David Amram in the News

Articles from 2017
JAZZ VIEWS - Online, August, 2017

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From JAZZ VIEWS - OnlineTop
August, 2017
DAVID AMRAM - A Life In Music & Film

Anyone who has worked with Jack Kerouac, Charles Mingus, Leonard Bernstein and Arthur Miller is bound to have something interesting to say. Throw in Natalie Wood, Thelonious Monk, Elia Kazan. Frank Sinatra, Carmell Jones and Paul Horn and Pete Seeger. And you know that you are dealing with a super eclectic someone whose creativity knows no boundaries and a stylish French horn player to boot. He has composed over 100 orchestral and chamber works and written two operas. He has written a well-regarded book on Jack Kerouac. His theatre and film scores include the classic movies ‘Splendor In The Grass’ and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’. Jazz has always been a part of his life but not the only part.

Where do we start?

In the present. I have a new piece called ‘Partners’ which will celebrate the partnership of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, Lester Young and Billie Holiday, Machito Grillo and Celia Cruz. These three movements of the double concerto ‘Partners’ celebrate the spirit of the different genres of music that these three groups of partners created. The first movement is a musical toast to the partnership formed when Woody Guthrie met a young Pete Seeger. Pete dropped out of Harvard and dropped in on life with Woody, and their partnership created the foundation of what we now celebrate as American folk music with a strong touch of World music added.

The second movement is an homage to the timeless music resulting from the partnership of saxophonist Lester Young (Prez)and singer Billie Holiday (Lady Day). What they created together remains a hallmark in the history of jazz.

The third movement is a tribute to Machito, the Cuban band leader who brought the wealth of Afro-Cuban music here in the thirties and his vocalist and musical collaborator Celia Cruz, whose unique vocal style remains a model for singers and musicians of every genre of music to aspire to. Due to their artistry, Afro-Cuban music is today, along with jazz, and folk music, more appreciated than ever.

Are you creating music in their styles?

I composed music inspired by the spirit of their collaborations. The spirit of their partnerships was what inspired me to write this piece as a double concerto for violin and cello. I was lucky enough to know all of these six artists who contributed so much to a renewed appreciation of all music from the heart which was built to last. The music which they created doesn't need any embellishment. It was and remains perfect, so I used the spirit of what they created as a point of departure. The music which they embraced and created is already “classical” as well as classic. The second piece I am working on is a string orchestra transcription of my ‘Greenwich Village Portraits for alto saxophone and piano’ to be premiered in this new orchestral version in February of 2018, conducted by Bruce Hangen with soloist Ken Radnofsky, the classical saxophone master who premiered this piece in its original version for saxophone and piano. It will also be recorded in 2018!

I know you ‘acted’ in Pull My Daisy. I hear you are going to act again?

Oscar winning actress Estelle Parsons invited me to be in a production of Chekov’s Uncle Vanya which is being put together by the Actors Studio. We have already had preliminary rehearsals and performances to prepare for the first public performances this coming November in the first two weekends of November. I’ll also be providing music, which is part of my role of Telegin, an old washed up musician who comes around Uncle Vanya’s country home and free loads!! (Type casting?)

After 65 years of being in the company of some of the best stage actors in the world as a composer, it is a thrill to have been asked by Estelle Parsons to be working with her as a member of the cast. I know like everything else I have done in my life, people who are better than you always can teach you new lessons and help you to improve!!

Has the golden age of jazz gone?

No, the golden age is forming now. What we need is more of the yea saying spirit. Yea! I was a schizophrenic freak in the past being in the jazz and classical world. Now the barriers are down someone like Maria Schneider is happy in both worlds. People like Maria they have all the technical skills and the knowledge. The new generation does not see music as either/or.

What has changed?

The collapse of the recording industry has turned out to be a blessing. They have so much in their basements. The rise of new small companies will free music and create wider choice. There are things out now that in the past would never have seen the light of day. Small really is beautiful. It is a very exciting time for music. House concerts, chamber music started that way. We are in for a renaissance.

What have you enjoyed recently?

I love the early Miles stuff so much. Only two weeks ago I saw and heard some of his later work on YouTube and I realised that some of that could be beautiful too. It took me all this time to get to understand his exploring.

You had a group with George Barrow, didn’t you?

That’s right. George was a magnificent musician, tenor player. We were together with Mingus at the Bohemia. George had learned to box because he was lame and he wanted to defend himself. His tutor was Cus D’Amato who went on to manage Floyd Patterson. I used George on ‘Splendor In The Grass’. There is a great solo just before the stock market sequence.

You admired Monk?

Monk knew that Jazz would spread across the world. In 1955, he told me that it was going to the world and that is the way it should be. He was a cleverer musician than many realised and still don’t realise. There is a tape of him at Mintons where he is playing with Charlie Christian and he sounds like Fats Waller.

You were close to Kerouac. What was he like?

We did jazz and poetry together. Kerouac was a listener, a natural musician. When I was playing and he was listening I could sense his involvement. For me, working with him was like working with a musician. His description of, for instance, Slim Gaillard captures the spirit of the man and his music. The academic world did not like Jack. Today, in 2017, a whole new generation see Kerouac as a writer of enduring value and now in 2017, instead of imitating being a beatnik, today’s young people actually read his books!

Neal Cassady introduced him to a great deal of black life that he never found in Lowell. When Jack went to Harlem he understood. His vocabulary was so large that it could flow like a river. He was like a Dostoyevsky: salvation through suffering.

Just read Kerouac’s words:

‘Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and subtlety--leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother's woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days, coming out to watch the old swinging Basie and Benny Moten band that had Hot Lips Page and the rest Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonious Monk and madder Gillespie--Charlie Parker in his early days when he was flipped and walked around in a circle while playing. Somewhat younger than Lester Young, also from KC, that gloomy, saintly goof in whom the history of jazz was wrapped; for when he held his horn high and horizontal from his mouth he blew the greatest; and as his hair grew longer and he got lazier and stretched-out, his horn came down halfway; till it finally fell all the way and today as he wears his thick-soled shoes so that he can't feel the sidewalks of life his horn is held weakly against his chest, and he blows cool and easy getout phrases. Here were the children of the American bop night.’

Beautiful. You are now 86 what is the secret of your vitality?

Desperation and deadlines.

Read the original article in JAZZ VIEWS

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