Tag Archives: Greenwich Village

See New York Through David Amram’s Eyes Tomorrow

25 Apr

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Ever since pioneer jazz French-horn player David Amram mentioned that he’ll be doing an urban hike, pointing out places of importance to him on the Upper West Side, I’ve been counting down the days.

I usually associate David with Greenwich Village. Whenever I see him play at Cornelia Street Cafe or (le) poisson rouge, he always tells enthralling stories of how we’re only steps away from where he and Jack Kerouac did their first jazz-poetry readings or how he used to go into the music store down the street and learn how to play instruments from around the world. It’s that curiosity, though, along with talent and tenacity that allow him to transcend any particular place or “movement” or style. Uptown, he worked, for instance, with The New York Philharmonic’s conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos; in 1966, Leonard Bernstein selected him to be The New York Philharmonic’s first composer-in-residence.

Now, the New York Public Library of the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center has acquired David Amram’s archive and is hosting David Amram’s New York, a series of free events, which includes a screening of a documentary about him and the urban hike. Here’s the info via the New York Public Library:

Composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and author David Amram is a musician with a celebrated career as prolific as it is diverse. While his achievements and influences extend far beyond the city, New York has played a vital role in Amram’s life and music. Specific locations throughout New York have served as inspiration for Amram’s compositions, and his pioneering work with Leonard Bernstein and The New York Philharmonic, Arthur Miller and Elia Kazan, Joseph Papp, Jack Kerouac, Dizzy Gillespie, Pete Seeger, and many other jazz, folk, and world music artists has helped shape the city’s cultural landscape. To celebrate the recent acquisition of Amram’s archives, The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in Lincoln Center will present David Amram’s New York, a series of public programs and offerings that explore his remarkable career and ongoing relationship with the music of New York.

The series begins on Saturday, April 26 with a screening of the documentary feature film David Amram: The First 80 Years, followed by a conversation between the filmmaker Lawrence Kraman and Amram. Later that afternoon, Amram will lead a walking tour of Manhattan locations that have played a significant role in his life and music. The walk will be co-hosted by author Bill Morgan and sociologist Dr. Audrey Sprenger of SUNY Purchase.

On Tuesday, April 29, the series concludes with a special concert of Amram’s chamber music compositions, featuring a program that spans Amram’s career and musical influences. Nora Guthrie, daughter of Woody Guthrie, will also be in attendance to celebrate her commissioning Amram to compose THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie. Performers for the concert include Howard Wall and Kim Laskowski, both members of The New York Philharmonic, former Metropolitan Opera concertmaster Elmira Darvarova, and saxophonist Ken Radnofsky. The evening will also mark the release of two new albums of Amram compositions: The Chamber Music of David Amram – Live from the New York Chamber Music Festival (Urlicht AudioVisual), featuring Darvarova; and Newport Classic Records’ album of Radnofsky performing Amram’s compositions for saxophone, including the concerto Ode to Lord Buckley and Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon.

In conjunction with the programs, The Library for the Performing Arts will exhibit original materials from Amram’s archives.

One of the most influential and prolific composers of his generation, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works, two operas, and scores for the award-winning films Splendor in The Grass, The Manchurian Candidate, and Jack Kerouac’s Pull My Daisy–all while balancing a career as a pioneering jazz improviser, symphony conductor, and multi-instrumentalist featuring 35 instruments from around the world, all of which remain a source of inspiration for many of his formally composed classical works. Amram was a vital force in the Beat Generation, and presented the first-ever public jazz-poetry concerts in New York City in the 1950s with Kerouac. Amram was the first Musical Director and composer for Joseph Papp’s New York Shakespeare Festival, for the Phoenix Theater, and for The Lincoln Center Repertory Theater, where he composed scores for new plays by Arthur Miller directed by Elia Kazan and Harold Clurman. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein named Amram The New York Philharmonic’s first Composer-In-Residence. Five years later, Amram became the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s first Musical Director for Young People’s, Family and Free Parks Concerts, a position he held for nearly three decades.

Today, Amram continues to compose music while traveling the world as a conductor, soloist, bandleader, author, visiting scholar, and narrator in five languages. In addition to the David Amram’s New York programs at The Library for the Performing Arts, Amram’s other projects this spring include the release of THIS LAND: Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie (Newport Classic Recordings), a live recording of Amram conducting the Colorado Symphony Orchestra in a performance of his work by the same name, and the DVD release of David Amram: the First 80 Years in May. Amram’s fourth book, David Amram: The Next 80 Years, will be published in 2015.

All events included in the David Amram’s New York series take place at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts (40 Lincoln Center Plaza), and are free and open to the public.

David Amram’s New York

Saturday, April 26 @ 1pm
Film Screening: David Amram: The First 80 Years
Post-Screening Conversation with Lawrence Kraman and David Amram In Person

http://on.nypl.org/1l4ObCG
Lawrence Kraman’s 2012 documentary about the life and times of David Amram features interviews and performances with Buck Henry, Pete Seeger, Sir James Galway, Kurt Elling, Paquito d’Rivera, Max Gail, Larry Merchant, Candido Camero, Bobby Sanabria, John Ventimiglia, Philip Myers, Maurice Peress and the Queens College Orchestra, David Broza, Avram Pengas, Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, the Earl McKintyre Orchestra, and David Amram and his three children Alana, Adira and Adam. This compelling film not only explores Amram’s unique career and the breadth of his talents, but as the title implies, also proves that one of the most exciting aspects of Amram’s story is knowing that with his endless energy and zest for life, his narrative is far from over, and the future chapters are sure to be just as exciting as the past.

Saturday April 26 @ 3pm
Walking Tour With David Amram
Meet in the lobby outside of The Bruno Walter Auditorium, located at the Library’s 111 Amsterdam Avenue entrance
http://on.nypl.org/1hpUzo5 
David Amram leads this walking tour of Lincoln Center and other nearby locations that have influenced his life and music. The tour will be co-hosted by Bill Morgan and Dr. Audrey Sprenger.

Tuesday, April 29 @ 6pm
Chamber Music Compositions of David Amram: from 1958 – 2014
http://on.nypl.org/1gqMVsQ
Over the course of his career, David Amram has composed more than 100 orchestral and chamber music works. For this concert, he selects four of his favorite chamber works:

Trio for Tenor Saxophone, French Horn and Bassoon (1958)
Ken Radnofsky – Saxophone
Howard Wall – French Horn
Kim Laskowski – Bassoon

Violin Sonata (1960)
Elmira Darvarova – Violin
Linda Hall – Piano

Blues for Monk for Unaccompanied Horn (1982)
Howard Wall – French Horn

Three Greenwich Village Portraits (2014)
For Alto Saxophone and Piano
Ken Radnofsky – Alto Saxophone
Damien Francoeur-Krzyzek – Piano

About The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center
The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combination of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. For more information please visit www.nypl.org.

Don’t live in New York? Check out David Amram’s extensive calendar to see when he’ll next be in your neighborhood.

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Mino Cinelu Plays the Blue Note

11 Mar

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At Greenwich Village’s famed Blue Note Jazz Club on a cold Monday night in February, instruments are strewn across the stage. There’s nary a place to step, yet Brooklyn-based French musician Mino Cinelu intuitively finds each new instrument he needs amongst the pedals and wires, without missing a beat. He seamlessly switches from drums to egg shakers to water drum. He flicks a triangle like it’s hot to the touch. He stretches his hand across the stage and caresses a belly-dancing scarf, its gauzy fabric dripping with coins that stir in his fingers. His body itself becomes an instrument, as he claps his hands together and punctuates beats with forceful stomps that reverberate off the stage floor.

Mino Cinelu is a musician—and a performer. The jazz percussionist draws energy toward him and releases it back to the audience in a swell of notes and beats.

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“He’s the most sought out percussionist,” Ra Araya whispers to me, speaking of Mino Cinelu with sincere authority. “Art Blakey literally picked him up and said, ‘Now you’re coming with me.’” Araya, the poet and poetry event organizer who set up the premier reading for Burning Furiously Beautiful, had invited me to the show, asking me to review it.* It is my first time ever hearing Cinelu live or otherwise, and I sit mesmerized by the way the jazz musician embodies his music.

Cinelu’s music is simultaneously out-of-body and corporeal. The tempo echoes the pulse of the earth and his vocal cord arrangements hum like the sounds of nature, building toward an ethereal plane. Pulling from various traditions, his world-fusion jazz unites through the exchange of ideas and sounds and cultures. It makes the listener think. It makes the listener feel. It makes the listener anticipate. His lips move to the beat of the drum as he slaps it. He scrunches his face and groans. The flesh of his cheeks tremble to the beat. Sweat drips from his temple as he whips his dreadlocks around. His muscles are taut, suggesting his years of making music have built his body.

Cinelu was born in Saint-Cloud, in the western suburbs of Paris. “From a very young age I had to take care of myself. Let’s just say that,” says the musician, who grew up in a violent home. He was born into a musical family, and as a child learned to play the guitar. By sixteen, he was already a professional musician with gigs in London and New York. In the 1980s, after moving to New York, he met Miles Davis and went on tour with him. Like others who played with Davis, Cinelu then went on to be part of Weather Report, one of the earliest jazz-fusion bands, though the band dismissed that label. The ever-changing roster of musicians in Weather Report played an amalgamation of free jazz, funk, rock, R&B, Latin jazz, and other ethnic music. In the ’90s Cinelu emerged as a solo artist, releasing his self-titled album in 2000. Cinelu has played with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Herbie Hancock, and from Sting to Lou Reed.

Cinelu continues to surround himself with an impressive array of talent, and the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble seems to grow in number as more and more musicians take to the stage as the evening progresses. The band includes Jamshied Sharifi (keys & flute), Mamadou Ba (bass), and Jose Davila (tuba & percussion). A graduate of MIT, Sharifi went on to study at the esteemed Berklee College of Music. He composed the soundtracks for Muppets from Space, Harriet the Spy, The Rugrats Movie, Clockstoppers, and The Thomas Crown Affair. Ba was the musical director for Harry Belafonte’s orchestra and was one of the founding members of African Blue Note Band. Davila has played with everyone from Ray Charles to Marc Anthony, and from Tito Puente to Nora Jones.

At the Blue Note, special guest Bria Skonberg (trumpet & flugelhorn) joins the Mino Cinelu World Jazz Ensemble on stage. She covers the mouth of the brass instrument with her shiny red nails, playing along with the music, til suddenly she tilts her head back and BLOWS! Face scrunched in exertion, much like Cinelu’s, Skonberg plays powerfully, masterfully. “We’ll keep her after the gig,” Cinelu jokes in appreciation of her talent.

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By the end of the first set, Cinelu is standing on top of an amp. He thanks everyone, including the waitresses at the jazz club. Despite the snow still on the ground and despite the early day of the week, fans have poured into venue. Among them is actress Pauletta Washington, Denzel’s wife. “I stole some of her moves,” teases Cinelu.

Then, just as they arrived, one by one the musicians file off the stage into the aisles of The Blue Note, still playing their instruments. The music stays with us as they disappear in the dark.

*My ticket and minimum were comped, but these opinions are my own.

From the Ottoman Empire to Greenwich Village: Coffee Houses’ Literary History

23 Sep

It’s Coffee Week! Sunday, September 29, is International Coffee Day, so I’m devoting the entire week to all things coffee.

First, a bit about Coffee Day, via Squidoo:

After a comprehensive research, it looks like that people started to talk about this festival as early as 2005, but there has been virtually on mentioning of this term until 2009 when a few local coffee shops began offering free drinks and discount coupons. In 2010, there has been news on national newspaper that briefly talks about activities on the day.

My conclusion is that the history of this festival is relatively short and my own conspiracy theory is that some sort of a national coffee association started to promote it as a way to generate more business.

So why devote a whole week to International Coffee Day 2013?  Well, one of my missions here on this blog is “embracing the beatific.” For me, part of that means noticing and celebrating the little things in life. So often we get hung up on fancy restaurants that serve rich meals that we take the ordinary for granted, even though it sustains us. A cup of coffee can be a great comfort. A pot of coffee can be shared amongst friends. It can fuel a writer’s creativity.

As usual, I’ll be putting a literary spin on things.

Let me kick things off by first telling you a little about the history of coffee. From what I’ve read, coffee originated in Africa, and by the sixteenth century had found its way over to the Middle East. From there it reached Europe and Asia, only coming to the Americas later on. Having first been cultivated by Arabs, coffee shops were prevalent in the Ottoman Empire. In fact, they became so popular in Mecca—not simply because they served coffee but because they became gathering spots, where people could discuss politics—that they were banned in the early 1500s. Imagine coffee shops as speakeasies!

It was about 1645 when the first European coffee shop opened, and that was in Venice, Italy. Apparently, Greeks had an impact on coffee culture, which is no surprise really when you think about the Greek Empire’s impact on history. Johannes Theodat was a Greek who set up the first coffee shop in Vienna. In any regard, coffee houses became the place for artists and writers to meet in nineteenth-century Europe. Again, it wasn’t so much about the coffee—though certainly there was an art to making a good cup of coffee. Much like Starbucks is today, coffee houses back then were places writers could go in, order a cup of coffee, and spend hours writing or conversing. Low on cost, high on value.

Here in America, we can thank Italian Americans for setting up coffee shops in places like Greenwich Village and North Beach. And wouldn’t you know it, these were the places the writers commonly associated with the Beats hung out. Tiny tenements made for cramped quarters, so eager to socialize on the cheap these poets and novelists met up at coffee shops in the 1940s. By the ’50s, they were doing poetry readings there. Today, many cafes offer poetry readings and live music.

Recap — with Photos! — of David Amram Reading

10 Sep

 

When musician David Amram introduced me before I read with him at Cornelia Street Cafe on September 3, 2012, he very generously said people should pay attention because one day they’d see me on television.  To me, though, reading with David Amram was a much bigger deal than being on television.  There are countless television shows, but there is only one David Amram.  While there are many fantastic musicians and writers out there whom I’d be honored to read with, there are few who hold such a special place in forming my creative identity as Amram does.

I first became acquainted with Amram through studying Jack Kerouac when I was just a teenager.  I was enamored with his improvised performance as Mezz McGillicuddy in the 1957 Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie film Pull My Daisy.  In fact, this photograph, featuring Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, who all collaborated on the film, is probably my all-time favorite photograph of the poets, writers, and artists associated with the Beat Generation.  It seems to so purely capture their friendship: just a couple of people hanging out at a cafe, maybe talking about the arts, or maybe just drinking coffee late into the night and enjoying each other’s company.

Although it was literature that introduced me to Amram, his music fascinated me.  Here was a musician who was more than just skillful.  Amram is an innovator.  He’s someone who experiments, improvises, blends genres, captivates.  He is, quite simply, mesmerizing to watch and listen to.

Through reading biographies on Kerouac and also reading Amram’s own biographies, I came to discover the jazz-poetry readings Amram and Kerouac began doing in the Village in 1957.  These were improvised sets, requiring each to masterfully foresee and adapt to changing tempos and moods in each other’s works.  These jazz-poetry collaborations captured my imagination, challenging my view of art and the way in which it’s created, the musicality of words, and the role of collaboration, improvisation, and performance in literature.  As I read about the collaborations in musty library books, forty-some-odd years after they’d taken place, I envisioned what it must’ve been like to be in the crowd at a painter’s loft or at the Circle in the Square.  Did the people there realize they were part of history?

In 2001, I had the opportunity to ask Amram just that when I interviewed him for some research I was doing at the time.  I sat enthralled, clinging to his every word, as he told me about all the places he used to hang out at in New York, about collaborating with Kerouac, and about how the term “Beat Generation” is just a marketing term that people later attached to the individual artists who each create unique works.  As he talked, answering all of my questions and never rushing me, and later as I read another biography of  his, I realized that Amram is the real deal — a creative genius and also a beatific individual, an artist who inspires and encourages.

Amram has been someone whom I’ve long admired, both on an artistic and a personal level.  Reading about those 1957 jazz-poetry readings he did with Jack Kerouac, I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to read the book I’m writing on Jack Kerouac with him.  When my former editor suggested we attend Amram’s show at Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village, I excitedly said yes.  A few days later, I had to email him back to say Amram had invited me to read with him.  It was completely surreal.

The September 3, 2012, show was completely sold out.  I had some friends who were turned away at the door.  Special thanks to Cornelia Street Cafe’s Robin Hirsch and the staff for hosting the reading and for doing such an excellent job in organizing the event.  I read a short selection about Kerouac’s time in Mexico from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book I’m co-authoring with Paul Maher, Jr.  It was really exciting because author Larry Closs and painter Jonathan Collins, both of whom I met through the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, were in the audience.  Poet and producer RA Araya, who has been hugely supportive of my work and whose birthday bash was the premiere reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful, was also there, and graciously provided the photography you see here.  I had some other family and friends there as well and am so appreciative of their support.  It means more to me than most people realize.

As soon as my videographer, Liz Koenig, sends the video, I’ll post it so you can hear me reading with David Amram and his band.  The band, consisting of Amram, Kevin Twigg, and John de Witt played so beautifully — even more of a feat, considering Twigg had hurt his hand before the show.  The music was haunting and fit the piece that I read so perfectly.  I wanted to remain present in the moment, to really hear what they were playing, and savor the moment.  It was one of those times in life that I wanted to tuck into my heart and cherish.

 

 

David Amram, Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Joe Pacheco

Stephanie Nikolopoulos, David Amram, RA Araya