Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


AMRAM, David

(b 17 November 1930, Philadelphia PA) French horn, flute, piano; composer. He played horn in orchestras and had jam sessions in his NYC flat, sometimes with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He was influenced by Dmitri Mitropoulos, conductor of the NY Philharmonic, in his dedication to pure music, and has refused to be typecast, doing a myriad of interesting things. He played with U.S. 7th Army Symphony '52-4 (the 7ASO, as it was called, had been formed in 1952 as a public relations exercise, and lasted ten years; hundreds of musicians were involved. See Uncle Sam's Orchestra: Memories of the Seventh Army Symphony by John Canarina.) Amram played with Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus etc in the 1950s, played horn on a quintet LP made in Paris '55, several instruments on a quartet LP with tenor saxist George Barrow '57.

He composed incidental music for stage, TV and films from 1956 and was a music director at Lincoln Center; he co-led his own group the Amram/Barrow Quartet at the Five Spot '63-5. He led his own short TV opera The Final Ingredient, about a Passover ceremony in a Nazi camp on ABC-TV in 1965. Amram was the first composer-in-residence with the NY Philharmonic '66-7, and led a quartet with Pepper Adams in 1970. Many compositions from the late '50s included a Piano Sonata '60 (tribute to Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell), a String Quartet '61, an opera on Twelfth Night '68, Native American Portraits for violin, piano and percussion '76, and a Violin Concerto '80. A Triple Concerto For Woodwinds, Brass, Jazz Quintet and Orchestra '70 was recorded '77 for Flying Fish with Adams and the Rochester Philharmonic. 

Amram's Shir L'erev Shabbat (Sabbath Evening Service) '61 for tenor and chorus was a Putterman commission of the Park Avenue Synagogue in New York; others accepting the commission have included Kurt Weill, Darius Milhaud, Stefan Wolpe and Lucas Foss. Critic Steve Schwartz wrote, 'Amram made an eminently practical work: small forces playing music, though challenging, well within the capabilities of a "church choir"... the main source of its beauty lies in the harmonies, gorgeous and unpredictable and fully expressive of the text.' Excerpts from this and from the opera The Last Ingredient (which Schwartz found, unlike most Holocaust art, worthy of its subject) were issued on a Naxos CD in 2008. A prolific composer, Amram's Songs of the Soul '85 is a three-part travelogue, less inspired than the works from over 20 years earlier: 'a pretty score, but ... curiously empty', wrote Schwartz. 

There was a biography called Vibrations '68 and an NET documentary The World Of David Amram '69. He has been a musical ambassador everywhere: free concerts for children in NYC; travel to Kenya, Central America, Middle East. When the first ship bearing officially-sanctioned U.S. travelers arrived in Havana, Amram greeted them from the dock, playing flute with local musicians. En Memoria de Chano Pozo '77 was first heard in Cuba, where the Amram troupe was the first US group to be heard there since '61; piece is included in the Flying Fish LP Havana/New York '77. There was also Latin-American Jazz Celebration '82 on Elektra-Musician, and also on Flying Fish: Autobiography, No More Walls '78, At Home/Around The World '80. Pull My Daisy And Other Jazz Classics on Premier was recorded at two successive Musikfests in Bethlehem PA '88-9. On The Waterfront '95 on Varèse Sarabande has music from the soundtrack of the famous film played by a 12-piece 'pit band that could stand on its own without a play to back' (Cadence).