Thursday, September 09, 2010

Sept. 11: The Music that broke the silence

There was that week, several years ago, that history will remember for the panic and the sweat of fear.
It will recall the smell of death, the sorrow, and the pounding drums that sounded the noise of war.

Here, there was silence. Quiet, but not calm. The kind of silence that fills an empty room after the party has ended and everyone has gone home; when all that remains are the lipstick traces on empty glasses and the lingering stench of crowded ashtrays hovering in the air.

Ten million astrologers, but no one could say that something bad was coming? A truck backfires on the corner of Broadway and Caroline Street. People waiting at the crosswalk flinch. Some visibly jump. The ones who do talk about it are reduced to muttered nuances: Aw, Christ. Ah. God. Oh, no.

While the schools try to deal with the dilemma of shielding the students, or talking them through it, society itself seems unsure about whether it should go into lock-down mode, or power up and mobilize.

Fight and flight. At night, the only sound in the sky is the rumble of fighter jets patrolling heaven, two F-14's at a time. There was the silence and there was David Amram.

It was Amram's friend and co-collaborator Jack Kerouac who tagged him with the nickname 'Sunny Dave' nearly a half-century earlier. It was when the two were young men focused on recreating American music and the spoken word with something that was later called The Beat Generation.

Kerouac reached his creative peak in the 1950s. He would not live to see the 1970s. Amram survived and his list of collaborators would grow.

Leonard Bernstein to Langston Hughes, Allen Ginsberg to Arthur Miller, Willie Nelson to Sonic Youth to Frank McCourt. He would compose more than 100 works, stand as conductor for major music festivals in Brazil and Cuba and Kenya and Egypt, and score songs for the films 'Splendor in the Grass' and 'The Manchurian Candidate.'

After all this, from being a young man in a one-room apartment in lower Manhattan to a grown man in his 70s cultivating organic vegetables on his upstate farm, he remained Sunny Dave. And tragedy or not, he was honoring his commitments.

Five days after the towers collapsed in lower Manhattan, with the rubble of concrete and dust and twisted metal still smoldering, David Amram walked into Shepard Park and onto the stage at the Lake George Jazz Festival. More than 2,000 people assembled on the sprawling lawn. For many, it was the first time they had been to a public place since that miserable day.

Amram bowed humbly to the crowd and turned around to face the 36-members of the Glens Falls Symphony Orchestra. He picked up his conductor's baton and led the ensemble into a musical opening of 'The Star Spangled Banner.' On the sloping hill of the grassy park some instinctively saluted, Many cried and behind the bandstand, on the waters of Lake George where the music was carried, passing boats slowed to a stop and started waving small red, white and blue flags that they held in their hands Amram conducted the Glens Falls Symphony through an orchestral set of classical music. The audience watched and enjoyed. The stage was cleared and he introduced the T.S. Monk Sextet.

Amram sat in and improvised jazz riffs. The audience watched and enjoyed this as well.

Blessed with an amazing talent of inspired musical coordination, Amram invited both jazz ensemble and symphony orchestra onto the stage to play together.

It was a refined orchestra. It was free jazz. It was an exhilarating collaboration - past and future -- of the blending styles of the world It was Sunny Dave's gift to America and the music that broke the silence.

The Silence of a National Tragedy

From The Saratogian
Sept. 10, 2006

NOTE: David Amram will be returning to Lake George for the first time in 9 years, when he perfoms on Saturday, September 18 in Lake George’s Shepard Park. Admission to the concert is free.

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