Celebrating A Musical Icon At 80

David AmramCourtesy David Amram David Amram will celebrate his 80th birthday with a fundraiser at the Bowery Poetry Club Jan. 30.

The rapidly altering Bowery landscape might prove disorienting to someone who first performed at the fabled Five Spot jazz club in 1956, then located on the Bowery at Fifth Street. For David Amram this isn’t the case, as he prepares to celebrate his 80th birthday at a fund raiser for The Community-Word Project on Jan. 30 at The Bowery Poetry Club. A long-time downtown resident, Mr. Amram has continued to create music, perform and remain vital over the past half century. He explains that “It’s important for young artists to see it’s possible to lead a creative life in the arts.’

Internationally known as a composer, multi-instrumentalist, conductor and author, Mr. Amram has composed more than one hundred orchestral and chamber music works, along with film scores such as those for “Splendor in the Grass” and “The Manchurian Candidate.” He has collaborated with a vast legion of performers including Charles Mingus, Willie Nelson, Dizzy Gillespie, Langston Hughes, Bob Dylan, Miles Davis, Nina Simone, and scores of others. In 1966, Leonard Bernstein chose him as the first guest composer-in-residence of The New York Philharmonic.

Amram remembers living on Eighth Street between Avenues B and C from 1955 to 1957 and recalls the creative community existing on the Lower East Side during that period as poets, musicians, painters, photographers, playwrights and filmmakers gathered in Village bars such as The Cedar Tavern, The San Remo and The Five Spot. He helped organize early readings where poets including Jack Kerouac, Phillip Lamantia and Howard Hart read to musical accompaniment.

In 1959 he composed the music for, as well as acting in, “Pull My Daisy,” the classic underground film shot in director Alfred Leslie’s Lower East Side loft. Both Mr. Leslie who directed the film and Robert Frank who filmed it continue to live in the neighborhood.
Mr. Amram has written three books which trace his career and describe his collaborations with Mr. Kerouac and other artists.

David Amram, 1957Burt Glinn Mr. Amram playing the Five Spot jazz club, 1957.

Mr. Amram will be performing with his quartet at The Bowery Poetry Club along with surprise guests. Actor John Ventimiglia of The Sopranos will read passages from Mr. Kerouac’s work to Mr. Amram’s accompaniment. Mr. Amram’s three children, Adira, Alana and Adam will also be performing. Mr. Amram invites all to join him in the celebration of his Lower East Side roots. Certainly attendees are in for a rare treat in having the opportunity of seeing a legend perform. I look forward to seeing you there.

Cary Abrams, a contributor to The Local East Village, is co-organizing the Amram event at the Bowery Poetry Club.