daisy,' Amram gives us a verbal and musical tour of everything that was great about an era filled with legends, and what is still great about the world today.
David Amram performs at The Cornelia Street Café on Mondays...8:30 to 11PM. Do yourself a favor....
The Hilton Head Orchestra's valentine to its audience was a heart-shaped "box" full of friendship, romance and passion.
Low-calorie but lush, the program looked at different aspects of love from a musical perspective, and made the orchestra's fans fall in love with it all over again.
Monday's program opened with David Amram's "Giants of the Night," a concerto for flute and orchestra commissioned by renowned flutist James Galway in 2002. Amram, who has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, numerous film and Broadway scores, and two operas, has made some incredible friends in his life -- Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie and Jack Kerouac among them. Each movement of "Giants of the Night" pays homage to one of these men.
Conductor Mary Woodmansee Green described Amram, who attended the concert, as "truly a Renaissance man," and the concerto clearly integrated different musical ideas from a variety of cultures. Amram returned Green's compliment when speaking to the audience before the piece, calling Green, "a musician's musician, a conductor's conductor, and a true musical leader." He also praised guest flute soloist Mimi Stillman.
Just 24 years old, Stillman is one of the world's most highly-regarded flutists, and she played with poise and power. Her breath control was nothing short of astonishing, especially on two encore pieces she did throughout the evening which also required virtuosic finger work.
Not surprisingly, given its tribute to jazz and beat leaders of the 1950s, "Giants of the Night" showed a heavy jazz influence, especially in its first movement, "For Charlie Parker." The brass and woodwinds briefly served as human percussion instruments, clapping and snapping their fingers in syncopated rhythm.
The piece's second movement, dedicated to Kerouac, was very sweet, somewhat melancholy, and featured melodies from two traditional French Canadian songs that Amram has said Kerouac would sing to him "in the early morning hours." In a particularly lovely passage, Patricia Anderson's harp accompanied Stillman, who was then joined by Concertmaster Terry Moore in an achingly sweet, lullaby-like melody.
The third and final movement, dedicated to Gillespie, set toes tapping with Caribbean and Afro-Cuban rhythms from the percussion and brass sections. The percussion quite possibly were the MVPs of the night: Ray McClain, Principal timpani, Stephen Primatic, Principal percussion, Hisayo Ermoli (a new face who really worked the cymbals), Matthew Fallin, and Ryan Leveille.
Stillman performed a brief, extraordinary encore, Paganini's Caprice No. 5 in A Minor, "stolen" she said, from the original arrangement for violin.
I am so proud of the Key West Council on the Arts Impomptu Concerts. Sunday was the very best.The Renaissance Classical Orchestra played to a packed house with the remarkable David Amram conducting.
David is as good a musician as exists, and has an intriguing history. He and Jack Kerouac gave the first jazz/poetry reading in New York in 1957. He has done movies and Broadway productions and was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to be the first composer-in-residence with the New York Philharmonic. His credentials would fill this newspaper.
The orchestra was made up of soloists playing together as one.This was the most exciting music I have ever heard.All of us pray that he'll come back.
We heard everything from Bach to Mozart to Duke Ellington.
It was amazing.
What is Born of Spirit Is Spirit: It was the best- attended Impromptu Concert in all its 25 years of performances in Key West. The Renaissance Classical Orchestra at St. Paul's on Sunday was a huge hit, bringing the audience to its feet for both the concert and the encore.
The orchestra was led by David Amram, 75, fittingly described by the Boston Globe as "the Renaissance man of American music." His instruments include the French horn, piano, guitar, flutes and whistles and "a variety of folkloric instruments from 25 countries," he told Soundings this week. Amram enjoys rotating his players on each piece "so that everybody gets to be concert master and can choose their own soloists," he explained.
At the Key West concert, and at its Monday repeat in Marathon, Amram's son Adam played in the orchestra for Duke Ellington's "C Jam Blues." The youngest of his three grown children, Adam has his own band "but he's never been on the road with me with a classical orchestra before," said his dad.
Amram has composed hundreds of works, including the scores for movies such as "Splendor in the Grass" and "The Manchurian Candidate." Back in the early 1950s, he would often hear Charlie Parker play. Since then he has played with Charlie Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Dizzie Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. Amram is an icon to Soundings because he wrote the music for "Pull My Daisy," a 1959 movie written by Jack Kerouac and shot by Robert Frank in Alfred Leslie's Greenwich Village apartment. It went into minor release with John Cassavete's "Shadows".
The story of "hope bursting with poetry," "Pull My Daisy" starred poets Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky as "Allen," "Gregory" and "Peter," plus Amram as "Mezz McGillicuddy" and a French actress called Delphine Seyrig as a wife.
British critic Ian White called the film a "document of its own unraveling." American critics have been unkinder: "As fresh as a frozen green pea," said Parker Tyler.
Kerouac, of French Canadian ancestry, called the film "notre petit flic." It opens with a ditty written by Kerouac, Ginsberg and Neal Cassady, composed by Amram and now a signature song for Anita Ellis, that begins and ends with:
Pull my daisy, tip my cup all my doors are open. Cut my thoughts for coconuts, all my eggs are broken Hop my heart song harp my height serpaphs hold me steady hip my angel hype my light lay it on the needy
The music for "Pull My Daisy," recalled Amram, was made up of "the treasures of Europe and the marvels of the New World." He mixed Renaissance sounds with jazz. The "commonality" of Baroque music and jazz, added Amram, is their "purity of intent and an exquisite choice of notes. I think our concert in Key West helped to portray that, without my having to say it."
Jack Kerouac he remembers as a "deeply religious man, always searching for something. Amram composed an accompniament for string orchestra and narrator premiered at the Kennedy Center, with E.G. Marshall reading the "Children of the American Night" section from the last page of "On the Road." Kerouac once told Amram, "You know, man, that passage was read by Sir Charles Laughton on the radio. It was so great! Better than anyone has done it." That cultured English accent, said Kerouac, made his words sound like the King James Bible.
Since Kerouac's death in 1969, at the age of 47, Amram has collaborated with Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, Leonard Bernstein, Willie Nelson and Dustin Hoffman, among others. Last year he wrote a eulogy at the funeral of Lucien Carr, one of the founders of the Beat Generation who never wrote a word, with a quote from John 14: 1-6: "The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the spirit."
Amram reminds those young people who wish they were around in the 1950s and '60s that Charlie Parker once wrote a classic called "Now's the Time." "This is the perfect time to be here," he declared, concluding our delightful conversation with, "Cheers to you and your family from that endless road."
This review covers the first half of the performance before intermission.
As part of the continuing celebration of renowned musician David Amram and the late "Beat" poet, Jack Kerouac, an Interdisciplinary evening of film, music and poetry was presented at Schein Hall on Friday, January 27,2006.
David Amram and Jack Kerouac collaborated for the first poetry-reading ever given in New York City in October of 1957. Tonight's participants included, David Amram playing piano, French born, penny whistles, bass ocarina, Lakota Courting flute, Shanai, dumbek, Latin percussion and improvised scat vocals, Vince Evans on acoustic double bass, Adam Amram on conga drums,with readers, Joe Pacheco, Jim Brock and Bill Highsmith.
The two hour first half of the evening's program started with Duke Ellington's theme, "Take The A Train." The, trio of piano, bass and congas was tastefully presented by the three musicians. Pianist Amram has a sensitive touch in both soloing and camping. His jazz phrases are well constructed and his bebop roots surface smoothly. Vince Evan's deep and resonant bass sound and excellent time was reminiscent of the great Ray Brown, The accents and embellishments of the congas contributed nicely to the overall presentation.
David Amram improvised on a solo penny whistle and then, with fingers flying madly, two penny whistles at the same time. It is amazing that he is able to sustain long eighth-note phrases with one breadth on both whistles. The texture changed as David and son traded 4s (four bars each) and then the same format followed with bass and piano. It was a pleasant jazz exchange and a preview of the camaraderie that was to follow.
The next selection was the showing of the 1959 film, "Pull My Daisy." The lyrics of the title song were by Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and the music and improvised scat lyrics were by David Amram. Kerouac first coined the phrase, "Beat Generation" to label a literary and social movement in the '50s. The film was produced in a New York loft, from a Kerouac play about the Beat Generation.
As Kerouac provides a narrative storyline, straight society is represented by the bishop, his disapproving mother and prim sister, who are entertained with drinking, cussing, poetry, and jazz. David Amram blows a few jazz licks on his French horn.
Four selections from Jack Kerouac's, "On the Road: How Jazz/Poetry Was Born" were read along side original poetry written by Sannibel poets, Joe Pacheco, Jim Brock and Bill Highsmith. As David Amram and Vince Evans supplied a slow and easy blues, Joe Pacheco swayed rhythmically as he read Kerouac's, "Children of the American Bop Night."
Knighted by David Amram as "Poet Laureate of Sannibel," Joe Pacheco read his own poignant poem, "The Night Charlie Parker Played Tenor", a poem that received national coverage as it was heard over NPR Radio.
Jim Brock read Kerouac's poem, "On The Roof of America" to the accompaniment of David Amram playing the soothing and resonant bass ocarina. Jim Brock's poem, "Jim Otto's Dream" was accompanied by piano and bass in a freely improvised minor tonality that effectively established a dreamlike mood and enhanced Brock's touching poem.
Bill Highsmith read his poem, "Teen-ager 1970" to the piano and bass slow and bluesy accompaniment.
Kerouac's, "So in America" was read by Joe Pacheco and was followed by a sensuous reading of Joe Pacheco's poem, "Grand Popper Rap." Joe began the reading of his poem to the accompaniment of congas and small bongo type drums, A subdued Latin tinged beat developed and Joe swayed and gyrated rhythmically to this beat as he read his bebopish lyrical poem.
The first half closed with David, Neil and Adam playing the title song from, "Pull My Daisy" written by David and Jack Kerouac in 1959, Seated at the piano, David talks over his finger clicks and then accompanies himself singing, Vince Evans's bass walks and skips wondrously and then, much to my disbelief, David picks up his ice-cold French horn and starts playing bebop licks with no intonation problems and ends with scat singing like Bobby McFerrin, This man can do anything!
When David Amram is touted as a Renaissance man, they're not exaggerating. The pioneering jazz French horn player collaborated with writer Jack Kerouac, composed the music for "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Splendor in the Grass," and served as the first composer in residence for the New York Philharmonic.
Amram, who'll show off his versatility Jan. 14 in Olympia, also is quite adept at freestyle rap, though he wouldn't call it that."When I was playing at the Bowery Poetry Club, a kid came up and said, 'Wow, you're the best 75-year-old rapper I've ever heard,' " Amram recalls. "I said, 'We call that scat.' "Homer was the first great jazz poet or scatter or rapper," Amram adds. "He did 'The Iliad' with no notes because he couldn't see. Someone wrote it down later."
The comparison is an apt one. A conversation with Amram is not unlike a Homeric epic: It's fascinating, but it's definitely not quick.
"You've got me out of my shell," he said, chuckling.
And that reminded him of a story. Amram was hanging out with Arlo Guthrie at a Woodstock reunion, and they ended up being interviewed by the media.
"Arlo gave great short answers," he said. "Then they asked me about the Beat generation and working with Kerouac and Charlie Parker. I gave this huge 30-minute answer, and the folks were sitting there with their eyes starting to glaze over, saying, 'Well, that's the most fascinating thing I ever heard.'
"Arlo said: 'That James Joycean Birdland rap was fantastic, but this is the age of the soundbite,' " Amram recalls. "He said it in an affectionate way.
"I'm trying to learn how to do that."
Although he's better connected than Kevin Bacon -- he's worked with everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Willie Nelson -- Amram also is most down-to-earth.
An e-mail sent to his publicist got lost in the holiday rush, but a follow-up contact resulted in an immediate phone call from the man himself. "I don't know why they didn't just give you my home phone number," he said in the lengthy voice-mail message.
"Andre Segovia was listed in the phone book in 1955 when I came to New York," he added. "Dizzy Gillespie, whom I played with for almost 50 years, used to hand out his card to everyone. I never thought it was something mysterious. I'm listed in the phone book."
Amram enjoyed some down time during the holidays -- relatively speaking. "I'm thrilled to be home, not on an airplane or at an airport," he said. "I have deadlines for a book I'm writing and a symphony I'm writing, but I actually have time to talk to you like a normal person."
The book, Amram's third, is an autobiography to be titled "Nine Lives of a Musical Cat." And from the summary he gives, it sounds like a lengthy one. (The first volume of his autobiography, "Vibrations," is 480 pages.)
"My hope is that the book will show anybody -- whether in the arts or not -- that by working hard and paying attention and being in the phone book of life with a listed number, you can have a very rewarding life," he said. "I just turned 75 and still continue to be educated."
Amram ended the conversation as many performers do -- "If you're at the show, come say, 'Hi' " -- but he added a postscript: "I'll be the senior citizen wearing all the beads."