David Amram

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David Amram
Birth nameDavid Werner Amram III
Born (1930-11-17) November 17, 1930 (age 90)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania [1]
GenresJazz, classical, folk
  • Musician
  • composer
  • conductor
Instruments French horn, piano
Website davidamram.com

David Werner Amram III (born November 17, 1930) is an American composer, arranger, and conductor of orchestral, chamber, and choral works, many with jazz flavorings. [2] He plays piano, French horn, Spanish guitar, and pennywhistle, and sings. [3]



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. [1] In 1955 he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied under Dimitri Mitropoulos, Vittorio Giannini, and Gunther Schuller. [4] Under Schuller he studied French horn. [2]

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." [1]

Music projects

As a sideman or leader, Amram has worked with 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. [2] [4] [3] [5] [6] [7] 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. [2] [7] [8]

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. [1] In 1961 he served as guest composer-in-residence for the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont. [5]

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. [9] [10]

In 1966 Leonard Bernstein chose Amram as the New York Philharmonic's first composer-in-residence. [1] [3] 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. [5] He has conducted at New York's Carnegie Hall and at Avery Fisher Hall, among other prestigious venues. [11]

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). [4]

Some of Amram's orchestral works include Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie , [12] (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). [13] He conducted a 15-piece orchestra for Betty Carter's 1982 album Whatever Happened to Love? [14]

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. [4]

He composed scores for the Elia Kazan films Splendor in the Grass (1961) [15] and The Arrangement (1969), [11] and for the John Frankenheimer films The Young Savages (1961) [16] and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). [17] (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.) [18] [19]

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. [20] In 2013, he wrote the score for the Michael Patrick Kelly comedy-drama Isn't It Delicious , which starred Kathleen Chalfant and Keir Dullea. [21]

Career sidelights

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." [22]

In his 1968 book Vibrations, he describes making an omelette for Charlie Parker with "fried onions, marmalade, maple syrup, bacon, tomatoes, covered with hot mayonnaise with some garlic fried in it and a little cheese sauce", saying they "wolfed down portions of it" with borscht and orange soda. [23]

Amram is mentioned in the popular children's song "Peanut Butter Sandwich" by Raffi, in the line "one for me and one for David Amram", a fact which Amram said "impressed" his children; Raffi later admitted that he had mentioned Amram because he "couldn't think of anything [else] to rhyme with 'jam'." [24]


As leader

As sideman


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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Milken Archives of Jewish Music, bio of David Amram
  2. 1 2 3 4 Chagollan, Steve, "The Extraordinary Career of David Amram", MusicWorld, posted at BMI.com
  3. 1 2 3 David Amram biography by Richard Ginell at AllMusic
  4. 1 2 3 4 David Amram papers 1937–2011, New York Public Library
  5. 1 2 3 David Amram bio at Encyclopedia.com
  6. Interview: "David Amram, author of Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac" at JerryJazzMusician, July 17, 2002
  7. 1 2 David Amram bio at ClearwaterFestival.org
  8. Why the Long Face , album by Suzzy and Maggie Roche , credits at AllMusic.com
  9. Amram, David, "Poetry and All That Jazz", AllAboutJazz.com, February 20, 2003
  10. Amram, David, "Where I'd Rather Be: David Amram, Musician and Jazz poet", The Guardian , November 9, 2007
  11. 1 2 Interview with David Amram by Bruce Duffie, July 4, 1986
  12. Bratman, David (October 2, 2007). "Variations on This Land". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  13. "2008 – 2009 Season". Symphony Silicon Valley. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  14. Olewnick, Brian, review of Betty Carter's Whatever Happened to Love? at AllMusic.com
  15. Library of Congress listing for Splendor in the Grass, including Amram composer credit
  16. Library of Congress listing for The Young Savages, including Amram composer/conductor/orchestrator credits
  17. The Manchurian Candidate composer credits at Soundtrack.net
  18. Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the American Film Institute
  19. Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the British Film Institute
  20. David Amram, biography at All About Jazz
  21. Scheck, Frank, "Isn't It Delicious: Film Review", The Hollywood Reporter , Dec. 16, 2014
  22. Ectric, Bill, "David Amram Talks About Music", interview, January 4, 2007
  23. Scharnhorst, Gary. Literary Eats. McFarland. p. 7.
  24. Amram shares "Southern Stories", by Crystal Caviness, for United Press International, published August 20, 1999; archived at DavidAmram.com; retrieved February 20, 2017