Notable composer brings mix of music to town


— Composer David Amram has fun as a musician and composer. In fact, it's a philosophy he's developed after influences from Jack Kerouac to Dizzy Gillespie to Willie Nelson.

But Amram describes his early memories of his calling to have fun by recounting two incidences from 1941. That year, the 11-year-old Amram saw Ted Williams; it was the season the baseball legend batted .400.

"I saw Ted Williams during his .400 season and I just remember how much fun the players were having," he said.

That just happened to be the same year Amram's uncle took him to see the Duke Ellington Orchestra, and he recalled being "reawakened" by how much fun Ellington and his players were having on stage.

Both men are legends, and Amram, 72, now a certifiable legend himself, said seeing their joy was a great influence on him.

"That's what I'm trying to bring," Amram said about his concerts in Steamboat Springs next week.

He plays two shows on Tuesday one in the afternoon for children and one in the evening for the family. The children's element of his show is important.

"In addition to having fun, the children also are going to get a chance to see older people really enjoying playing music," he said.

Amram is truly a unique fellow, with an infectious, nonstop personality. He's also a classically trained composer who has written 100 orchestral and chamber works, two operas, and early in his career, scores for theater and films, including "Splendor in the Grass" and "The Manchurian Candidate." He also served as Leonard Bernstein's first resident composer with the New York Philharmonic.

However, Amram has never been afraid to step out of the classical role and explore other musical traditions.

"I had a choice of having writer's block, trying to write what you were suppose to write or continuing to enrich myself as a musician by exploring other types of music," he said.

Jamming with jazz greats Gillespie and Charlie Parker played into this idea.

"What they have instilled in me is to look to where the music comes from," he said.

Follow traditions and then "create something new that reflects that tradition."

Amram plays the French horn, piano, guitar, numerous flutes and whistles, percussion and a variety of folkloric instruments from 25 countries.

Along with jamming with Gillespie and Parker, Amram has worked with Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus, Dustin Hoffman, Thelonius Monk, Willie Nelson, Betty Carter, Odetta, Charlie Parker, Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller and Tito Puente.

His latest achievement is a book recounting his experiences with inventing jazz poetry with beat writing legend Kerouac, called "Collaborating with Kerouac."

He will sign copies of his book at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday.

During the late '50s, Amram was a common face around the beat hipster in New York.

Kerouac and Amram performed improvised sets of music and poetry, with Amram blowing his French horn and Kerouac rapping over top. The first jazz poetry performance in New York was Amram and Kerouac doing their act in December 1957 at the Brata Art Gallery. Later that year, Amram collaborated in the silent film "Pull My Daisies" with Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Neal Cassidy, Peter Orlovsky and Larry River. Amram wrote the music to the movie, with Kerouac improvising on the narration.

This mix of poetry and music will be performed in Steamboat, with locals reading work by Kerouac over Amram's music. In fact, in some sense, Amram's show will be a reflection of his career, with jazz, folk, Latin and country music as well as spoken word.


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