SECTION EIGHT

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COLUMN 108, AUGUST 1, 2004
(Copyright 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)

EMAIL FROM DAVID AMRAM
AT MONTREAL JAZZ FEST


DAVID AMRAM
(Photo by Myles Aronowitz)
(Copyright - 2004 Myles Aronowitz)


The Montreal International Jazz Festival was incredible.

In 1986, when I was conducting the Montreal symphony in my multi-cultural concerts for young people, Andre Menard, the director of the Jazz Festival, saw the PBS broadcast of Dizzy Gillespie and me playing together at the Thelonious Monk Tribute Concert in Washington, DC, and told me he wanted me to come to the Festival in Montreal to perform with my group.

Eighteen years later, after he first invited me to be part of it, I finally got to perform at the Festival July 3-4 for the first time, and it was worth waiting for.

My evening outdoor concert was attended by more than 20,000 people and the other two indoor ones I did as well were packed houses, and all three of them plus a program I did at McGill University seemed to reach everyone, young and old. 

I narrated the concerts almost entirely in French, and also did a whole televised concert for Canadian SpectraVision, which will be made into commercial DVD, VHS, CD and TV special, and be distributed and shown worldwide, so that a lot of what I have done for years is now documented, in a beautifully produced five camera shoot.

The city of Montreal itself, and their International Jazz Festival are both so polycultural as well as international in flavor, that my life's approach of honoring all the musics and places I have been, was a perfect match, and made me able to the best. It was an ideal place to present and have documented what I have been doing for the past 50 years.

The communal sense of joy that filled the streets of the city, the huge audience's love of music, and the celebratory atmosphere everywhere made it hard to ever go to sleep, because there were jam sessions and concerts held all over town, most of which, like mine, were free, and attracted audiences for people from countries all over the World, also often attended by lots little kids, their parents and grandkids.

Like all great music of enduring value, this festival is living proof that Jazz is music for all ages, for all time.

As I promised my friends in China this June, I performed my new Meanderin' in Mandarin for its debut at the Montreal International Jazz Festival, using a Cantonese folk song, Yuh Guong Guong (The Moon is Shining), which I learned in June in Chengdu China, from Professor Ou Hong, when we were both speaking and performing at the "Beat Meets East" Festival there. Professor Ou Hong, also a composer, taught me the song one afternoon..

Meanderin' in Mandarin' starts off with the traditional Cantonese melody,Yuh Guong Guong, played in unison and then repeated, harmonized, and then segu's into a talking blues describing my trip to China, which then leads into a phrase in Mandarin, which I learned in Chengdu, in which I get the audience to sing back, as a blues sing-along call and refrain, in Mandarin!

For the huge outdoor concert for 20,000-plus people, I did the talking blues part of the song in French and English (Franglais) before the refrain was sung in Mandarin. It was really fun. And INCREDIBLE to hear 20,000-plus people singing the phrase---which I learned in China---sung in Montreal. I am sending a video of the piece to China so that they will know that I acknowledged them, the wonderful event in Chengdu, and that I credited Ou Hong, the person who taught me the traditional melody.

Two of my three wonderful kids performed at all of the concerts at the Montreal Festival with me. Adira, 23, who recited Children of the American Bop Night from Kerouac's On the Road with my musical accompaniment---as I often did for Kerouac himself beginning in 1956---and Adam,


David loved the egalitarian inclusive spirit and joi de vivre of Quebec


20, who played conga drums in all of my concerts, and developed his own following of fans as a result.

It was a memorable time, and a chance to also honor all those great American musicians, poets, and artists of the '50s who are no longer with us, many of whom are beloved in Montreal and throughout Canada. Many of the late musicians I acknowledged played the Festival and also loved the egalitarian inclusive spirit and joi de vivre of Quebec and the warmth and love of music and life that are the soul of Montreal and this unique musical experience.

The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is the closest we have in the States to the Montreal International Festival of Jazz. I can hardly wait to go back next year.

I am now finally back home, enjoying the anonymity and peacefulness of our farm with my son---and trying to get everything done here, between all the composing, work on my new book and farm work before other symphonic concerts and performances with my group this July and August. All of which I can drive---not fly---to.

I am also doing a score for a documentary film about World War Two German-Jewish refugees who immigrated to America, joined the US Army and went back to Germany to liberate the concentration camps, and what this all means in 2004. It is really an important document to further the cause of redemption and human understanding.

I am beginning work on a new orchestral piece, Symphonic Variations on a Theme by Woody Guthrie.

I just saw Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora recently, and the Guthrie Foundation is commissioning me to write this new composition. 

Kind of like Appalachian Spring by Copland, or my Theme and Variations on Red River Valley for Flute and Strings (i.e., a real substantial piece, not shclock-pop-elevator music).

At Nora Guthrie's request, I am using This Land Is Your Land as the theme, but will treat it in a whole different way then it has ever been used before. Much more like Brahms' Variations on a theme by Haydn rather than a high school football playing it at half-time, arranged by an army of ghost writers and orchestrators with synthesizers.

After a stately beginning, the theme appears, played by the English Horn and strings, almost like an old hymn from his childhood being sung by Woody himself, all alone at a hobo camp in the 1930s, sitting by the embers by a fire under the stars on a cool Summer night, in the field of some forgotten abandoned farm during the seemingly endless years of America's Great Depression.

The theme is then restated by the strings of the orchestra, like a religious experience in a church, during his boyhood when all seemed possible and positive, each variation will reflect the diversity of the American landscape, and the revelations of each verse, as Woody himself saw the complexities, hidden beauty, hopes, idealism and injustice. hat all are part of the remarkable poem which he made into a folk song.

Like the purity and simplicity of Matisse's final work, or the last songs of Richard Strauss, this poem is far from simplistic.

There will be an urban jazz variation, a Latin-American variation, a Native American variation, a Bluegrass variation, a neoclassical European variation, an Asian-American variation, etc., to honor the six verses of the song with six different genres of music from the American Continent, with each variation featuring a different section of the orchestra, and a grand finale, with all the idioms and themes being played together.

Nora Guthrie gave me a whole picture of what to do, by showing me the six verses that Woody wrote over a period of time in his wanderings on the road as a diary of his vision of America and discovery of himself in his travels all over the country. 

A whole different story then the rah-rah screaming versions of the song, which Nora said is not what her father had in mind---and not relevant to what he actually wrote. These six verses are so much like Kerouac's journals for what became On the Road, which Douglas Brinkley has just put together.

I met Woody on the Lower East Side in early 1956, about two months before I met Kerouac. Ramblin' Jack Elliot, who also knew both Guthrie and Kerouac, introduced me to Woody's kids Nora and Arlo, and now all these years later, this has come to pass!

It is inspiring to work on and before I have written one note, there is already interest in the piece being performed!

Then when Frank McCourt finally gives me completed text of Missa Manhattan, I can start on that as well. So, with all my performances and beginning work on my third book, I am blessed to be able to get up each day with the hopes of creating something of positive value to celebrate the beauty part of what still surrounds us.

I send cheers, and hope we see each other soon, and that Summer is full of joy for (which includes knowing that there will be NO SNOW TO SHOVEL for at least five months!!!)

All best always, till our paths cross.

David  ##


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