N. Y. C. “Best Bet”-
David Amram and Friends
Cornelia Street Café, First Mondays of Every Month, Ongoing
By E. Joyce Glasgow
All photo credits/copyrights: E. Joyce Glasgow, www.artsandculturescene.com
Renaissance man, David Amram, always delivers an entertaining and surprising performance of music and poetry, with his quartet, John DeWitt (bass), Kevin Twigg (drums), Elliott Pepper (bongos), son, Adam Amram, intermittently, (percussion) and special surprise guests on the first Monday of every month at the Cornelia Street Café. Amram is playful and funny, doesn't take himself too seriously and uses his performances to make social comments about what he thinks and to tell stories, through poetic improvisation in a witty, comedic and charming manner. His monthly shows make my N.Y.C. “Best Bet” list for reliably good, reoccurring arts events in New York City, of interest to both residents and visitors. This criteria is based on quality and freshness of performance, cultural relevance, being a friendly, regular, casual, heartful community oriented event, having an indicative “New York” feel, being worthwhile, a real find and having easy, low-cost financial accessibility.
Amram, who just celebrated his 80th birthday in November, 2010, is a multi- instrumental musician, multiple book author, multi linguist, composer, conductor, stream of consciousness poet, educator, Beat historian, peace, justice and environmental advocate, supporter of Native American culture and traditions and outspoken international good will ambassador. His music gracefully spans styles from classical, to jazz, to folk, to improvisational Beat style “rap”. He wrote the film scores for the original Manchurian Candidate and Splendor in the Grass, as well as the music for Arthur Miller’s play, After the Fall and music for Joe Papp’s Shakespeare in the Park productions. He was the first and youngest Composer in Residence, appointed by Leonard Bernstein, at the New York Philharmonic. Amram has performed with living legends including Pete Seeger, Candido, Dustin Hoffman, Bob Dylan and Willy Nelson and has played with some of the late titans of the music world, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tito Puente, Pepper Adams, Nina Simone and Odetta. Amram has championed the blendings of world cultures through the meldings of their music, pioneering what is now referred to as "World" music, before that term was coined. Amram lived in the heart of Beat culture, with close friends Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Larry Rivers and Gregory Corso. Ginsberg, Amram and Kerouac created the short Beat film, Pull My Daisy, which is now a cult classic. Amram and his quartet recently participated in the annual, anniversary reading of Allen Ginsberg's Howl, at Columbia University.
Amram plays jazz French horn, piano, Middle-Eastern dumbek (hand drum) and other hand percussion, pennywhistles, Asian, Native American and Middle Eastern wind instruments. He has been celebrating his 80th Birthday year with a dizzying schedule, traveling around the country for performances and talks, from Oklahoma to Florida to Maryland, New York and Vermont, honoring his musical and cultural contributions, as well as events celebrating iconic American arts figures, including Woody Guthrie and Amram’s close friend and colleague, Beat era writer, Jack Kerouac. Amram and Kerouac performed live together regularly during the Beat years.
Amram is blessed with boundless energy. He lives on a farm in upstate New York and when he isn’t flying around the country or writing music or books, he’s tending to his farm and animals. To give an example of his drive and energy, at his March 2011 first Monday gig at Cornelia Street Café, Amram apologized for wearing his work boots to the show. There was a flood by his farm and the bridge washed out, so he had to wade across the river, with his instruments in tow, to get to the car that would bring him an hour’s drive into Manhattan to perform two hours without an intermission and then head back home at eleven PM. I could only chuckle with amusement at this 80 year old wonder person navigating this feat without blinking an eye and I hope that when I reach that age I have as much fortitude!
Some of Amram’s regular guests at Cornelia Street include his children, comedienne, Adira Amram; singer/songwriter, Alana Amram and Adam Amram, mentioned above, as well as vocalist/songwriter, Morley Morley; the “Sopranos” actor, John Ventimiglia, reading Jack Kerouac; jazz saxophonist, Erik Lawrence; jazz vocalist, Lodi Carr; guitarist, Avram Pengas and many more passionate music and literary arts colleagues and unusual, unexpected guests, including recently, young Icelandic poets who were visiting New York City.
I highly recommend David Amram’s monthly performances at the Cornelia Street Café. They are the kind of events that one can happily return to month after month, as a kind of ritual and punctuation in time, where one can find consistently great music, a really fun experience, a chance to meet some of the long time stalwarts of Greenwich Village history and a connection to the atmosphere of the Beat era of old New York, a highly unusual find in this day and age. The long lived Cornelia Street Café adds to that old New York charm, nestled on a one block long, cobblestoned street, with a small, intimate atmosphere, reliably good, reasonably priced food and a great, comprehensive wine list. The Cornelia Street Cafe has a regular live jazz and/or poetry schedule seven nights a week.
The photos I’ve taken and included above span several first Monday evenings with David Amram and Friends at the Cornelia Street Café, between March 2010- January 2011.