David Amram

David Werner Amram III (born November 17, 1930) is an American composer, arranger, and conductor of orchestral, chamber, and choral works, many with jazz flavorings.[2] He plays piano, French horn, Spanish guitar, and pennywhistle, and sings.[3] Amram has also composed scores for films, and has led quartets, quintets and larger ensembles who perform and record under his name.[4]

David Amram
Birth nameDavid Werner Amram III
Born (1930-11-17) November 17, 1930
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania[1]
GenresJazz, Classical Music, Folk Music, Choral Music, Singer/Songwriter
Occupation(s)Composer, conductor, musician, singer
InstrumentsFrench horn, piano, flutes, whistles, percussion


Amram studied at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in 1948–1949, and earned a bachelor’s degree in European history from George Washington University in 1952.[1] In 1955 he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music, where he studied under Dimitri Mitropoulos, Vittorio Giannini, and Gunther Schuller.[5] Under Schuller he studied French horn.[2]

Music projects

In 1959 Amram wrote the score for and appeared in the Robert Frank/Alfred Leslie short film Pull My Daisy, which featured Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky and Gregory Corso.[5] He composed scores for the Elia Kazan films Splendor in the Grass (1961)[6] and The Arrangement (1969),[7] and in 1962 composed the soundtrack for the John Frankenheimer film The Manchurian Candidate.[8] (He composed the score for Frankenheimer's 1964 film Seven Days in May, but it was rejected and replaced with a score by Jerry Goldsmith.)[9][10]

As a sideman or leader, Amram has performed and/or recorded with Aaron Copland, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, Jack Kerouac, Sonny Rollins, Bob Dylan, Lionel Hampton, Stan Getz, George Barrow, Jerry Dodgion, Paquito D'Rivera, Pepper Adams, Willie Nelson, Arturo Sandoval, Oscar Pettiford, Allen Ginsberg, and others.[2][5][11][12]

In 1956, Amram was hired by producer Joseph Papp to compose scores for the New York Shakespeare Festival. Over the years, Amram composed scores for twenty-five of Papp's productions, including a number of Shakespeare in the Park presentations.[1] In 1961 he served as guest composer in residence for the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont.[12]

In 1957, Amram, along with Jack Kerouac and poets Howard Hart and Philip Lamantia, staged one of the first poetry readings with jazz at the Brata Art Gallery on East 10th Street, in New York.[13][14]

In 1966 Leonard Bernstein chose Amram as the New York Philharmonic's first composer-in-residence.[1][3] He has performed as conductor and/or soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Grant Park Symphony Orchestra, and for the National Jewish Arts Festival.[12]

The United States Information Agency sponsored a number of Amram's international musical tours, including visits to Brazil (1969); Kenya (1975); Cuba (1977); and the Middle East (1978).[5]

Some of Amram's orchestral works include Symphonic Variations on a Song by Woody Guthrie,[15] (commissioned by the Woody Guthrie Foundation and premiered in 2007); and Three Songs: A Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (written for and premiered by pianist Jon Nakamatsu in 2009).[16] He conducted a 15-piece orchestra for Betty Carter's 1982 album Whatever Happened to Love?[17]

Amram was the subject of a 2014 documentary biography, David Amram: The First 80 Years, directed by Lawrence Kraman.[18]

Literary works

Amram has authored three autobiographical remembrances: Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram (1968),[19] Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac (2002),[20] and Upbeat: The Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (2007).[5]


As sideman

Selected recordings of Amram's classical compositions

  • 1993: David Amram – An American Original (Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, cond. Richard Aulden Clark)
    • American Dance Suite: Cheyenne, Blues, Cajun
    • Theme and Variations on "Red River Valley" for Flute & Strings (Julius Baker, soloist)
    • Travels for Trumpet & Orchestra: Taos, Blues & Variations, Taxim
    • Three Songs for America: Texts by John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy
  • 1995: David Amram: Three Concertos (Manhattan Chamber Orchestra, cond. Richard Aulden Clark)
    • Concerto for Violin and Orchestra (Charles Castleman, soloist)
    • Honor Song for Sitting Bull, for Cello and Orchestra (Nathaniel Rosen, soloist)
    • Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (Kenneth Pasmanick, soloist)
  • 1997: New York Legends: Philip Myers, Principal Horn, New York Philharmonic
    • Three Songs for Marlboro, for Horn and Cello
  • 1997: The Nashville Symphony, cond. Kenneth Schermerhorn
    • Kokopelli: A Symphony in Three Movements
  • 2004: American Classics – David Amram
    • Songs of the Soul: A Symphony in Three Movements (Berlin Radio Orchestra, cond. Christopher WIlkins)
    • Shir L'erev Shabbat: Excerpts from a Friday Evening Service (cond. Ken Keisler)
    • Excerpts from The Final Ingredient, an Opera of the Holocaust (cond. Ken Keisler)
  • 2006: John Cerminaro: A Life of Music, Historic Live Performances
    • Concerto for Horn and Wind Symphony (John Cerminaro, soloist, Juilliard Wind Orchestra, cond. James Chambers)
  • 2014: The Chamber Music of David Amram - Live at the New York Chamber Music Festival (artists include violinist Elmira Darvarova, flutist Carol Wincenc, Face the Music Ensemble, New York Piano Quartet, hornist Howard Wall, and the David Amram Quartet)


  • 2001: Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram (Thunder's Mouth Press) ISBN 1-56025-308-8
  • 2003: Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac (Paradigm) ISBN 1-56025-460-2
  • 2007: Upbeat: Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (Paradigm) ISBN 978-1-59451-424-1
  • 2008: Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram, new edition with introduction by historian Douglas Brinkley (Paradigm) ISBN 978-1-594515-835
  • 1986: "Making Music" (Atheneum) ISBN 0689311192 by Arthur K. Paxton


  1. Milken Archives of Jewish Music, bio of David Amram
  2. Chagollan, Steve, "The Extraordinary Career of David Amram", MusicWorld, posted at BMI.com
  3. David Amram biography by Richard Ginell at AllMusic
  4. David Amram discography at Discogs.com
  5. David Amram papers 1937–2011, New York Public Library
  6. Library of Congress listing for Splendor in the Grass, including Amram composer credit
  7. Interview with David Amram by Bruce Duffie, July 4, 1986
  8. The Manchurian Candidate composer credits at Soundtrack.net
  9. Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the American Film Institute
  10. Seven Days in May, chronicle and credits at the British Film Institute
  11. David Amram biography by Richard Ginell at AllMusic
  12. David Amram bio at Encyclopedia.com
  13. Amram, David, "Poetry and All That Jazz", AllAboutJazz.com, February 20, 2003
  14. Amram, David, "Where I'd Rather Be: David Amram, Musician and Jazz poet", The Guardian, November 9, 2007
  15. Bratman, David (October 2, 2007). "Variations on This Land". San Francisco Classical Voice. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  16. "2008 – 2009 Season". Symphony Silicon Valley. Retrieved October 17, 2011.
  17. Olewnick, Brian, review of Betty Carter's Whatever Happened to Love? at AllMusic.com
  18. David Amram: The First 80 Years on Vimeo
  19. Vibrations: The Adventures and Musical Times of David Amram at GoodReads.com
  20. Interview: "David Amram, author of Offbeat: Collaborating with Kerouac" at JerryJazzMusician, July 17, 2002
  21. Amram shares "Southern Stories", by Crystal Caviness, for United Press International, published August 20, 1999; archived at DavidAmram.com; retrieved February 20, 2017
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