David Amram

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David Amram
Birth nameDavid Werner Amram III
Born (1930-11-17) November 17, 1930 (age 89)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[1]
GenresJazz, Classical Music, Folk Music, Choral Music, Singer/Songwriter
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor, musician, singer
InstrumentsFrench horn, piano, flutes, whistles, percussion

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 has also composed scores for films, and has led quartets, quintets and larger ensembles who perform and record under his name.[4]


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.[5] 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[edit]

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.[2][5][6][7][8][9] 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][9][10]

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.[7]

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.[11][12]

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.[7] He has conducted at New York's Carnegie Hall and at Avery Fisher Hall, among other prestigious venues.[13]

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).[5]

Some of Amram's orchestral works include Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie,[14] (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).[15] He conducted a 15-piece orchestra for Betty Carter's 1982 album Whatever Happened to Love?[16]

Film and television[edit]

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.[5]

He composed scores for the Elia Kazan films Splendor in the Grass (1961)[17] and The Arrangement (1969),[13] and for the John Frankenheimer films The Young Savages (1961)[18] and The Manchurian Candidate (1962).[19] (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.)[20][21] 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.[22]

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.[23] In 2013, he wrote the score for the Michael Patrick Kelly comedy-drama Isn't It Delicious, which starred Kathleen Chalfant and Keir Dullea.[24]

Amram was the subject of a 2014 documentary biography, David Amram: The First 80 Years, directed by Lawrence Kraman.[25]

Literary works[edit]

Amram has authored three autobiographical remembrances: Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram (1968),[26] Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac (2002),[8] and Upbeat: The Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (2007).[5]

In 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.[27]

Career sidelights[edit]

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."[28]


As sideman[edit]

Selected recordings of Amram's classical compositions[edit]

  • 1993: David Amram – An American Original (Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, cond. Richard Aulden Clark)
    • American Dance Suite: Cheyenne, Blues, Cajun
    • Theme and Variations on "Red River Valley" for Flute & Strings (Julius Baker, soloist)
    • Travels for Trumpet & Orchestra: Taos, Blues & Variations, Taxim
    • Three Songs for America: Texts by John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy
  • 1995: David Amram: Three Concertos (Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, cond. Richard Aulden Clark)
    • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Charles Castleman, soloist)
    • Honor Song for Sitting Bull, for Cello and Orchestra (Nathaniel Rosen, soloist)
    • Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (Kenneth Pasmanick, soloist)
  • 1997: New York Legends: Philip Myers, Principal Horn, New York Philharmonic
    • Three Songs for Marlboro, for Horn and Cello
  • 1997: The Nashville Symphony, cond. Kenneth Schermerhorn
    • Kokopelli: A Symphony in Three Movements
  • 2004: American Classics – David Amram
    • Songs of the Soul: A Symphony in Three Movements (Berlin Radio Orchestra, cond. Christopher WIlkins)
    • Shir L'erev Shabbat: Excerpts from a Friday Evening Service (cond. Ken Keisler)
    • Excerpts from The Final Ingredient, an Opera of the Holocaust (cond. Ken Keisler)
  • 2006: John Cerminaro: A Life of Music, Historic Live Performances
    • Concerto for Horn and Wind Symphony (John Cerminaro, soloist, Juilliard Wind Orchestra, cond. James Chambers)
  • 2014: The Chamber Music of David Amram - Live at the New York Chamber Music Festival (artists include violinist Elmira Darvarova, flutist Carol Wincenc, Face the Music Ensemble, New York Piano Quartet, hornist Howard Wall, and the David Amram Quartet)



  1. ^ a b c d e Milken Archives of Jewish Music, bio of David Amram
  2. ^ a b c d Chagollan, Steve, "The Extraordinary Career of David Amram", MusicWorld, posted at BMI.com
  3. ^ a b David Amram biography by Richard Ginell at AllMusic
  4. ^ David Amram discography at Discogs.com
  5. ^ a b c d e David Amram papers 1937–2011, New York Public Library
  6. ^ David Amram biography by Richard Ginell at AllMusic
  7. ^ a b c David Amram bio at Encyclopedia.com
  8. ^ a b Interview: "David Amram, author of Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac" at JerryJazzMusician, July 17, 2002
  9. ^ a b David Amram bio at ClearwaterFestival.org
  10. ^ Why the Long Face, album by Suzzy and Maggie Roche, credits at AllMusic.com
  11. ^ Amram, David, "Poetry and All That Jazz", AllAboutJazz.com, February 20, 2003
  12. ^ Amram, David, "Where I'd Rather Be: David Amram, Musician and Jazz poet", The Guardian, November 9, 2007
  13. ^ a b Interview with David Amram by Bruce Duffie, July 4, 1986
  14. ^ Bratman, David (October 2, 2007). "Variations on This Land". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  15. ^ "2008 – 2009 Season". Symphony Silicon Valley. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  16. ^ Olewnick, Brian, review of Betty Carter's Whatever Happened to Love? at AllMusic.com
  17. ^ Library of Congress listing for Splendor in the Grass, including Amram composer credit
  18. ^ Library of Congress listing for The Young Savages, including Amram composer/conductor/orchestrator credits
  19. ^ The Manchurian Candidate composer credits at Soundtrack.net
  20. ^ Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the American Film Institute
  21. ^ Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the British Film Institute
  22. ^ Sunday Showcase: "The American," full cast and credits at Internet Movie Database
  23. ^ David Amram, biography at All About Jazz
  24. ^ Scheck, Frank, "Isn't It Delicious: Film Review", The Hollywood Reporter, Dec. 16, 2014
  25. ^ David Amram: The First 80 Years on Vimeo
  26. ^ Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram at GoodReads.com
  27. ^ Scharnhorst, Gary. Literary Eats. McFarland. p. 7.
  28. ^ Ectric, Bill, "David Amram Talks About Music", interview, January 4, 2007
  29. ^ Amram shares "Southern Stories", by Crystal Caviness, for United Press International, published August 20, 1999; archived at DavidAmram.com; retrieved February 20, 2017

External links[edit]