This weekend, Cork will learn the David Amram formula -- music that sounds composed but is created on the spot. It's accessible and fun, he tells Dave Sanbrook.
With only weeks until David Amram turns 75, you would think he had pretty much done it all. He has played and recorded with some of the greatest names in jazz, composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber works, as well as written operas, numerous theater and film scores, and two books. Described by the Boston Globe as "the Renaissance man of American music," Amram has collaborated with the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Jack Kerouac and Dizzy Gillespie. He's a multitalented, multi-instrumentalist, and his expertise in a range of folkloric instruments from around the globe prompted the New York Times to label Amram "multicultural before multiculturalism existed."
Despite portraying Mezz McGillicuddy, a French horn-playing Irishman, in the classic 1959, Kerouac-narrated film, Pull My Daisy, and despite spending a large part of the 1970s playing at Malachy McCourt's Bells of Hell, and in the back-room of the famous Lion's Head with The Chieftains and The Irish Rovers, Amram has never been to Ireland.
"I've been waiting to go to Ireland all my life," he says. "Given the Celtic influences that I've used on many of my compositions, it's something of a Mecca for me. With artists like my old friends McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, John Faddis and Ron Carter, the Cork Festival promises to be a fabulous seven-course banquet. I hope that my participation, if nothing else, provides a wonderful antipasto. I think my role will be as an ambassador for jazz, so that whatever music people come to listen to, I can express the philosophy of jazz - spontaneous music, created on the spot, but sounding composed, and all done in an accessible and enjoyable way."
A more approachable or qualified musical envoy would be difficult to find. The first thing you notice about Amram is the extraordinary accumulation of beads and chains around his neck which are an indication of both his creativity and eccentricity. He dresses smartly in a jacket and tie, but teams them with blue jeans. Having been raised in a musical family on a farm in Pennsylvania, it's not surprising that he is turned out like the veritable country gentleman.
"When I was six, my father bought me a bugle. The first time I played a note I felt something - I didn't know what - but something really special. My uncle, a merchant seaman, took me to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra with the great Leopold Stokowski conducting, and later Duke Ellington and his Orchestra. Because he had travelled all over the world, he made me aware of the fact that all kinds of music were part of the language. You may never be able to speak 30 different languages, but with music you always have a way of speaking and being spoken to."
At a time when segregation was still the norm in the US, Amram's family moved to a "checkerboard neighbourhood" of Washington DC. "I was invited to a kid's party where I met a man called Louis Brown, I didn't know it at the time but he was Duke Ellington's mentor. He invited me to play with him and his band. So here I was, this 12-year-old boy, sitting in with these fantastic musicians. I was encouraged to fit in to a different world where you take a chance, where you dare like a tightrope walker, where you improvise."
Two years later braces forced Amram to change to the French horn, which saw him relocated to the centre of the school orchestra. The upshot, he says, was that it enabled him to better appreciate all of the other instruments around him. Amram was one of the first to improvise jazz on the French horn, and his embryonic career saw him jamming with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.
In 1952, having graduated from university with a degree in history, Amram was drafted into the army and stationed in Germany. He played with the Seventh Army Symphony and when his two years were up, he spent a year in Paris writing symphonic music during the day and playing jazz clubs at night. It was here that Amram made his first commercial recording with Lionel Hampton. Amram returned to the US in 1955 to study at the Manhattan School of Music, and the Charles Mingus jazz quintet he played in after-hours attracted a following which included Miles Davis, Larry Rivers and Jack Kerouac.
"In 1956 I was at a party and this man came up to me and said, 'Play with me'. He started reading something and I began playing. That was the first time I played with Kerouac and it felt exactly the same as when I first played with some of the great jazz musicians. The collaborations that followed developed into what became known as jazz/poetry. We shared the philosophy that formal works of art could be inspired by spontaneous collaborations celebrating the beauty of commonplace experiences."
Amram was chosen by Leonard Bernstein to be first ever Composer-in-Residence for the New York Philharmonic in 1966. He has appeared as guest conductor and soloist with major orchestras all over the world, and was recently appointed artistic director and conductor of the Renaissance Chamber Orchestra. In 2004 demand for Amram's recorded work saw the soundtrack for the film, The Manchurian Candidate, and his Holocaust opera, The Final Ingredient, released more than 40 years after he had composed them. James Galway doesn't intend to wait as long, with plans afoot to record the critically acclaimed flute concerto, Giants of the Night, which Amram wrote for him in 2001.
As well as working on his third book, Nine Lives of a Musical Cat, Amram is composing Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woodie Guthrie, and collaborating with Frank McCourt on Missa Manhattan, a work celebrating the myriad of cultures which have influenced New York over the past 300 years. "I'm working harder now than at any stage of my life, and I find that each day I enjoy creating and sharing music more than ever. I hope I can inspire others to dare to dream the way I was encouraged, and to contribute something positive to make the world even just a little bit better for the future." David Amram lectures at the Guinness Festival Club at the Gresham Metropole Hotel, Cork on Saturday.
© The Irish Times
David Amram, prolific composer, multi-instrumentalist, one of the last surviving members of the beat generation, is a man whose contribution to the world of music is considerable. Almost 75 years old, he remains a force to be reckoned with. The description "The Renaissance man of American music" is apt given the sheer number of different musical genres he has influenced. From jazz to folk to punk to film scores and opera, the list is broad, and Amram, with close friend the legendary author Jack Kerouac, invented jazz/poetry.
Speaking with David in San Jose, California he tells me that to him jazz means: "Spontaneity, freedom and celebrating a moment in a way that will never be duplicated. Jazz is wide-open music that deals with the spontaneity of beauty. The masters would encourage anyone to participate and feel welcome."
"When I was a little boy I met some of the people who were the founders of what was called jazz. The music took place in less than a century. Thelonious Monk told me in 1955. Someday jazz will be appreciated all over the world and I hope every country will make their own contribution and know the roots and tradition and not only copy what we've done. The amazing thing is this is what has happened."
Amram is well qualified to recount his generation's special relationship with the jazz phenomenon. But as he explains, Kerouac represented the key to the marriage of two cultural forces. He recalls: "Specifically Jack Kerouac, without whom the beat generation would never have existed, was himself a very gifted jazz singer and he was a reporter of our time. Just like James Joyce he captured the special sounds of a special time and place. Jack saw the aesthetic as well as the spiritual, enduring, value of jazz. He also loved Bach and heard the similarities in the perfect choice of notes to the spontaneous solos of Charlie Parker."
Jack Kerouac and David Amram were close friends and performed together on countless occasions. Amram reflects on what was a special relationship from the beginning: "It was just like the first time I played with Charlie Parker (saxophonist and one of jazz music's tragic heroes) and Dizzy Gillespie (iconic trumpet player), he was a natural. He brought something out in me that was there and I was able to tune in and bring something out in him. All the times we played together we never rehearsed and it came out perfectly. Jack would read and play piano and I would scat, sing or make up rhymes spontaneously. It was like the forerunner to rap."
David intersperses his recollection with memories of a recent encounter that, judging by his reaction, he finds quite amusing. "At a recent performance this young twenty-two year old came up to me and said 'You are the best seventy-four year old rapper I have ever heard.'"
Asked how he and Kerouac created the New York jazz/poetry movement, Amram explains that the roots of their idea lay in an almost mischievous attitude the duo possessed. He admits: "We used to do it just for fun on park benches, in coffee houses and at other peoples parties until we were asked to leave.
A great friend of ours (poet) Frank O'Hara tried to get the Museum of Modern Art in New York to stage some of our work but they thought we were too young, too crazy and too unknown. So Frank decided we should do it downtown in Greenwich Village where we lived. We ended up creating something that became a fad for a while with anybody coming up and screaming into a microphone in front of a band that would be playing as loud as possible. It was the New York fashion of the month and ended up dying a natural death. It also influenced both Ray Manzeric and Jim Morrison."
Amram has written and performed the scores for a number of Broadway shows and films including 1962 classic The Manchurian Candidate. Asked how he would approach such a mammoth undertaking, he discloses: "What I did was I watched the film and instinctively followed where it seemed that music could enhance the musicality that was already there." I always used the two precious maxims 'Less is More,' and 'When In Doubt Leave It Out.'"
Amram also collaborated with writer Arthur Miller. "I did music for his play After The Fall in 1964. Amazingly enough he and the director wanted a Jazz score. One of the stars of the play was actor Jason Robarts Jnr. We would always go to old Irish bars and Jason would sing there until the early hours of the morning."
David has a great love of Irish music. Asked what this can be attributed to he reveals: "I used to hang out with Frank McCourt and Bernard Shaw in a place in Greenwich Village called Bells of Hell run by Mallachy McCourt. I learned a great deal about Irish music in New York. I always loved Sean O'Riada's music. The extraordinary thing is Irish music has been preserved in the states."
A great ambassador of jazz, Amram has written something especially for his Cork performance. In the spirit of Charlie Parker it is entitled "The Blues From New York Finds The Fox Hunt In Cork". He describes it as mixing: "A slip-jig and Afro Cuban Blues... Charlie Parker used to do things like that!" he adds.
NIU's guest recitalist, veteran world music composer, performer and conductor, was introduced by friend and NIU jazz professor, Fareed Haque, as "the incredible, unstoppable, unbeatable, David Amram."
Amram, who has persevered for more than half a century in the professional symphony circuit, was an integral member of what now is known as the late '50s "Beat" movement and has the good grace to be able to list American literary-giant Jack Kerouac as one of his dearest friends.
A world music aficionado in the truest sense of the word, Amram attacked the aural senses of his audiences Monday and Tuesday night with spoken word - scat, poetry, prose, improv - and music such as folkloric, classical, Afro/Cuban, Irish and jazz.
The original 1962 "Manchurian Candidate," score written and conducted by Amram, was screened to a small, devout audience Monday. This was followed by an in-depth dissertation and question and answer concerning his musical manifesto, "purity of intent" and "exquisite choice of notes" and how his world music roots made the inspired score possible.
Haque, Amram and others then went to The House Café, 263 E. Lincoln Highway, owned by Haque, to catch the back end of the "Poetry Slam."
The poetry reading was concluded by Amram giving an impromptu speech about himself, Kerouac and the "Beats," a name and category Amram railed against every time the word came to pass.
"We were just people who came together to inspire and be inspired by each other; it was only later that kids would go and buy all-black clothing and walk into depressing poetry readings with their bongos, still with the price tag on the side," Amram said.
Amram took to the piano, one of the instruments under his control, and initiated a performance of beat-classic "Pull my Daisy" with a near five-minute improvised rhyme, "ode to poetry" and played the folksy, jazz song with lyrics by Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady.
The consensus among the energized poets at The House Café was DeKalb poetry slam history was being made, and Amram's praise of the local poetry reading tradition left the room buzzing hours after he left the stage.
At 11 a.m., Amram spoke to students at an all-school lecture in preparation for his 6:30 p.m. guest recital in the spacious concert hall.
"You have to take him with an open mind, he seems like a goofy guy, kind of in the moment," Haque said. "But if you listen to his serious orchestra pieces, you can hear there's a very serious undercurrent."
The concert, "From Cairo to Kerouac," took listeners first through '50s America with works by Thelonious Monk and Amram performed in an informal jazz jam session and recitations from his book, "Offbeat: Collaborations with Kerouac" and Kerouac's "On the Road" and "Dharma Bums."
Five flutes, one djembe and many Indian-inspired scales later, the concert began to focus on Amram's critically-acclaimed orchestral pieces, which have been played in concert halls around the world. It included Native-American inspired tunes performed by Amram, Afro/Cuban/Irish jam sessions and a concerto for cello and piano by NIU faculty members Bill Koehler and Marc Johnson.
The concert brought together the growlingly popular ethnic themes with European music's accessible sensibilities.
"The concert ran like a cultural variety show: rants, readings, jazz music, classical music and philosophy," said Madeline Fairbanks, a sophomore fine arts major.
The last two days of culture can be attributed to the social tendencies of Haque and his ability to make friends and bring around some of the larger names in the professional music field.
"We met when I was in the Brooklyn Philharmonic, and David was the conductor," Haque said. "We both loved jazz, world and classical music, which in those classical circles wasn't very common. We had the same agenda."
Haque has brought many important musicians to DeKalb either to perform at The House Café or give guest recitals NIU would not have been able to acquire alone.
The "Deranged French Hornist," a nickname given to Amram by Kerouac, was a gift to all the students who took the opportunity to see a world-renowned cultural figure brought to a town that's not likely to see such musical royalty very often.
© 2005 Northern Star. All Rights Reserved.
Fighting for its niche in the cultural marketplace, Symphony Silicon Valley could hang on and play it safe, trotting out warhorses by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Dvorak and little else. This weekend it took a risk: It played symphonic jazz and it seemed all charged up. It was one of the orchestra's best programs yet.
Before Saturday night's first downbeat, the California Theatre's stage was as congested as crosstown streets at rush hour in Manhattan. A jazz quintet faced the audience. A few paces back stood guest conductor Paul Polivnick, with a woodwind quintet and a brass quintet seated in half-moon formation around him. Pushing back to the walls behind them were an additional 75 players, including a battery of percussionists.
Then came the music, bracing and bluesy, sharp-edged yet billowing with song. It was David Amram's "Triple Concerto," a work that bridges the 74-year-old composer's lifelong commitment to jazz, symphonic music (think Stravinsky, Bartok, Hindemith), and so-called "world music," especially from the Middle East. The three quintets are the "soloists" and Amram, a let's-go-crazy improviser, was originally to have been the pianist in the jazz quintet as well as the Pakistani flute soloist in the final cadenza.
He didn't make it to SSV's performances (the program repeated Sunday) due to another commitment; the Guiness Jazz Festival in cork Ireland was honoring Amram, whose resumé includes collaborations with Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk. He deserves the honor. But his absence didn't matter much. This was Polivnick's fourth stint as guest conductor with the orchestra and he has clearly established a rapport with the players. With less than a week of rehearsals, he managed to tame this beast of a piece; the orchestra gave it a surging performance. And the soloists -- watch out.
Alto saxophonist Bill Trimble, in a farewell performance (he is leaving the area after 38 years as first-call saxophonist with SSV and the old San Jose Symphony), was beguiling: pearly-toned and blues-tinged.
Baritone saxophonist Aaron Lington was revelatory. He obviously relishes the beautiful, blustery bark of his instrument and his solos careened through the music, rubbing against the orchestra. If there were any problems, it had to do with the California.
A mid-sized hall with a "hot" acoustic, it was at times so swamped with sound that hearing the work's intricacies was difficult. The playing seemed spot-on. Zipping solos rocked against one another in the woodwind and brass quintets, creating seesaw tension. The jazz rhythm section was on-the-money, helping the orchestra swirl through the jazz waltz and elegant, midnight-in-Manhattan melodies of the first two movements. They bear Mingus' mark, at once delicate and blustery.
The third movement is inspired by Egyptian and Armenian rhythm and melody, but pays homage to lots of traditions: South Asian, Celtic, klezmer, even American Indian. In the past, his Pakistani flute solos in this movement have been go-for-broke affairs -- happy, spirited showmanship. So you had to feel sorry for piccolo specialist Mimi Carlson as she walked on stage to take his place.
But no sympathy was necessary. Carlson filled the theater with wild over-blowing, buzzed notes, half-sung tones, and her own percussive accompaniment -- created by clacking the pads of her instrument's keys -- to the movement's dancing theme song. She was terrific.
After intermission, came music by Duke Ellington -- and a new conductor, Dennis Wilson, a virtuoso trombonist who spent years with Count Basie, Gillespie and others. Well-known locally for his work at the San Jose Jazz Festival, he was presumably brought in to lend idiomatic legitimacy to Ellington's breathtaking "Black, Brown, & Beige." That 1943 suite is ripe with blues feeling, proud strutting rhythms, and dignified African-American church sounds. It was warming just to hear Ellington's outrageously gorgeous melodies.
The program closed with Polivnick returning for Gershwin's "An American in Paris." This one sparkled, mostly. Lit up with solos by concertmaster Robin Mayforth and principal trumpeter Jim Dooley, it sent the audience happily packing. Symphonic jazz -- not too much of a risk, after all.
Using music and oral narrative, Embassy-sponsored composer/author David Amram wove an engaging tale of American cultural diversity in a stage-light centerpiece performance to kick off the 26th annual conference of the Portuguese Association of Anglo-American Studies in Braga, Portugal on April 21.
Under the theme "50 Years of Excellence and Idealism," Amram used himself as an example to show the audience of approximately 350 how thousands of America's best and most influential artistic creators impacted the evolution of American culture in the last half of the 20th century. Augmenting his stories with instruments, such as the piano, flute, Arab drums and Hindu tabla, he provided the captivated American Studies Conference audience with a dynamic and real representation of the beauty of American culture.
In response to popular acclaim form conferees, Amram agreed to a second performance April 23 featuring different vignettes and incorporating a short film. The second performance was attended be over 200 conferees.
Amram's interventions generated praise from numerous participants, particularly influential American Studies scholars, who congratulated the Embassy for sponsoring this colorful artist and conversationalist.
There's no doubt that much of the music pumped out by multinational record companies is crap. It's pre-packaged musical junk food, a steady diet of which has given listeners a sort creative of acid-reflux disease, kind of like what Ashlee Simpson uses as an excuse for lip-synching. If you want good music these days, you're not going to find it on MTV or on one of Clear Channel's innumerable radio stations. You've got to dig around for it, ya dig?
But the eternal search for soulful sounds can often lead to gems right in your own backyard. During the first weekend of the month, the Seacoast Guitar Society will host its second annual guitar festival, featuring performances by some of the country's best talent, including Harvey Reid, Chris Kleeman, Andrew Calhoun and others.
Two weeks later, Larry Simon, Groove Bacteria front man and host of Beat Night at the Press Room, will gather the region's jazz musicians and poets together for Jazzmouth, one of the rare jazz-poetry festivals in the nation. Festival organizers like Reid and Simon aren't putting on these shows for riches or accolades. They're doing it to celebrate local artists, save music from mediocrity and call attention to a pair of art forms that are undeservedly on the fringes of mainstream music.
the second annual Seacoast Guitar Festival brings the best back home
by Keith Demanche
There are as many ways to play guitar as there are fingers in the world, and almost as many types and incarnations of the stringed instrument: banjo, mandolin, dulcimer, bass, acoustic and electric guitar, harp guitar, lute, dobro and on and on. The Seacoast Guitar Society's second annual festival plays host to eight performers who have played not only their fair share of the many varied guitars, but have also made names for themselves with their distinctive style and skill. It isn't often so many devotees to craft are brought together in Portsmouth for one event. There are well over 200 years of combined guitar mastery and knowledge on display. From the poetic stylings and considerable guitar skills of Andrew Calhoun to the innovative arrangements and lively performances of Mary Flower, there will be guitar wizards of all stripes performing.
"It's hard for people to believe that guitarists who usually play for 100 people in a coffeehouse are often a lot better players than even the best-known popular guitarists," said Reid, a national fingerpicking champion in his own right. "Eric Clapton and John Mayer are good guitarists, for example, but they can't even come close to doing the kinds of things Stephen Bennett does with a guitar. It's just the way it is. There is no merit system in the music business, and the cream does not float to the top."
a guitar society
Harvey Reid wants to use the skills and knowledge he's gained as a musician to make the Seacoast community a better place. "Instead of picking up trash on the beach, I put on concerts and workshops," he said. The Seacoast Guitar Society is his way of reaching out and giving back. And while musicians often gather to support each other and non-profits often put on shows, Reid wants his efforts to "promote and preserve guitar music," as the organization's mission states, not just raise money.
Is guitar music in danger of disappearing? Not really, as a listen to the radio can assure, but "America is a fame-driven place," Reid said, "and things in the mass-merchandised and mass-entertainment world tend to overwhelm things on the fringes. The big entertainment companies spend millions, maybe billions, promoting and selling their music, and it makes sense that some people like me have to drink some strong coffee and beat the drum for the lesser-known but artistically valid forms of music."
As part of the "below the radar" arts scene, Reid and co-producer Joyce Andersen (no slouch on the six-string herself) play festivals and concerts around the country and meet a lot of other artists they figure their friends at home would want to hear. How better to introduce them than by having a two-day guitar party? By really focusing on guitar playing skills as a criteria, they winnowed down a list of exceptional players. Andersen picks the lineup for Friday, which is songwriter night, and Reid chooses the lineup for Saturday, guitar night. To that end, the performers for this year's event are not only people they respect and enjoy seeing perform, but players who have the chops to enthrall an audience from opening note to grand finale.
playing is not just fun and games
"Music is like cooking because it always takes different ingredients to make a particular dish, just like playing a particular song," said Chris Kleeman, the headliner on Saturday night. "Some of my songs like to be served fried, some grilled, some spicy, some oven baked... some slow-cooked, and the ingredients are always a little different." Kleeman has played with legends like Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor, and blues maestro B.B. King produced Kleeman's debut album in 1970. He started playing when he was about 15, learning on a Gretsch electric and moving up to a Martin D-18 when he was 17 and not looking back. Though he's been on hiatus for some time, becoming known for his new role of chef, he found he couldn't resist the pull of the stage.
"I'm never happier than when I'm spanking the hell out of my 12-string or my National steel, and hearing and feeling the harmonic structure and overtones of the music. The acoustic groove is my absolute favorite. I'm drawn by the harmonic nature of the beast," Kleeman said. All of the festival's performers share that love of craft, and the zealous focus on minutiae that comes from serious immersion. When someone devotes their life to playing guitar, there's nothing too small or too difficult for them to focus on. Everyone has their own specialty, their own "thing," and self-set standards are pretty high.
"I'm a recent fiddle player, maybe 10 years... still in the awkward stage," said Friday night headliner Steve Gillette, a preeminent singer/songwriter whose songs have been recorded by the likes of Garth Brooks, Linda Ronstadt and Waylon Jennings. "I'm fond of saying that I quit the music business to become a songwriter, and I believe there's much more to learn." With his wife, Cindy Mangsen, he tries to push his limits to keep music stimulating, including a musical adaptation of a Mark Twain story, in between practicing the fiddle. "Someday, I hope to own a fine violin," he said, "I suspect that a 200-year-old Italian instrument might have that special voice I could grow into."
For Saturday night headliner Stephen Bennett, mastery of an instrument is not enough. He's won both the fingerpicking and flatpicking national titles on guitar, but is best known for his wizardry on the harp guitar, an asymmetrical beast that has 14 strings and an extra sound hole. The songs that come from his one instrument need to be seen to be believed. Reid, too, dabbles in a variety of stringed instruments. "Certain songs I like to play on mandolin or banjo or autoharp, but I usually play those instruments for a while and come home to the guitar," he said. "It is versatile and portable, and I can use it to accompany all manner of songs."
For Kleeman, who focuses on guitar, writing is the addiction instead of the instrument, and the instrumental song is the best way to express himself. "A song with lyrics is harder for me, as I'm always too critical of the words. But I always give an instrumental a title you can talk about, make jokes about, or just make conversation about my life and how it relates to the song." "Writing an instrumental is a whole different animal," agreed Reid. "It can take several hundred hours to write a guitar instrumental work. It can take a while to write a song (with lyrics), but instrumental music is composing, and often involves developing new techniques. It can take months to develop the skills and find the notes in a major work for guitar." Gillette and co-writer Mangsen spend months in the process of making drafts of songs for each other as well, tweaking and polishing the tunes until they feel just right. "I need to hear from the still, small voice, that faint, internal compass, and that does take some solitude and some time," Gillette said. But as for-hire songwriters, they need to include lyrics for their material and find it works best if both collaborators contribute to the music and the words to find the right atmosphere and emotion, not to mention some good guitar licks.
Look for frenzied fingers, laughs and high-level talent this weekend. With two nights of music and as many varied styles as will be showcased, there really is something for everyone. And for the techie set, there will be a free workshop with Harvey Reid on Thursday demonstrating and comparing the various acoustic instrument amplification technologies available today. The workshop will be held from 6-8 p.m. at Acoustic Outfitters, 72 Portsmouth Ave., Stratham Plaza, Stratham (603-778-9711).Seacoast Guitar Society Second Annual Seacoast Guitar Festival
The capo is a device used to shorten the neck of a guitar, so to speak, and raise the pitch of what is played. The very first capo was invented in the mid 1700s. "Both the yoke capo with screw and the wooden Spanish capo cejilla were invented in the late 1700s. The yoke capo still looks the same, and the Spanish capo is still in use by Flamenco guitarists," notes the Sterner Capo Museum Web site (web.telia.com/~u86505074/capomuseum).
There are about 130 capo patents on the books, but very few reach the mainstream market. Probably the best capo invention was the W.H. Russel elastic capo, which is still in widespread use today after more than 70 years. Since then, capos have been fashioned out of plastic, held with clamps, screws and even Velcro, and designed for more and more eccentric styles.
There is even at least one capo invented by a Seacoast resident, the one and only Harvey Reid. "The partial capo is a new tool for doing cool things with the guitar. It changes the landscape of what's possible, very much like changing the tuning of the instrument but different." It uses moveable rubber stoppers at each of the string locations to hold down a string or let it ring. Basically, it gives the player an extra hand.
"Alternate tuning" is when a guitar is tuned to something other than "standard tuning," which is E A D G B E, from fattest string to thinnest. Alternate tuning is not a new concept. Its use can be documented as far back as the 1700s. Even before guitars had six strings, when they had either four or five, variations on the A D G B E tuning were used. Why is standard tuning standard? Well, because it is, that's why. And it sounds nice. Alternate tunings range from the somewhat obvious "open tuning," which is when the guitar is tuned to play a chord when strummed, such as Open C, or Open D, to the weird: A A D G C D on Peter Mulvey's "Rapture" for instance. Many, many players use different tunings today to make complex fingering easier or to get a personal sound. There are also cool regional names for these different tunings: sebastopol, vestapol, sawmill, slack-key and cross-note, to name a few. So the next time you find a tuning you like, name it and tell your friends!
the beat goes on
Jazzmouth celebrates poetry, jazz and all things hep
by Larry Clow
The beat spirit as we know it-smoky Manhattan bars, impromptu jazz riffs and bursts of poetry that seem to spring forth from the ether, perfectly formed and complementary to each other, only to dissipate fully and forever after the last notes and syllables fall into silence-got its official start almost 50 years ago at the Brata Art Gallery in New York. It was October 1957, and for its "founders," musician David Amram and author Jack Kerouac, it wasn't a new movement or genre or anything out of the ordinary. It was music. It was poetry. It just was. "Phillip Lamntia had the idea of calling it 'jazz poetry trio' because they wanted to call it something. It was just something we did. We didn't want to call it anything," Amram said in a recent interview with The Wire.
That "something" was the fusion of Kerouac's writing and Amram's music. It started out at "parties, park benches, wherever we were," Amram said, and after the performance at the Barta Gallery, it moved to Circle In The Square, a club in downtown New York. With only a few flyers and some word-of-mouth advertisement, the performances at Circle In The Square created such a buzz that it became the "official entertainment" at the club and, shortly after that, a discarded fad.
"(It was) something being done so much that any bar or any place that would have a jazz group... would have someone get up and start screaming into the mike and the band would play 'I've Got Rhythm' or 'Cherokee' as fast as they could," Amram said. It's been almost a half-century since those first performances in New York. Now jazz-poetry is coming to Portsmouth in a big way with Jazzmouth, the Seacoast's first jazz and poetry festival, April 14-17. Amram will be on hand to perform, along with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Charles Simic and a host of local talent.
The festival got its start because there is nothing else quite like it in the region, said local musician Larry Simon. He's been producing, hosting and playing at Beat Night at the Press Room every month for the last five years and, in doing so, has met "tons of poets and musicians... that are really sensitive to working" together.
"It seemed like a natural thing to celebrate all this with a festival," said Simon. While Portsmouth boasts other music events, including a summer blues festival and the annual Tommy Gallant Jazz Festival, Simon said those festivals, while cool, aren't entirely inclusive of the Seacoast's jazz and poetry community.
"There's a lot to celebrate in this community artistically, and this festival does that," he said. "I really wanted to celebrate in a large way...Seacoast jazz and poetry." Bruce Pingree, general manager of the Press Room and one of the organizers of the Portsmouth Blues Festival, is also a driving force behind Jazzmouth. Apart from the yearly Kerouac celebrations in Lowell, Mass., and Beat Night, there aren't many events in the state, or even the country, which celebrate poetry and jazz.
"There's nothing like this," he said. "It's more of an eclectic sort of thing, which is the reason why we're doing it."
Simon has been a jazz fan since the age of 14, when he started listening to artists like John Coltrane and Miles Davis.
"Even as a young kid, for whatever reason, I would be fascinated by stuff that wasn't in the mainstream pop culture. I was a hippie kid and very proud of that," he said. "A lot of the artists that you heard about that were also anti-establishment were the Beat poets and jazz players."
Simon said jazz is like philosophy and, like the poetry of the Beats, it has serious depth that "resonates with people for mysterious reasons."
"It's pretty complicated stuff," he said. "A lot of pop music offers something else that might not be quite the same...for somebody who's being very philosophical and tearing things apart and digging deep and questioning things."
a jazz legend and Pulitzer poet
To jazz and poetry aficionados, the addition of Amram and Simic to the lineup may seem like a major coup, but for Simon, getting them to perform at the festival started with a few phone calls. Local poet John Grady, a former student of Simic's at the University of New Hampshire, called and asked him to perform. Though he rarely performs locally, the Yugoslavian-born poet, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The World Doesn't End: Prose Poems in 1990, turned out to be happy to oblige.
Simon had met Amram briefly a few years ago. "The amazing thing about Amram is that he's more accessible than your typical schmo walking down the street," Simon said. When it came time to organize the festival, Simon thought of him immediately.
"He is, of course, the guy who worked with the original Beat poets. If you're going to do something like this, he's the guy you want to get." Simon's not exaggerating when he says Amram is accessible. During his interview with The Wire, Amram discussed the philosophy behind poetry-jazz collaborations, his work with Jack Kerouac and where he thinks the Beat spirit is now while driving to the airport to catch a plane, only stopping the interview to go through security and board the plane.
The amalgamation of jazz and poetry hardly started with the Beats, Amram said. "We were continuing the bardic tradition, but in the jazz spirit," he said. "It was anybody collaborating with anyone else, always listening, always having respect, and never being aggressive and drowning the other person out. Jazz is all about harmony and spontaneity and surprise and making a situation better than it would be otherwise."
Amram said using that philosophy in collaborating with poets is "the nicest thing you can do," a tradition that he said Simon is upholding. "They say it makes them feel like they're reading it even better than if they were reading it by themselves," he said.
By far, Amram's favorite collaborator was Jack Kerouac. The two were close friends and performed together frequently, working together on Pull My Daisy, a 1959 film about the Beats that Kerouc narrated and which features a score composed by Amram. Those collaborations were the subject of Amram's 2002 book "Offbeat."
"I had more fun with (Kerouac)," he said. "We were so in tune. We never rehearsed and everything always came out perfectly."
clichés and the artistic spirit Although known for their work with jazz musicians, visual artists and other members of the cultural scene, Kerouac and the Beats were also famous for their excesses. But Amram is quick to dismiss the typical Beat stereotypes of excessive drinking and drugging as a means to achieve artistic expression, which he says has dragged down many artists.
"We've been limited by the clich?? of the torture and misery of the life of an artist being the most important thing, rather than the glory of their work," he said. "There's really a misapprehension that somehow...that was going to give you some kind of spirituality." That kind of intangible artistic high that Amram so often experienced with Kerouac and other collaborators can only be achieved through dedication, creativity and working with other artists, something that he hopes to bring to Jazzmouth.
"It was a remarkable period and a remarkable group of people," he said. "I hope in Portsmouth what we can do is inspire maybe some high school kids and maybe their grandparents to go home and finish making that painting, write that poem, and encourage them to be creative."Jazzmouth
Thursday, April 14
Jazzmouth kicks off with a screening of Pull My Daisy and Poetry in Motion at 7 p.m. at The Music Hall. David Amram will be on hand to introduce Pull My Daisy, a 1959 film about the Beats that Jack Kerouac wrote the narration for and Amram scored. Poetry in Motion is a 1982 film featuring a range of poets, from William S. Burroughs and Amiri Baraka to Jim Carroll and Tom Waits. Before and between the shows, Larry Simon and Groove Bacteria will perform.
Friday, April 15
The evening starts with poetry sponsored by the Portsmouth Poet Laureate Program. Poets Jennifer Belkus, Walter Butts, Robert Dunn, Diana Durham, Charles Pratt and Maren Tirabassi will read their works at Caf?? Espresso, 800 Islington St., in Portsmouth, from 6 to 8 p.m. Portsmouth Poet Laureate John Perrault will host the event. Later that night, the Press Room will host the Jazzmouth Jazzfest. Bruce Pingree will host the event, with artists to be announced. The bebop starts at 9 p.m. at the Press Room, 77 Daniel St., Portsmouth.
Saturday, April 16
Saturday is the busiest day of Jazzmouth, with Young Writers' Beat Night at RiverRun Bookstore, 7 Commercial Alley, Portsmouth, from 11 a.m. to noon. Area high school writers will read their own works at the event.
That afternoon, Neil English and the New Hampshire Writers' Project will host the workshop "Performance Poetry: Liberating the Voice Within" at 1 p.m. at the South Church, 292 State St., Portsmouth. There is a $12 workshop fee, payable at the door; for more information, call the New Hampshire Writers' Project at 603-314-7980. The day will be capped off at 8 p.m. with the Super Beat Night Extravaganza at the South Church. David Amram, Charles Simic, the Larry Simon Quintet and According to My Dream, a unique music-spoken word band will perform, along with 15 of the Seacoast's poets. Admission is $12 at the door, $11 in advance at Bull Moose Music and $10 in advance at the Press Room.
Sunday, April 17
Jazzmouth winds down with an intimate Poetry & Jazz Brunch at 11:30 a.m. at the Library Restaurant, 401 State St., Portsmouth. Larry Simon and Groove Bacteria will provide music while poets Diedre Randall, Mickey Blanchette, Mark DeCarteret, Pat Parnell and others dish out some fresh morsels of poetry.
When George Plimpton wrote that "every profession should have its Amram," referring to jazz and classical composer David Amram's inexhaustible energy and enthusiasm, he was expressing a wishful thought. As Saturday night's lecture/concert at the Tifereth Israel Congregation in Northwest demonstrated, Amram is one of a kind.
The theme, "Jewish Roots in the Art Form Called Jazz," served as a broad outline for an extended suite of sorts, at once enlightening, entertaining and autobiographical. Amram and his dexterous trio mates -- bassist John DeWitt and percussionist Kevin Twigg -- began by illustrating how ancient prayer modes relate to modern jazz, and concluded by encouraging the audience to sing along, in Mandarin no less, on a talking blues.
Now 74, Amram championed ethnic music decades before the term "world beat" was coined, and his zeal for illustrating commonalities -- "purity of intent and an exquisite choice of notes" -- remains undiminished. He played the oboe-like shanai, piano, French horn, dumbek, tambourine and other instruments, as the focus shifted from a Sephardic melody to Gershwin's "Summertime" to excerpts from Amram-penned scores for both film ("Splendor in the Grass") and theater ("After the Fall"). "Pull My Daisy" offered a delightful, if poorly amplified, diversion -- a Beat-era reminder of Amram's collaborations with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg.
Popping up often were colorful anecdotes concerning Amram's early jazz adventures in Washington (he once served Charlie Parker borscht at his basement apartment on 16th Street), and subsequent encounters with Arthur Miller, Elia Kazan, Warren Beatty and a host of jazz greats. A remarkable life, a memorable evening.