David Amram

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Celebrated Musician and Composer David Amram visits for Neal Cassady Celebration

:: David Amram ::
:: 2nd annual Neal Cassady Birthday Celeb. @  Mercury Café :: February 4 ::
:: Dazzle Jazz :: February 5 ::
:: Grusin Music Hall @ CU Boulder ::
:: February 8 ::

By Timothy Dwenger

At 80 years old, David Amram is a true treasure to the world of music. Having transcended and blended artistic genres, Amram has touched the lives of everyone from zoned out “beats” to the most discerning of symphony patrons. He is a supremely talented and very lucky individual who can count among his friends legendary literary figures like Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Hunter S. Thompson, and Allen Ginsberg; jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Wynton Marsalis; folk music giants like Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Willie Nelson, and actors like Bill Cosby and Johnny Depp.

While he is not one to name drop, it’s nearly impossible for him to talk about his life without name checking many of the twentieth century’s greatest artists. He worked with Langston Hughes on the cantata “Let Us Remember,” was chosen by Arthur Miller to compose music for several of his plays, played alongside Thelonious Monk, and was selected by Leonard Bernstein to be the first Composer in Residence for the New York Philharmonic.

Though he began studying music at a young age, the stage was set for this astonishing career when, in 1952, Amram met Dizzy Gillespie and went on to play with some of the all-time great jazz men. He worked and became close friends with Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus and more as he made a name for himself as one of the first jazz French horn players who focused on improvisation.

After a stint in Europe as part of the 7th Army Symphony Orchestra, Amram returned to New York where, in 1956, he met Jack Kerouac and soon found himself an integral part of a crowd of cutting edge artists who were later labeled as beatniks. While Amram rejects the term, he told The Marquee in a recent interview that “we were part of a much larger picture of jazz musicians, poets, painters, artists, authors and regular everyday people who were interested in something besides living in a house with a white picket fence.” He illustrated his view by pointing to a 1957 event where he was instrumental in laying the groundwork for hip-hop when he accompanied Kerouac on piano during the first-ever jazz poetry reading in the East Village.

The two remained friends for the remainder of Kerouac’s life and when Amram returns to the Front Range for a series of performances this month, he will begin with an evening dedicated to celebrating the 85th birthday of mutual friend, Neal Cassady. While Cassady, who spent a large part of his adolescence in Denver, is widely known for inspiring the character of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac’s novel On The Road, he was also a skilled writer who is credited with helping to mold Kerouac’s signature writing style.

The celebration, put together by Colorado beat historian Mark Bliesener (also known as the Band Guru), will feature entertainment and readings from Amram, Neal’s son John Allan Cassady, daughter Jami Cassady and several other individuals connected to Cassady’s legacy.  “We are going to focus the event on Neal the muse, because he was such a tremendous muse and friend to Kerouac, Hunter Thompson, Allen Ginsberg, and the list goes on,” Bliesener said when The Marquee caught up with him in the midst of organizing the event. “The intent is to wake people up to this incredible pop culture icon that came from Denver and is very much Denver.”

At the celebration, Amram will share some stories about Cassady and perform his song “Pull My Daisy” from the classic beat film of the same name. In addition to composing the score, Amram starred in the film, which Kerouac wrote based on an evening in Cassady’s life. The song features lyrics by Kerouac, Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and, when he performs it live, an extended rap which Amram improvises on the spot. “Jack [Kerouac] and myself and all of us back in the day used to scat-rap; we would just make stuff up on the spot,” he said. “Each time I do ‘Pull My Daisy’ today I make up different things about wherever I am or about the event. Improvising on the spot is scarcely anything new. Miles [Davis] used to say whenever somebody asked him to play the same solos he did in the ’50s, ‘I’m not a jukebox,’ so he would do something different and by the time people figured out what he was doing, he was doing something else. There are all these different ‘Pull My Daisy’s out there and it’s never the same.”

While his resume reads like an encyclopedia of music, it’s the accolades that his peers and critics have rained down on him over the years that may speak the loudest. Wynton Marsalis called him “a godsend to those who believe in the power of music to change lives and to inspire;” The Washington Post declared him “one of the most versatile and skilled musicians America has ever produced,” and The Boston Globe dubbed him “The Renaissance Man of American Music.”  Simply put, Amram is the embodiment of the melting pot of American musical culture and we can only hope that his fire continues to burn for years to come.

:: David Amram ::

:: 2nd annual Neal Cassady Birthday Celeb. @ Mercury Café :: February 4 ::

:: Dazzle Jazz :: February 5 ::

:: Grusin Music Hall @ CU Boulder ::

:: February 8 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• Aaron Copland

• Dizzy Gillespie

• Jack Kerouac

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