The "Open Source" Composer: David Amram

Click to listen to Chris’s conversation with David Amram (30 minutes, 14 mb mp3)

david amram

David Amram at Brown’s grand piano

We are hanging out at the piano here with the composer and Renaissance man David Amram, who has hung with the best — starting with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and Jack Kerouac in the 1950’s. Each of those associates, as David observes in this conversation, was an encyclopedia of music in himself. From them he absorbed an ideal he is still practicing: not multi-cultural balancing or eclectic blending but “lovingly trying to learn some of the fundamentals about some of the most beautiful things that touch your heart.” Charlie Parker introduced him to the pentatonic music of Frederick Delius. Dizzy transmitted his taste for Bartok and Stravinsky. Kerouac, David testifies, could improvise well at the piano and had, above all, “a phenomenal ear.” Musicians “were always glad to see him, because we knew that meant at least one person would be listening.”

amram & co

(l to r) Larry Rivers, Kerouac, Amram, Allen Ginsberg & Gregory Corso (bk to camera)

David Amram is the quiet, almost anonymous listener in many photos with cultural icons — the guy next to Charles Mingus, or Leonard Bernstein, or Machito. David’s the one who didn’t burn out or go away, or change his style much. He is, not least, a fair embodiment of an “open source” ideal — an entirely distinctive voice who’s hard to imagine apart from the conversation that educated and produced him. At Brown, we have been listening to his work for ten days now. His movie scores (The Manchurian Candidate) and his chamber pieces can make a connection with Charles Ives or Dvorak or Alex North, with jazz and Jewish roots music. But it always sounds like David. We were blessed to get him at the keyboard. In an age of copyright madness, he reminds me that music is not something we human beings have, much less own. Music is something people do.

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  • jazzman

    Wow Chris, within 7 days you have inspired me to listen to my first 2 podcasts. David Amram is a unique national treasure and a creative tour de force. I first became aware of him when I discovered his book Vibrations while a student at Berklee College in 1972. His prose transmuted me into an armchair voyeur vicariously sharing the fascinating adventures he recounted. On a magical March Saturday evening in 1974, I had the good fortune to attend a performance of David Amram & Friends at Club Passim in Cambridge MA. He was second billed to Brock Walsh (a folksinger) about whom I remember next to nothing except his performance of I Can’t Get Started, but David was all that and more. After the set, my friend and I stayed to speak with him, and after brief exchange, we invited him to my Cambridge apartment for refreshments and to my delight, he and his ladyfriend accepted. The evening was a blur of revelry, stories (about bebop & the Beats as I remember,) and jamming – I on piano, he on a tin penny whistle (produced from his pocket) and my friend keeping time on a music stand and chair. I showed him a couple of my original compositions and he noodled them on the piano (quite well for sight reading) and politely complimented the works and offered a suggestion or two. They stayed until after 3 AM by which time we all were pleasantly spent (probably closer to wasted as I recall,) whereupon I drove them to his friend’s house and that was that. Over the following years, I occasionally heard squibs mentioning his name but had not seen or heard anything more until this interview. That night came flooding back while listening to his humble words and casual offhandedness (I especially enjoyed his comment about playing like Chick Corea, coincidentally to whom I was listening on my way in to work yesterday (The New Crystal Silence with Gary Burton) – thanks for the memories.

    Peace to ALL,


  • An amazing interview of an amazing man. I listened to to again as soon as it stopped.

  • Potter

    Delightful interview, and inspiring. I will listen again. Thank you, as always……..