A Review: David Amram, Vibrations & Downbeat

August 6, 2017

A Review:

David Amram’s Vibrations and Offbeat

by

R.E. Prindle

 

Amram, David: Downbeat: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2002

Amram, David: Vibrations, original MacMillan’s 1968, this issue Thunder’s Mouth Press 2001

Wakefield, Dan: New York In The Fifties, Houghton, Mifflin/Seymour Lawrence, 1992

 

While apparently but few have ever heard of David Amram yet he was a significant figure in the Sixties and beyond. He was or is a musician, French Horn player and composer. A couple of his movie soundtrack credits, The Manchurian Candidate and Splendor In The Grass of the Fifties give some indication of his recognition in the entertainment world although having seen both movies I had no idea he scored them while Imdb gives credit to Amram and Irving Berlin and Grass to a Euphemia Allen. So there you have it.

No one to whom I have mentioned him has ever heard of him. As I was in the record business in the Sixties and Seventies I knew the name but nothing more. I don’t recollect selling any of his records or even carrying them. I called his name up on Amazon’s Echo or Alexa and listened to a couple hours of stuff a couple of times and while the music is pleasant enough I find it undistinguished.

My attention for this review was brought to me because his book Offbeat is a record of his association with Jack Kerouac the author and founder of the Beats. I will deal with the association in the appropriate place. Vibrations, David’s first book, is a discussion of his life from birth in 1930 to his thirty seventh year in 1967, the book was published in 1968. Vibrations is a very interesting psychological study whether the reader has heard of Amram or not.   As of this writing (8/2/17) he is still living at 87 years and looking very presentable. Significantly he doesn’t call Vibrations an autobiography but a memoir.

David was born in Feasterville, Pennsylvania, where he spent his early years on a farm until his father took a war job and moved the family to Washington DC in 1942, the move was very traumatic for twelve-year old David who loved his life on the farm and never recovered from losing it. Later in life he would buy a farm.

The move to DC was especially traumatic because his family moved into a house in what was called a checkerboard neighborhood, that is a mixed Negro and White area. David and his family were themselves Jewish. The central childhood fixation that governed David’s life was when he entered Gordon Jr. High. He describes the experience in detail and since it is so important to the telling of his story I will quote in full, pp. 17-18:

Quote:

A few days later I entered Gordon Junior High School. Because I had just come from a small rural school, Gordon Junior High seemed enormous. The playground alone was larger than the entire school area in the country. The atmosphere was completely different because of the large number of students, the fact that it was a southern school and the air of seething violence that seemed to be everywhere. The atmosphere of violence was constant and when it erupted the teachers as well as the students seemed to take the idea of fighting for granted.

The moment I arrived I saw three or four serious fights in the school playground.

Six or seven boys were holding someone’s arms behind him while he was being smashed and stomped by two or three others. I was used to being in fights myself, but at least we used to go at it one at a time and when I got to be a good fighter myself, the fights finally stopped. But I noticed that here the parents of some of the smaller kids led them right into school or they came in with older kids who served as protection. It took me a little while to realize there were several organized gangs in the school, including one called the Foggybottom Gang. My sister was going to boarding school in Florida because of her health. I was sure glad she didn’t have to through this with me. When we had gone to school in the country she used to lie down on the floor of the car on the way home so the kids wouldn’t see her. She was terrified then because of the abuse I used to take being called a Jew. I had gotten used to it, but she never could.

But there at least she was safe on the floor of the car. In 1942 at Gordon Junior High no one was safe. Even teachers- those who couldn’t fight back- were in danger of being punched pummeled kicked or even knifed. It was a madhouse and I enjoyed every minute of it. I had never liked school anyway except for music and sports, so the chaotic conditions in the classroom, with kids yelling and insulting the teachers, setting their desks on fire, throwing snowballs with razors and rocks inside, fighting and even one student being pushed out the window- it all seemed wonderful and exciting to me. By the third day I felt at home. The classes were so backward that in about thirty minutes I could do all my homework and spend the rest of the afternoon practicing the piano or playing in the back with Walter and some other kids I met.

The fifth day in school I was coming from the science class when a boy named Joe punched me on the shoulder and almost knocked me down.

“Watch that, Joe.” I said.

He seemed surprised that I knew his name. “How do you know my name?” he said.

Suddenly the casual group behind him seemed to become an organized gang standing stiff and hostile. All the kids behind me also stopped and in a few seconds later the immediate rumble was inevitable.

“Never mind how I know your name, just watch who you’re pushing,” I said. With that he threw a right at me. Because I was expecting something like this, I slipped his punch. Next he hit me in the left shoulder, spinning me half around. Then he leaped for me and I caught him with my right elbow in the stomach, hit him three or four times in the face put my leg behind him, hit him on the Adam’s apple and knocked him backward into a locker. He didn’t feel like fighting anymore.

Then all of a sudden, one of the larger teachers materialized out of nowhere, hit me in the face and knocked me down. He then proceeded to knock four or five other students as well while everyone else scattered. I was stunned. Kids who hadn’t even had anything to do with the fight were lying on the floor, wondering what had happened. He pulled up and marched us up to the principal’s office. While we were waiting for the principal to come out, another teacher was rushing down the hall, yelling for the teacher to get to another class where a serious fight was going on. He left and by the time the principal came back, Joe and some of the other students had slipped out of the office leaving just one other boy and myself. The principal was a kindly old man in his seventies and obviously was nearly ready to retire. His name was Mr. Winston, a sweet old man with white hair, a white mustache, stooped and worn out by all the years in Washington’s public school system and very upset about the chaos that had developed since the war began and the younger teachers were all away.

“Boys,” he said in a genteel southern moan, “The good Lord didn’t put you on earth to act like animals. Fighting is for an animal, not for gentlemen. I want you two boys to shake hands and promise never to fight no more.”

“But I wasn’t even fighting,” said the other poor boy, about to break into tears.

“Don’t sass me son, I don’t even want your name. Just don’t let me see you in here again with fights. I don’t know what’s happened to the school and to young people today. In my day people would fight each other fair and square, out behind the schoolhouse. It’s just with the fathers away, there doesn’t seem to be any discipline.” He looked through his thick glasses at both of us almost expecting us to sympathize with him. “All right, boys,” he said wearily, “you all go back to your classes and don’t let me see you in here again.”

We got up and left and went back to our classes. After a hysterical Latin class, during which the teacher, a kindly woman in her fifties with an incredible case of dandruff, was shouted down and almost knocked to the floor by one of the students, I left in disgust. I knew you weren’t going to learn anything that way. Outside I saw Joe and the members of the Foggybottom Gang waiting. I noticed that two of them had knives, which I could see glinting in the sun. They were not switchblades but the kind of knife used for shucking oysters in Chesapeake Bay, easy to hide in your pants and very sharp. I had heard of several stabbings the year before, and I didn’t want to be the first victim of the new academic year, so I went out the back way through the boiler room and walked home.

Unquote. And David says he loved that and was right at home. Apart from pretty spectacular total recall the story sets out the problem of Black and White relations from then on. Of course the effect of this incredible first week at school was very traumatic for David fixating him it would seem with a variation of the Stockholm syndrome. Nor was this an isolated incident but the ‘normal’ situation that would go on for years, his entire youth, in David’s checkerboard neighborhood.   While seeming to maintain a rigid separation between his Black and White identities as well as White and Jewish identities his primary identity seemed to be White during this period while he sank into a medium grade depression. He immersed his mind in music to escape his desperate situation and his music the rather odd combination of French Horn and Negro Jazz. Probably the French Horn was a desperate clinging to his White identity.

But, first let us put his situation into a perspective that must lead to the Supreme Court decision of Brown vs. The Board Of Education. The Brown decision assumed that schools were not segregated and that there was no experience to indicate what the result of integration would be. Yet, here in DC in the forties and probably the thirties one has a sociological situation that indicates precisely what the result would be. There was no need for guesswork.

The Supreme Court justices who would make the Brown decision had integration information on the residential level that was horrendous. Eventually all the White people would leave DC or were driven out by the Negroes and DC became something of a cauldron of crime. One in which even Negroes were desperate to escape.

The schools were such that, as in Amram’s case he was terrorized for life but the White fantasy was that no resistance by Whites should be offered to the atrocities. Now, this was not just young Negroes mixed with young Whites. In high schools grown men were entered as students who then directed the young Negroes in terrorizing the Whites to gain control and dominance. Thus,. Whites were taught or required to accept the criminal behavior quietly or they would be charged with the horrendous crime of ‘racism’. If they fought back win or lose they would be charged as the aggressors and have their young lives destroyed, sacrificed on the altar of integration. The saying then and now was ‘you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet. Interestingly David has a song with the refrain, ‘all my eggs are broken.’

Any rational White person could see and understand the result of forced integration. Whites were being denied equality and their rights, essentially enslaved to the Negroes. The Whites of the South against whom the Brown decision was actually directed with their long experience with the Negro were clear as to the outcome. If nothing else they had this sociological experiment in DC before their eyes as well as the deplorable conditions in Northern schools which were already integrated. It was quite obvious that integration would lead to disintegration of society so it must be obvious that the intent of the Supreme Court justices was the disintegration of society.

The Southern Whites therefore put up a stout resistance refusing to accept the Justices’ decision which, after all, was merely the Justices’ intention. It would take the Executive to enforce the decision. This led then President Eisenhower to his decision to mobilize army troops and if tanks were not used my memory projected them on the scene. These were regular Army bearing arms to conduct a Negro Student into Little Rock’s Central High School.

Of course, the propaganda value of a switchblade bearing six foot four, two hundred pound Negro giant being led by an army squad into the high school was nil. Not being totally ignorant of propaganda effects, as their model student they chose a petite little girl in a pink pinafore and pigtails to be escorted by appropriately huge soldiers bearing arms. Resistance at that point was futile and Little Rock’s Central High was turned into the same hell hole that David Amram experienced at DC’s Gordon Jr. High. Rape and turmoil.

In today’s schools, one doesn’t see too many petite Negro girls wearing pink pinafores with their hair in pigtails. The propaganda effect of Eisenhower’s action was that the US government valued Negroes over Whites and that has been proven in the sequel. No integrated school today is an educational institution. Today, however, as well as knives, guns are much in use, so students pass metal detectors on the way to classes. Was Brown an improvement in race relations? As the current situation was predictable it must have been according to plan.

David Amram endured this torture all through Jr. High and High School. He must have needed some escape and he found it in his music allowing him to retreat into the safety of his own mind. Trapped in a Negro culture the music given him to express himself was Negro jazz. However the instrument he chose was the French Horn which is not a jazz instrument. He might have done better to have chosen the saxophone or trumpet if he had really chosen to excel as a jazz musician. Rather the French Horn was his rather obvious connection to his White heritage. He carried it around with him like a child and his security blanket.

Perhaps in an effort to gain some security he sought the company of Negro musicians who accepted him and his French Horn although they usually remarked: ‘Hmm, a French Horn, you don’t see those much in jazz bands.’ I never have. David must have been a semi-comical figure on the band stand. ‘Who’s the dude with the French Horn?’ Thus he had a presence in the DC area.   I presume he graduated high school although he says that what with the constant chaos in class the academic standards weren’t too demanding. Sufficient to say he attained a degree of competence on his symbolic French Horn.

I suspect that he was a mental wreck by his late teen years. The military draft had not been discontinued after the war so the probable necessity of serving in the military loomed before him. He solved this problem by volunteering just as the Korean War burst upon the scene.

Following so quickly on the heels of the Second World War the Korean War, referred to as a ‘police action’ had a psychologically disturbing effect on society especially just after the Soviet Union exploded their own atomic bomb in 1949, relying heavily on US spies. The idea that Americans would betray the country to Russians was very traumatic, causing a lot of self-doubt. It shook the country to its foundations.

-II-

David was fifteen when WWII ended and he probably graduated high school in 1948. The Korean War began in June of 1950. The military draft was still in effect so rather than wait to be called up David volunteered for a two year tour of duty in the Army. Joining the Army also got him out of DC a movthat might have been more difficult otherwise. For the first time since Jr. High, then, he was removed from a Negro environment. The military at the time was averse to social experiments so there were few Negroes in the Army. The Army, of course, had had Negro regiments since the Civil War but they had White officers and were not integrated otherwise. The Navy had never had Negro sailors except for Stewards and other service personnel and would evade integration until 1957.

While his memoir balances David’s Negro, Caucasian and Jewish heritages it must have been true that the Negro characteristics of his heritage dominated his personality at the time. He was clearly a hipster and may have been what Norman Mailer called a White Negro. Certainly his speech must have been heavily Negro and hipster, or cat, to use an alternate term.

At any rate with his trusty French Horn tucked under his arm he began his military experience. As luck would have it he was not sent to Korea but to the other side of the world to monitor the Germans and keep the Soviets on their side of the Iron Curtain. The fear of an invasion of Europe by the Soviets kept people on edge along with the A-bomb.

Psychologically his Army service must have been a healing period for David’s mind even if the military experience is nearly as traumatic as David’s DC Negroland life. But, the Army would probably have been less dangerous to navigate. And then, at twenty he was older and more able to deal with things.

To compare my own experience of a very difficult childhood that left me with certain psychological impairments and my military experience following immediately after high school graduation I was removed from the scene of my youthful pressures, and, even though under the stresses of the military, my mind began healing as soon as I left the scene of their creation so about eight months on the worst psychological effects lifted much to my relief. I’m sure that happened to David also because like me he spent the next decade or so in the process of realizing not only his White heritage but even more deeply his Jewish heritage. At this period he became a Jew. Indeed, his memoir that carries his life only up to the age of 37 was a record of that journey of realization.

David’s descriptions of his states of mind and person are presented only incidentally. There are no detached descriptions and no analysis. So looking through his narrative one sees a beat up hommey running very nearly on auto-pilot, unkempt, close to dirty, making his way through the army. His trusty French Horn removes him from the more onerous aspects of army life into a twilight zone of musical misfits forming the Seventh Army Band.

As David describes the band they are one subversive lot, refusing to wear their uniforms properly while evading all other regulations to the best of their ability. It should be noted that most were draftees and not regular Army. There was always conflict between those coerced to serve and the regulars who chose military service as their vocation, so his group wasn’t too far out of line. David describes how he grew his hair as long as possible carefully stuffing it under his hat. I know where that’s at. I too was I wouldn’t say rebellious, bur resentful, not only of the Navy but of life, I too grew my hair as long as possible and stuffed it under my hat.

I hadn’t his congenial atmosphere but I’m sure that being in with these musicians eased his two years which in different circumstances might have been disastrous. With a better frame of mind his tour of duty would have been delightful as the band toured Europe giving concerts thereby living the high life compared to foot troops.

Somewhat rescued from himself David was discharged into the world in 1953 having contributed his two years to the destiny of America. However he was still an ill man suffering the after effects of Washington DC. Consequently unable to face returning to that future he chose not to return to the United States taking up residency in Paris instead.

He was still a beat up hommey hence he chose the Bohemian way of life. While he wallowed in his misery his intention was still to reclaim the Feasterville life he enjoyed before his disastrous removal to DC. Thus, after gathering his psychological bearings to some extent he returned to the US landing in NYC in 1955. Having no desire to return to the horrific memories of DC he found his way to Greenwich Village and the Boho way of life.

-III-

From 1955 when David Amram returned to the US from Europe to 1966 when he climbed the mountain of respectability to become the resident composer of the New York Philharmonic was a short eleven years, only a decade. For the major part of those years David was a dirty, ragged Bohemian who most frequently offended his friends by his appearance and the rat holes he lived in, by his own admission. His depression must have been fairly deep yet he avoided drugs in a druggy atmosphere, stayed fairly sober and worked like the devil.

He had been advised that composing music would be his deliverance rather than his horn playing. Indeed, while David assures us that he was a superior horn player a professional shows up, befriends him, and gives him lessons on horn playing to correct his defects. Regardless then of David’s self-evaluation capable horn players thought he needed help. Composing was to be his meal ticket.

Now, let us concentrate on the subject of Amram’s second book, Offbeat, concerning his relationship with the writer Jack Kerouac. I’m sure that most people will recognize Kerouac as the author of the Beat bible, On The Road. Perhaps some of those know that Kerouac wrote reams of material throughout a couple dozen books. Critics at the time castigated the writer as close to worthless. I have to agree with them although I have to say that Kerouac is one of the all time greatest word slingers. The words slip mellifluously from his pen but with small content. His books are the equivalent of well produced B movies. For me they always leave a bad taste. I mean, he wrote about bums.

Kerouac had a difficult time getting On The Road published. Indeed from the time he wrote the book to its publication he wrote ten other unpublished books and he didn’t stop there. I was probably among the first to read On The Road. The Beats, of which Kerouac is considered the originator, were considered to be revolutionary, but as unsavory types they succeeded indirectly. Revolution was in the air in the Fifties through the Sixties and it permeated my time in the US Navy just before the beginning of 1957 through 1959.

My ship was leaving for a Pacific tour of duty at the end of the summer of 1957. Just before we shoved off, this is true, a sailor on the dock passed a blue bound advance copy to our Communist Yeoman telling him this was an important book for the revolution. I missed what was revolutionary about it reading only about a bunch of footloose losers. It was talked about aboard ship however and it changed attitudes.

Subsequently the book became a bible of sorts for a certain type of guy. I could never understand why but it was a major influence on their attitude toward life.

So, Offbeat is a three hundred page book about Jack and David’s relationship. David met him in 1956 just as the Beat movement was about to surface nationwide. According to David in Offbeat their relationship was intense; at times one can almost believe that they were married. David says that he wrote the book at the insistence of a friend who thought Dave’s experiences were too valuable to go unrecorded. However, in Dave’s six hundred page memoir Vibrations Kerouac gets only a couple mentions with no indication of an involved relationship, not even a hint of Kerouac’s significance. Where the truth lies, from my reading is indeterminate. Nonetheless certain indisputable facts are recorded.

In 1959 Kerouac wrote the script for a movie titled Pull My Daisy. A short film of twenty minutes. David was asked to score the film. His accounts between Downbeat and Vibrations vary wildly. In Downbeat he says Jack asked him to score it; in Vibrations he says Leslie and Frank did. I would imagine most people have not heard of the movie, Pull My Daisy. David makes it sound like a major cultural event. I have watched part of it. I left off maybe halfway through. David who is a real booster of anything his friends did thought it was terrific.

For those immersed in the Beat period it may be of interest to see their heroes in action. Ginsberg, Corso, Amram, they’re all there in their beatnik glory. For my tastes they looked like a bunch of bums goofing around a dump of a house. In Variations David gives credit for the film to the artist Alfred Leslie and the filmmaker Robert Frank. Leslie was an artist, apparently of some renown, I have to confess I have never heard of him, he has a couple of published collections, while Robert Frank has a reputation as an early ‘experimental’ filmmaker. Having become somewhat familiar with various experimental films I find them more self-indulgent than impressive.

In Offbeat David characterizes the performance as improvisational to the nth degree, the actors cutting up in totally undisciplined disarray. In Variations he portrays the filming as carefully planned by Leslie and Frank. Indeed Leslie ‘revealed’ in 1968 that while the production was thought to be improvisational it was actually carefully plotted. You’d have to read the sources to make up your own mind. Offbeat seems the most reasonable approach to me.

It is a silent film with no dialogue but Kerouac does a voice over completely improvised according to David while David improvises the musical background as Kerouac speaks. He says Kerouac and he were satisfied with the result while Leslie and Frank wished to make several takes to get the best possible results. Kerouac and Amram who value extemporaneity more than a hoped for perfection demur but agree to one more take and then refuse any further effort.

In Variations David says the he reworked his music separately seeking perfection corroborating Leslie’s 1968 revelation. There does seem to be a clash of ideals that reduces the integrity of David’s two texts while casting doubt on the veracity of his memories.

Dan Wakefield in his 1992 memoir, New York In The Fifties makes mention of Amram, usually positive and even admiring, as a spreader of sunshine so I suspect David of speaking well, putting things in their best light for the occasion rather than strict accuracy. This is nowhere more evident than in his account of poetry readings. He credits Kerouac and himself as introducing musically accompanied readings to Bohemia in New York. This is probably true as Kerouac and Ginsberg had been doing the same in San Francisco. I think he gives too much credit also to the quality of the poets and their poetry. I attended a coupe readings in North Beach, San Francisco and came away singularly unimpressed with the poetry although the social scene was nice.

For some delightful accounts of poetry reading in the New York of the Sixties Ed Sanders of the Fugs has wonderful accounts in his Tales Of Beatnik Glory. There are also some filmed readings on the internet, but without the ambience of being in the audience it’s not the same thing.

While David is great for waxing enthusiastic about his relationship with his horn he fades away on the historical background of his activities. For instance, he mentions the jazz bar the Five Spot as being important but fails to give context. Dan Wakefield on the other hand found the Five Spot so significant that he goes into great detail even providing some information on its ambiance. In fact, those places, jazz clubs, were holes requiring a great deal of enthusiasm for jazz to endure the environment.

I never visited any NYC jazz clubs during the day but I did pay a visit to the Blackhawk in San Francisco. The Blackhawk was one of the premier jazz clubs in the country. Let me say from the outset that I am not a jazz buff. The depression, pain and rage that underlies the music is offensive to my tastes, especially the classic jazz of the Fifties. The Negro artists of the Fifties were sui generis. As they aged they were never replaced although that fact seems to have gone unnoticed. Jazz began withering during the Sixties, was commercialized in the seventies and eighties and what remains is probably formulaic today.

The mystique of the Negro players was incredible. If the Blackhawk was any indication the club was a church for jazzists and the players were its high priests. Essentially they could get away with anything in those dark nasty hypnotic caves. The Negro artists were themselves worshipped by the Whites. Dan Wakefield tells the following story of one of the highest of the priesthood Charlie Mingus, p. 309:

Quote:

Mingus was a figure all right, and could be as dramatic and surprising off stage as on. The novelist and screenwriter Rudy Wurlitizer will never forget the time he took a beautiful girl to the Five Spot when he was nineteen years old. “I wanted to impress her,” he says. “Mingus was playing, and I could tell he noticed the girl- everyone noticed her. When the last set was over, Mingus came up to our table and took out a pair of handcuffs. He didn’t say a word, just clamped one of the handcuffs on his own wrist and then clamped the other on the wrist of my date. She didn’t say anything, and he pulled up her arm, so she stood up, and then they walked out the door together, neither of them saying anything.”

Unquote.

Of course, the important thing here is that Wurlitzer made no protest, he acquiesced in her abduction although he was responsible for her safety. No one else in the jazz church said anything either. The high priest had his prerogatives. That and the mystique accorded to the Magic Negro.

Indeed, Amram, Wakefield and others were all working hard for the integration of the bands themselves, perhaps thinking that was a panacea for something. Wakefield himself, accounts the advent of the Beatles in 1964 as the disruption of the integration dream and perhaps the beginning of the end for jazz. Certainly, the musical priesthood was transferred from Negroes to Whites when the Beatles became the high priests. As Wakefield complains, the Beatles and the bands following from England were all White. So, while there were a few exceptions in Rock- Jimi Hendrix- that jazz dream was destroyed. It should be noticed that there is a Hendrix church. Negro energy was transferred to the all Black soul bands of the Sixties led by Detroit’s Motown label.

According to Wakefield the Lit., Music and Art crowds of Greenwich Village were separate, the artists favoring the Cedar Tavern, the Literature crowd the White Horse Tavern and the music crowd the Village Vanguard and other spots. The Folk crowd was not prominent in Wakefield’s mind during the Fifties for some reason. They were certainly there. Wakefield says that while most crowds stuck to respective groups Amram was a curiosity as he moved freely through all groups with a reputation as Mr. Sunshine.

Indeed, he was something of a touch giving small sums of money to anyone who asked for it. He complains about being broke while at the same time he says that he gave his money away, living in digs few would tolerate. If his sweater, of which he speaks so lovingly, hadn’t been so raggedy, worn and smelly he would have given that off his back to anyone willing to take it. A real St. Francis. He must, then, have had many acquaintances who would speak well of him in place of returning the loans.

In addition to pushing for integrated bands and racial harmony David rediscovered his own racial roots in Judaism. A synagogue beneath his window whose religious music rose through it awakened his interest through its mournful dirge answering to his own depression as jazz did. Consequently David offered to compose sacred music for the services, which music was well received. Thus his ties to Judaism were revived.

As a composer he composed furiously, able to turn out reams and reams of compositions. Now, the Fifties, they were not a dull time unless, of course, you were dull, although my own familiarity with the later years was disrupted by entering the Navy, losing contact with those critical years for the future; I was in exile, as it were, in the military. Nevertheless, so-called world music began after WWII in the nascent Folk music scene by the group called the Weavers led by the ever present Pete Seeger. Wakefield seems to have ignored the Folkies but Folk was very largely White as well as Rock music and the two actually coalesced in the Sixties.

After the War it seems like there were hundreds of songs celebrating the charms of far away places with strange sounding names. Martin Denny’s LP The Quiet Village was a whole album of songs celebrating exotic tropical paradises.

At this time also Electra Records began a series of LPs of ethnic musics that was very in with the knowing, the avant guard. On its Nonesuch label Electra issued two terrific albums of Balinese Gamelon music including the memorable Ramayana Monkey Chant, a real listening experience. A Bulgarian record was much revered and well as several others. The African record Missa Luba is a not to be missed classic. That’s only if you are of the ilk otherwise you won’t appreciate such discs

So, David was a leader of this Travel Poster Crowd. Travel posters of far away place were de riguer on everyone’s walls especially after the Boeing 707 changed international travel in 1959. David Amram was riding the wave of a future on that score even though jazz was emitting a dying moan. By the seventies these Fifties jazz artists were so passe that a record producer by the name of Creed Taylor fashioned a line of easy listening records employing various of these old passe Negro players with reputations as a front to legitimize his easy listening and he made a fortune. There’s gold out there you just have to know where to find it. It was the end of an era.

David then had conquered all musical worlds except for the White world of classical music. As I see it he had made a million friends with his zippity doo dah attitude expecially and most importantly in the Jewish religious world.

The background story here is unknown or, at least, undiscovered by me. The New York Philharmonic had never had a resident composer but in 1966 the position was created for David. David was appreciative and by his account overwhelmed and well he might be. There appears to have been a great gulf between what he was doing and the professional world of the New York Philharmonic of Leonard Bernstein.

The impression one gets is that the Philharmonic gave into pressure from somewhere to create a respectable paying position for Dave. In doing so, of course, they enabled him to rise from his declassed state caused by his entrance into DC’s Gordon Jr. High. He now became a man of all classes and was enabled to regain his lost self-respect. He probably would never fit in to the over world because of the underclass characteristics he had acquired in his long and traumatic exile among the subteranneans.

If I had to guess as to how he was offered his newly created position I think it would be his association with the rabbis and his sacred compositions for them. The upper music world of New York is almost all Jewish. Leonard Bernstein himself, then the conductor of the Philharmonic, was himself Jewish and subject to pressure from the rabbis. I’m guessing it was all in the synagogue, but David realized his goal and immediately commemorated it in his memoir. David was only thirty-seven, living today at 87 his life wasn’t even half over.

-IV-

Up to 1967 David’s is an American story. A collection of racial, ethnic and religious heritages to be reconciled: in his case White American, Jew and Negro. The conflation of all three could have destroyed David’s life but he had what it took to blast through to salvation. Salvation to at least 1967, the sequel remains to be seen. David continues his story in a 2008 book he titles Upbeat: Nine Lives Of A Musical Cat. I have yet to read that but I may report on it when I do.

David grew up under a Melting Pot hope of immigration. Under that fantasy the immigrants would gradually assimilate themselves to Anglo-American mores, forget their antecedents and then the US would be a great big harmonious happy family Anglo Saxon family because Anglo-Saxons had discovered he secret of governing. One fault to that theory was that Negroes weren’t immigrants and the Melting Pot theory didn’t include the Negro race. No matter what happened the Negro problem would be insoluble.

The theory also broke down because some immigrant groups wished to impose their mores on the Anglo-Saxons rather than those of the Anglo-Saxons on them. Chief among those were those of David’s Jewish heritage. As it was their intention to impose their mores made it necessary to dissolve the Melting Pot into its constituent parts and then reassemble them under the Jewish aegis. Thus for several years after 1945 it became a custom to have various national festivals in which people dressed in their national dress and did a couple dances. That didn’t last too long because under American conditions it was humiliating; we were supposed to be one and for most other national customs really had no place. The time for that sort of celebration had passed.

David’s Negro heritage was a more convenient lever for disintegration as well as his Jewish heritage itself. Lest we have confusion let me say I share David’s three heritages, as do all Americans whether they realize it or not, plus a heritage of the orphanage and several lesser ones, most notable Polish an English but I consider myself American First, White second and devil take the hindmost. But, we all, because of immigration, share in each and every heritage. The Jews, the Negroes and whoever have given up any exclusivity to their heritage, like it or not.

As there was tremendous White guilt over slavery this was cultivated as the Negro question and was a great tool as witness the White girl Mingus abducted for sexual purposes no doubt and neither she nor her boyfriend nor anyone objected. No other race or nationality could have pulled that off. It is significant that Mingus knew he could. No one has to excuse his conduct because he was Black and objecting would make one a racist. Absolute nonsense. Injustice wherever it is found should be resisted.

It is also indicative of how society had disintegrated when David as a Jew, within the synagogue if I’m correct, had the job of resident composer created just for him.

America rather than being a Melting Pot was being created as diverse before our eyes consolidating under a Jewish aegis.

In order to do that it is necessary to destroy the symbols of power of the dominant culture. Thus, the well documented War on Christmas, reducing it from a national custom to a parochial one, depriving Anglo-Saxon of the notion that America is Christian. This, even though the Jews are only two percent of the population. In the last couple of years any symbol ‘offensive’ to a non-White culture such as statues, trademarks etc. are being forcibly removed by sub-cultures. Not only the Confederate flag but the US flag itself is under assault. The law, the Supreme Court Justices, enforces minority rights against the majority. Since the election of Trump resistance to these encroachments has become permissible but not legal.

The problem is not that sub-cultures want their own monuments that exist along side traditional monuments, names, titles, whatever but that the dominant culture and its monuments shall be replaced by the minority cultures and monuments.

Rather than follow that line of reasoning for the time being I think I will break off here and continue when I have read Amram’s Upbeat, see how the nine lives have worked out.

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