`Obama Singalong' to Resound at Democrats' Convention,
Composer Amram Says
David Amram, the ``composer in residence'' at next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver, is famous for creating his own gigs.
He and Jack Kerouac pioneered jazz and poetry readings
in 1957. Along with Julius Watkins, Amram was one of the
first to improvise on a French horn. And he was one of the
first musicians to seriously investigate what came to be
called ``world music.''
With his talent and youthful optimism, Amram, 77, has
been called (by me) ``the world's oldest teenager.'' (He
likes to say ``never trust anyone under 70.'')
Amram says he was ``inspired by Bach, Berlioz, Charlie
Parker, Antonio Carlos Jobim, great Arabic singers, Lakota
traditional singers, Cantor Yossele Rosenblatt and ancient
He explained the responsibilities of a composer in
residence in an e-mail last week while ``hiding out'' at
his farm in upstate New York composing a piano concerto.
``My musical contributions will include `Three Songs
for America,' settings of speeches by John F. Kennedy,
Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy for bass voice and
orchestra,'' Amram said.
``I'll also be conducting the Colorado Children's
Chorale (a killer 100-voice, prize-winning choir)
performing my piece based on sentences by people of Denver,
who were interviewed on the street by sociologist Dr.
Audrey Sprenger for a film she created for the convention
(`I am a cabdriver, I am a student, I am a Broncos' fan, I
am a future doctor, I am a proud father,' etc.).
``These statements will be sung and chanted, with
audience participation, accompanied by my jazz trio,''
Amram said. ``We will also perform three pieces for
children's chorus for which I composed both the words and
the music, dedicated to three great musicians. They are
Native American musician and actor Floyd Red Crow
Westerman, jazz innovator Thelonious Monk and ambassador of
Afro-Cuban music, band leader Machito.''
Over the years, while composing more than 100
orchestral pieces, Amram has collaborated with Leonard
Bernstein (as composer in residence with the New York
Philharmonic), Odetta, Dizzy Gillespie (they toured Cuba
together in 1977), Willie Nelson (he played with his band
during Farm Aid tours), Oscar Pettiford, Ramblin' Jack
Elliot, Elia Kazan (the soundtrack for``Splendor in the
Grass''), and Allen Ginsberg (on Alfred Leslie's
underground classic film, ``Pull My Daisy'').
He also won an award from the Hollywood Arts Council
for his pioneering efforts in combining jazz and symphonic
music in films such as ``The Manchurian Candidate.''
You have to respect the Democrats, first, for creating
the post of composer in residence -- although I suspect it
was Amram's idea -- and then for hiring such a free spirit
to fill it.
At the convention, which runs from Aug. 25-28, he also
will perform the premiere of a new piece for which he
composed both the words and music, based on the ``I am
somebody'' statement of Rev. Jesse Jackson.
``We will end the evening with `Theme and Variations
on Amazing Grace,' followed by the grand finale with my
trio playing `Now's the Time' by Charlie Parker, honoring
the early civil-rights slogan `Our moment is now,' with
``I'm planning to spring a surprise,'' Amram said in
his e-mail, ``an Obama singalong during `Now's the Time.'
You are the first to see it since I just made it up!
```What's the time ... NOW's the time,' repeat with
chorus call and response. The final two bars: `What's the
time? OBAMA TIME!'''
In his memoir ``Vibrations'' about Greenwich Village
in the 1960s (introduction by Douglas Brinkley, blurb from
Arthur Miller), Amram recalls his ``crazed existence'' in a
slice-of-pie-shaped apartment over a liquor store.
People came at all hours to jam, talk and listen to
music. It was a special time and place. He remembers it in
great detail, which may be due to the fact that he tended
to be the only sober one at his parties.
The expression ``natural high'' fits the world's
oldest teenager perfectly.