David AmramDavid Werner Amram III (born November 17, 1930) is an American composer, arranger, and conductor of orchestral, chamber, and choral works, many with jazz flavorings. He plays piano, French horn, Spanish guitar, and pennywhistle, and sings. Amram has also composed scores for films, and has led quartets, quintets and larger ensembles who perform and record under his name.
Amram studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1948–1949, and earned a bachelor’s degree in European history from George Washington University in 1952. In 1955 he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied under Dimitri Mitropoulos, Vittorio Giannini, and Gunther Schuller. Under Schuller he studied French horn.
Amram is a strong advocate for music education of the young. For over a quarter-century he served as music director for youth and family concert programs for the Brooklyn Philharmonic. Amram has pointed out: “It is tremendously important for professional people to work with the young. That is the way a true music culture is created — not through merchandising, but through love.”
As a sideman or leader, Amram has performed and/or recorded with such jazz and classical figures as Aaron Copland, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Jack Kerouac, Sonny Rollins, Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, George Barrow, Jerry Dodgion, Paquito D'Rivera, Pepper Adams, Arturo Sandoval, Oscar Pettiford, Allen Ginsberg, Mary Lou Williams, Kenny Dorham, Ray Barretto, Wynton Marsalis, and others. He has also worked with a wide range of folk, pop, and country figures, such as Bob Dylan, the Roche sisters, Pete Seeger, Odetta, Willie Nelson, Oscar Brand, Judy Collins, Peter Yarrow, Tom Paxton, Phil Ochs, Josh White, Patti Smith, Arlo Guthrie, and others.
In 1956, Amram was hired by producer Joseph Papp to compose scores for the New York Shakespeare Festival. Over the years, Amram composed scores for twenty-five of Papp's productions, including a number of Shakespeare in the Park presentations. In 1961 he served as guest composer in residence for the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.
In 1957, Amram, along with Jack Kerouac and poets Howard Hart and Philip Lamantia, staged one of the first poetry readings with jazz at the Brata Art Gallery on East 10th Street, in New York.
In 1966 Leonard Bernstein chose Amram as the New York Philharmonic's first composer-in-residence. He has performed as conductor and/or soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, and for the National Jewish Arts Festival. He has conducted at New York's Carnegie Hall and at Avery Fisher Hall, among other prestigious venues.
The United States Information Agency sponsored a number of Amram's international musical tours, including visits to Brazil (1969); Kenya (1975); Cuba (1977); and the Middle East (1978).
Some of Amram's orchestral works include Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie, (commissioned by the Woody Guthrie Foundation and premiered in 2007); and Three Songs: A Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (written for and premiered by pianist Jon Nakamatsu in 2009). He conducted a 15-piece orchestra for Betty Carter's 1982 album Whatever Happened to Love?
Film and television
In 1959 Amram wrote the score for and appeared in the Robert Frank/Alfred Leslie short film Pull My Daisy, which featured Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso.
He composed scores for the Elia Kazan films Splendor in the Grass (1961) and The Arrangement (1969), and for the John Frankenheimer films The Young Savages (1961) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). (He composed the score for Frankenheimer's 1964 film Seven Days in May, but it was rejected and replaced with a score by Jerry Goldsmith.) Before his film work with Frankenheimer, Amram had composed the score for a 1960 episode of the NBC TV series Sunday Showcase, entitled "The American," which was produced and directed by Frankenheimer.
Amram composed the score for the 2001 documentary Boys of Winter, about the lives of 1940s–50s Brooklyn Dodgers baseball stars Pee Wee Reese and Carl Erskine. The feature was awarded the “Best Documentary Film” honor at that year's New York Independent Film Festival. In 2013, he wrote the score for the Michael Patrick Kelly comedy-drama Isn't It Delicious, which starred Kathleen Chalfant and Keir Dullea.
Amram was the subject of a 2014 documentary biography, David Amram: The First 80 Years, directed by Lawrence Kraman.
Amram has authored three autobiographical remembrances: Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram (1968), Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac (2002), and Upbeat: The Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (2007).
Amram is a virtuoso on the pennywhistle and can play two simultaneously. In a 2007 interview, he observed: "The pennywhistle is a versatile instrument. Just as a violin can be used for either classical or bluegrass, the pennywhistle can be used different ways. Audiences in Kenya enjoyed it when I went there for the World Council of Churches and played African music in 1976. Dizzy Gillespie dug how I used the pennywhistle as a jazz instrument when I played with him in Havana in 1977."