Mark Morganelli of Jazz Forum Arts is paying tribute to the talents of composer, conductor, author, and musician David Amran who turns 80 this year via presenting “David Amram: The First 80 Years.”
The event takes place on Thursday, Nov. 11, at 7:30 p.m. at the Symphony Space, located at 2537 Broadway (95th Street and Broadway) in Manhattan.
Amram has made such a significant contribution to the world of music, one wonders why he isn’t a household name. He is an author and lyricist who has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works. He has written music scores for Broadway theater and film, including the classic scores for the films “Splendor in The Grass” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”
He wrote the score for the documentary film “Pull My Daisy,” which was narrated by novelist Jack Kerouac. He wrote two operas and authored three books, “Vibrations,” an autobiography, “Offbeat: Collaborating With Kerouac,” a memoir, and “Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat” published by Paradigm Publishers. Amram plays the French horn, flutes, whistles, piano, percussion, and dozens of folkloric instruments from 25 countries.
“We are having the birthday party six days before my actual birthday so I could be warmed up if not worn out,” joked Amram who will have performers such as Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, Willie Nelson, appear live and on film, as well as actor Keir Dullea, John Ventimiglia, Malachy McCourt, members of the New York Philharmonic and the Stella Adler Studio of Acting on hand to wish David a very happy 80th birthday.
During “David Amram: The First 80 Years,” the audience can look forward to viewing the screening of “12th Night” an opera Amram wrote with Joseph Papp; see David Amram conduct the Queens College Orchestra with conductor Maurice Peress; and hear the Brooklyn Conservatory Jazz Ensemble directed by Earl McIntyre and the Jazz & Gospel Choirs directed by Renee Manning.
Fans of Candido and Bobby Sanabria can look forward to amazing Latin music via the musical styling of David Broza, John McEuen of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Josh White, Jr., Larry Kerwan and the Imani Winds. Amram will also play a symphonic variation of a song by Woodie Guthrie whom Amram met. “Woodie and I sat in a kitchen talking about Charlie Parker, Lester Young, Woodie’s adventures as a seaman and all the places he loved to frequent in NY to listen to music” mentioned Amram.
Also during the show Lawrence Kraman’s documentary film on David entitled “David Amram: The First 80 Years” will be featured.
Candido and Bobby Sanabria will perform a piece in memory of the great Congo player Chano Pozo, who played with Dizzy’s band from 1947 to 1949, during the First 80 Years birthday event in Amram’s honor.
“Latin music and jazz music come from a beautiful place. It has an energy that is actually healing,” remarked the great composer/conductor. “I learned this when I studied the music and the instruments of other cultures. There are histories in this music. Dizzy used to say everybody is a drummer. He’d say everybody can play a drum…learn how to play a drum. Everybody is a singer, learn to sing. And that’s true. I realized that all the basics of all the sincere music comes from the same principles.
“Anyone who has been depressed or stressed knows that after listening to music you get an energy blast that sometimes lasts for days. I felt that way after listening to Sonny Rollins a few days ago and when working with Willie Nelson on ‘FARM AID.’
“As I see it, each culture has its own ancestral drum. I played with Mingus 55 years ago at the Cafe Bohemia. Mingus would say every night with him was like performing at Carnegie Hall no matter how ratty the place was where we performed. He said that being on the bandstand was serious business. Mingus said being on the bandstand was like being in church because what we were doing was very important. It was sacred,” recalled the composer.
“My entire life I have been surrounded by jazz, blues, classical and traditional music. In fact when I was hired to conduct a symphony at Carnegie Hall someone said to me you don’t seem nervous. I said playing at Carnegie Hall was a piece of cake compared to working with Mingus and Gillespie,” recalled David.
David was a pal and collaborator of Jack Kerouac. They worked together on “Pull My Daisy,” a Alfred Leslie and Robert Frank’s 1959 film, in which Amram, Kerouac and several other members of the Beat Generation appear. Amram composed and performed the musical film score while Kerouac narrated the soundtrack. Amran has worked with several greats during his 80 years including Langston Hughes, Dizzy Gillespie, Dustin Hoffman, Willie Nelson, Thelonious Monk, Odetta, Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, Charles Mingus, Lionel Hampton, E. G. Marshall, and Tito Puente just to name a few. He scored the movie Manchurian Candidate starring Frank Sinatra and Splendor in the Grass which starred Natalie Wood and Warren Beaty.
David was hired in 1966 to be the first composer in residence of the New York Philharmonic by Leonard Bernstein. “During the interview process, I was asked by the interviewer who were my musical influences. I mentioned Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Schumann, and Beethoven on up to Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Monk, King Oliver, Fletcher Henderson, Lester Young, and Gil Evans. The Philharmonic interviewer asked how I could equate bar room entertainers with the masterpieces of European music. I said they share one thing in common — purity of intent and an exquisite choice of notes” said David whose actually birthday is Nov. 17.