On Friday night, the Harker Speaker Series hosted a special evening with legendary composer David Amram. During his nearly 70-year career, Amram has collaborated with many of the 20th century’s most influential cultural figures, including Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Hunter S. Thompson and Leonard Bernstein.
The event began with a scintillating performance by the upper school jazz band, which was joined by Amram on flute and percussion, demonstrating that his skills as a soloist remain sharp. He then sat down with Harker English teacher Charles Shuttleworth for a live interview, during which Amram shared his incredible life story, beginning with his interest in classical music, which he discovered at age 11. He later became enamored with jazz, gospel and folk music from around the world. Amram described much of his life as “serendipity,” having been repeatedly blessed to be put in contact with (and subsequently work with) top musicians. After serving in the military, he was introduced to jazz bassist Charles Mingus, with whom he began playing while studying at the Manhattan School of Music. He later met Thelonious Monk, who complimented Amram on his French horn playing. “I almost fainted,” Amram recalled.
After concluding the interview, Amram joined the Harker upper school orchestra to perform Franz Schubert’s haunting “Unfinished Symphony,” as well as an original work he wrote as a tribute to Afro-Cuban percussionist and composer Chano Pozo during a 1977 cultural exchange trip to Cuba. Titled “En Memoria de Chano Pozo,” the piece incorporates audience participation, and the audience happily clapped along toward the finale. Following the event, Amram participated in an audience Q&A session before signing copies of his books in the lobby for the appreciative attendees.