Writings about Music
Out of the Wilderness: David Amram Leads
Deciding upon making composition my life’s work while an undergraduate was exciting, but also recklessly dangerous. There were no guarantees, and prevailing pathways like serialism and minimalism appeared aesthetically disastrous. One essential beacon of light that appeared came unexpectedly in the form of a book: Vibrations: A Memoir by David Amram. Brimming with irrepressible energy and fertile ideas, this most welcome volume elucidated the struggles of a young artist overcoming stale protocols in favor of new incarnations of musical vitality. Amram recognized how centrally vital jazz was, and set about incorporating elements of this improvisatory language into composition. David found like qualities in the poetry of Allen Ginsberg and the prose of Jack Kerouac, both of who became close friends. Above all, Amram’s writing promised hope if one followed his/her ideals passionately and uncompromisingly.
David Amram, Percy Heath, Dizzy Gillespie
Continuing with his unquenchable appetite for experiencing and understanding new musical forms, David thrust himself into the world of Native American music, yielding a potent distillation of that tradition’s rhythms, timbres and expression for his own music.
David Amram and Leonard Bernstein
More recently, I made contact with Amram, and our initial phone conversation flew on for hours. One of many delightful stories David related was about a memorable evening back in the fifties when he came upon John Coltrane enjoying a snack outside a Manhattan jazz club, and they proceeded to discuss Einstein’s Theory of Relativity at length. We had begun trading thought-choruses and phrases (praises) pertaining to Coltrane’s music when it suddenly hit me that the date was September 23rd, John’s birthday, and I joyfully shared the coincidence with Amram who sounded like such things occurred often with him.
Bob Dylan and David Amram
When a colleague learned I had both spoken to Amram on the phone and exchanged emails, he was curious to learn what David had thought about my own work. Looking back through that correspondence, I was heartened to recall how encouraging and generous Amram had been – its his nature - and then added a few quotes to my website for others to consider.
A gifted raconteur, here is David relating two of the funniest music stories ever told, the first about Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, the second about conductor Eugene Ormandy.
Intrigued by David's unusual last name, Amram, and being somewhat familiar with Hinduism from my study of Indian classical music, I noticed how the seventh incarnation of Vishnu, Rama, appears if with an extra M, Ramma, if you rearrange the letters. Mentioning this, David said I was the first person to notice it. It remains for me a coincidence worth noting for the simple reason that Rama was a conqueror of evil who cared for all living beings, and David Amram’s influence expressed in extra-musical terms has been all about the exultation of creativity and individuality while slaying the monsters of ignorance, conformity and ethnocentricity.
- Michael Robinson, July 2017, Los Angeles
Postlude: In 2018, had the pleasure of finally meeting David Amram, writing about it, too.
© 2017 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).