This article originally appeared on Jazz Police.
The Jazz Forum in Tarrytown, NY celebrated yet another marvelous birthday with David Amram & Friends. This time, it was Amram’s 90th birthday, with a November 14 live-streamed set. Although the anniversary of Amram’s birth actually falls on November 17, these early festivities were right on time!
David Amram has been on the music scene since the early 1950’s, starting as a French horn player in the National Symphony Orchestra. He moved to New York City in 1955 and played a variety of instruments in the legendary jazz bands of Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, and Oscar Pettiford.
In 1957, he created and performed in the first ever jazz/poetry readings in New York City with novelist Jack Kerouac, a close friend with whom Amram collaborated artistically for over 12 years, including working together on the film Pull My Daisy. David composed the scores for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park from 1956-1967, and he premiered his comic opera 12th Night with Papp’s libretto in 1968. He also wrote a second opera, The Final Ingredient, An Opera of the Holocaust, for ABC Television in 1965. David was the first composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic, chosen by Leonard Bernstein in 1966. Amram composed the stunning and memorable score for The Manchurian Candidate, and the soundtracks for other celebrated films.
He has collaborated as a composer with a list of luminaries that includes Arthur Miller, Eugene Ormandy, Elia Kazan, Sir James Galway, Langston Hughes and Jacques D´Amboise, and as a musician with Thelonious Monk, Hunter S. Thompson, Dizzy Gillespie, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Betty Carter, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Paquito D’Rivera, Tito Puente, and Jerry Jeff Walker. Believe it or not, this is just a partial list of David Amram’s varied and prolific collaborations and musical accomplishments.
Amram has traveled the world extensively, working as a musician and a conductor in over thirty-five countries, including Cuba, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, Israel, Latvia, and China. He also regularly crisscrosses the United States and Canada. At 90, David Amram is still going strong, and he is a tour de force in the jazz world. He is a living embodiment of inspiration and positivity, something the world really needs now, more than ever!
The celebration started with Jazz Forum owner and musician Mark Morganelli introducing Renaissance Man, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and bop raconteur, David Amram, who expressed his appreciation for being there. Amram was joined by Rene Hart on acoustic bass, Kevin Twigg on drums, Adam Amram on congas, Elliot Pepper on bongos, and saxophonist Erik Lawrence. The music began with a delightful version of Sonny Rollins’ “St. Thomas.” Next came a moving, syncopated waltz, “After The Ball.” David welcomed people who were tuning in all over the world, and he joked that due to the modern internet, “Even people from outer space are listening!” Next came Amram’s title song from the soundtrack of the Elia Kazan-directed film Splendor in the Grass, which featured an Oscar-nominated performance by Natalie Wood, and marked the screen debut of Warren Beatty.
Amram reminisced about listening to Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln at a nearly empty club one night at 2:00 in the morning, and how great an experience it was. Although there were only a handful of people in the audience, David said that no matter how many people you are playing for, it’s always worthwhile and wonderful. Amram delivered a stirring vocal and piano rendition of “When I’m Gone” by Phil Ochs. He then performed a beautiful dedication to conga and bongo master Cándido Camero, whom he met while playing with Charles Mingus. Amram recalled how Cándido had the greatest sense of humor, and he was always the kindest person to everyone. A swinging rendition of Billy Strayhorn’s “Take the ‘A’ Train” had a distinct Latin flavor and great percussive solos, especially by David’s son Adam. Saxophonist Erik Lawrence did double duty of spoken word and playing the sax on Jack Kerouac’s, “Children of the American Bop Night.” Amram amusingly spoke about what he called the “University of Hang-out-ology,” and he encouraged everyone to follow their dreams, whatever they are. Mark Morganelli sat in with his trumpet on “Pull My Daisy,” which David introduced with a clever spoken word stream-of-consciousness, and Morganelli added an outstanding and evocative solo.
Near the end of the concert, Amram incorporated a singing introduction of the other band members, and in turn each performed expressive solos after they were introduced. Drummer Kevin Twigg even added a riff on the glockenspiel. David once again took up his French horn, and the group jammed like nobody’s business, with some signature Amram scatting at the end! For their encore, David said the song “What a Wonderful World” is dedicated to “that spirit of music that we all share!” His unique improvisation included the line, “You’re only as old as you make other people feel!” It was indeed a wonderful finish to a night in tribute to a much-deserving jazz icon.
Watching David Amram is seeing a legend in action. He combines his extensive experience and musicology with his extraordinary enthusiasm and youthful exuberance! We should all strive to be as joy-filled as Amram is at 90!
This event was part of ArtsWestchester, an organization in New York’s Westchester County that is dedicated to making the arts accessible to every sector of society and offering public art to the landscape and cityscape. ArtsWestchester funds concerts, exhibitions, and plays, and it builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives.
The Jazz Forum nightclub was founded in 2017 by Mark Morganelli and his wife, Ellen Prior, bringing the best music to Westchester and the surrounding tri-state area in the only dedicated jazz club in the county. From the time the club opened, Jazz Forum has featured many of the top names in jazz, as well as up-and-coming artists, including Barry Harris, Roy Hargrove, T.S. Monk, Joey Alexander, Christian Sands, Paquito D’Rivera, George Coleman, Catherine Russell, Monty Alexander, Gary Smulyan, Ann Hampton Calloway, Ravi Coltrane, Louis Hayes, Jeremy Pelt, Jon Faddis, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Donald Harrison, Roberta Gambarini, Randy Brecker, the Brubeck Brothers, Vincent Herring, Joey DeFrancesco, Marquis Hill, John Pizzarelli, The Royal Bopsters featuring Sheila Jordan, Nilson Matta, Wallace Roney, and Toshiko Akiyoshi. The club also features Brazilian Jazz on Sundays.
Due to all the restrictions of Covid-19, for the past year, the Jazz Forum Arts organization has been regularly presenting online concerts and other events, including Jitterbugs: Jazz for Kids, and Facebook Live Streams from the Jazz Forum. They have also live-streamed concerts from various artists’ homes, as well as hosting online jam sessions. They are doing a wonderful job of keeping the music coming to the public, despite all the obstacles.
For more information about the Jazz Forum nightclub or Jazz Forum Arts, go to: www.jazzforumarts.org.