Writings about Music
Forever Young Man River
David Amram and Friends Rekindle the City of Angels
Adam Amram and David Amram following their performance at Zebulon in Los Angeles (photograph by Michael Robinson)
David began slowly like an Indian alap, not taking the stage until over an hour past the official starting time. I doubt that he's David's favorite artist, but Elvis Presley had much the same approach, never beginning a recording session until he found the mood and feeling to be right, this most often being hours after the previously agreed upon time, including sending out for a dinner of hamburgers prior to commencing.
The music opened with an inspired flute solo from David on St. Thomas by Sonny Rollins. Next, as if subliminally, recalling the concert fantasy sequence from one of Oliver Stone's finest efforts, The Doors, enhanced by the magical lighting of the out of this world hosting venue, Zebulon, Amram entered into a heroic symbiosis of Native American vocal and flute music, something I would have loved to listen to for at least an hour, so deeply engaging it was both expressively and intellectually, even if this utterance lasted only a few minutes.
Rather than continuing in chronological sequence, I will now move to especially memorable moments.
We are all indebted to poet and actor S.A. Griffin, for he took the stage to enact the writing of Jack Kerouac, David's friend and colleague, doing so in breathtakingly brilliant, virtuosic fashion, forging alive the spirit and meaning of Jack's innovations. Honestly, I never really understood Kerouac until this moment, so what an incredible gift from Griffin.
S. A. Griffin following his performance at Zebulon (photograph by Michael Robinson)
After this, David was clearly inspired along those lines, subsequently dazzling us with his spontaneous verbal-musical raps, improvising thoughts with the rhythms of jazz, a uniquely American art form spawned by interactions between African Americans, Jewish Americans, Italian Americans, Irish Americans, Latino Americans, South Asians, and many others, too. For those of us steeped in jazz, this is the both noble and primal language of our very thoughts spoken and unspoken and our corporeal lives enacted and imagined.
Amram is part of the glorious jazz standard tradition, and he shared his gorgeously subtle songs composed for Splendor In the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate, together with a powerfully haunting instrumental waltz composed for a play by another friend, Arthur Miller. On another occasion, David and I had touched upon Miller's marriage to Marilyn Monroe, and how that ending appeared to have been tragically devastating for the actress.
Perhaps overshadowed by his riveting piano, French horn, percussion, and flute playing, in addition to the orchestral compositions, Amram is an original, arresting vocal stylist. Afterwards, I confessed to David how I'd love to hear an album of him singing Rodgers and Hart songs. Add to that an album of Bob Dylan songs, a friend he spent a summer next door to on Fire Island along with their families, the two strumming acoustic guitars on the sand by the shore while giving voice to a deluge of folk songs and originals over rolling Atlantic waves and seashells in counterpoint with dancing sea breezes.
Carl Saunders, one of today's finest jazz trumpeters, was a surprise guest artist, and he ravished us with his superior tone and delightfully liquid melismas. Carl also provided some splendid drumming, adding timely splashes of color and accent.
Dan Navarro mesmerized us with a truly masterpiece song titled "Cold Outside", his performance also a transcendentally dramatic masterpiece - wow!
Adam Amram, on conga, is a most engaging artist, preferring to keep mostly in the background, but when asked to solo he exhibited an excitingly original verve and style.
Rene Hart plays the acoustic bass in an exquisite and authoritative manner reminiscent of European master painters. One could imagine an entire evening consisting of only his solo playing, allowing us deeper and deeper glimpses into the nature of this most austere and mysterious instrument.
I really must apologize to Peter Lownds for missing his reading of Kerouac because having been drinking large bottles of sparkling water, I had to excuse myself briefly, and when I returned he had already finished. But I did subsequently learn how Peter and Jack formed a friendship one summer when they both resided in Northport, Long Island. Year of the Metal Rooster and Pisces Kerouac was 42 then, with Lownds weighing in at 19, their memorable time together leading Peter to become an adventurous poet, actor and educator.
My only regret was not being bold enough to ask someone to dance during the closing Cuban jazz piece. The music was so crying out for the audience to dance, it truly was an irresistible sensation - I even felt David wished for me to do so with a quick glance - but having attended by myself, I hesitated to ask someone I didn't know, and the moment was lost. Amazingly, not a single person got up to dance despite this most obvious invitation coming from the music.
David Amram and Michael Robinson with Carl Saunders in the background following the Zebulon performance in Los Angeles (photograph by Adam Amram)
But the City of Angels was dancing on this celestial vapor full moon night…
…to the beat of Lord Ramma - I mean Amram - sorry to mix up the letters!
- Michael Robinson, November 2019, Los Angeles
Michael Robinson still smiling from all the great music and conversation after arriving home.
© 2019 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).