“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or your predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”
“Once you realize it’s hopeless it’s less discouraging.”
There are three big birthdays and one anniversary in the music world in November, and all of them will be celebrated with major events.
David Amram, who turns 80 this month, remains true to his beliefs, his goals, his commitments, challenges, and joys—music and poetry being at the top of that list. At a recent event where he’d warned that he might be a bit late, he showed up, after heavy traffic and a more than two-hour journey, almost four hours late—and, like the trooper he is, he still gave his all. After knowing David for over 25 years, I can attest to the fact that he is a guy who never breaks a promise or misses a gig—in other words, a first-class mensch. If anyone deserves a big shindig to honor his career, he’s the one.
My earliest encounter with David was when, as a young man, I first viewed the Robert Frank–Alfred Leslie film Pull My Daisy, narrated by Jack Kerouac. Amram played in the film and composed music for it, including the title tune, which is still one of my favorites. I met him in the early ‘80s in Prospect Park, where he was conducting the Brooklyn Phil. We spoke about a mutual friend, the poet Ted Joans, and fast became soulmates. I have had the good fortune of reading my work with him on several occasions over the years. David is truly a master of freestyle storytelling and unrehearsed accompaniment.
Amram is a consummate composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, author, and performer. For years, amongst his other “jobs,” he led the Brooklyn Philharmonic and instituted free concerts at BAM and in parks and schools throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan, including many at the Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park. Aside from his small-group work on many events surrounding Kerouac and other great writers and poets, Amram organized symphony programs with such soloists as Nina Simone, Betty Carter, Dave Valentin, Paquito D’Rivera, Randy Weston, Jim Pepper, Candido, and Jimmy Owens, as well as conducting Bartók, Gershwin, Stravinsky, Beethoven, and any number of world-music composers.
One highlight of the birthday concert will be the New York premiere of Amram’s “Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie,” with an introduction by Guthrie’s daughter, who commissioned the work based on “This Land Is Your Land.” There will also be selections from Amram’s operas and film soundtracks, including Splendor in the Grass and The Manchurian Candidate, and a piece Amram composed for the great Latin percussionist Chano Pozo.
The second half of the evening is called “Brooklyn’s in the House” and will include music directed by educator and composer Earl McIntyre and his wife Renee Manning. The list of guest musicians includes Bobby Sanabria, Candido, John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), David Broza, and Josh White, Jr.
The “party” takes place on November 11th at Symphony Space.
On November 13th, BMCC Tribeca Performing Arts Center will present Randy Weston’s Uhuru Afrika, a concert celebrating the 50th anniversary of the recording of the composition of the same name, which was written as a tribute to the 17 African countries that gained independence in 1960. The evening will include a 27-piece orchestra featuring a number of jazz greats including Candido Camero and Charlie Persip, who played on the original album, as well as a recital of Langston Hughes’s “Freedom Poem.”
Roswell Rudd celebrates his 75th birthday on November 20th at City Winery in SoHo. He will be joined by his new band Trombone Tribe, which features Steve Swell, Deborah Weisz, Bob Stewart, Ken Filiano, and Barry Altschul. Guests include Duck Baker, Delfeayo Marsalis, Ray Anderson, Josh Roseman, Lafayette Harris, and Ivan Rubenstein-Gillis. Rudd recently stated, “New York City has been my conservatory since 1955, and the trombone has been my longest relationship. Together we travel the world…It keeps me open, inspires me to keep growing.”
Finally, in November, Henry Grimes celebrates his 75th birthday at the Stone, where he and his wife Margaret have co-curated the entire month. There will be one special birthday night on November 3rd, with an unannounced list of “surprise guests,” and throughout the month Grimes will play in many different settings, including a collaboration with poet Edwin Torres.
Last month, Frank Wess celebrated his 88th with a long night of musical and spoken tributes up at St. Peter’s Church. Other moments that both chilled and caused me to wonder in the past few weeks were a fantastic sonic duo by David Watson and Alex Waterman; a truly great performance of Cage’s Four Walls by pianist Margaret Leng Tan at the Stone; a debateable affair by Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn; great moments by John Tchicai, David S. Ware, Tony Malaby, and Joe McPhee; and a warm memorial for Abbey Lincoln, at which Cecil Taylor appeared and was asked, due to the length of his piece, to stop before he was finished.
In a recent performance of the early works of Trisha Brown at the Whitney Museum, Stephen Petronio exclaimed—after literally walking down the outside wall of the museum on a windy, storm-threatening day in Brown’s aptly titled piece Man Walking Down the Side of a Building—“What does it take for me to be exciting? Walking down a building every day?” So, dear readers, all I can say is, Listen very carefully to what occurs between each footstep.