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Highlights in Jazz

Nick Catalano By

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A while back at "Highlights in Jazz" the longest running jazz subscription series in Gotham, producer Jack Kleinsinger presented composer/musician/writer David Amram. At seventy, Amram is still producing, composing and playing marvelous musics that run the gamut from classical to folk to chamber to jazz and beyond that. A truly astounding eclectic, Amram has "hung out" with practically every important art figure of the past fifty years and used his myriad associations to implement his musical creativity. From Jack Kerowac, Alan Ginsberg, Jackson Pollack and Willem Dekooning, to Demetri Mitropoulous, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Clifford Brown, Amram has a cast of characters in his life story that reads like a venerable Who's Who of 20th Century luminaries. In addition, his collection of Oscars, Grammy and Emmys for compositions, movie scores and symphonic works is the stuff of legends.

If you would like to live life vicariously and jam with jazz greats in the hot clubs of Germany and France during the post-war bebop days then you need to read Amram's biographical tome dubbed "Vibrations." It has just been reissued and is a must read for art and music lovers everywhere.

The much-heralded Marcus Roberts gave a solo piano concert at Avery Fisher Hall in early April. He performed music by Jelly Roll Morton, James P. Johnson, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and other immortals. Roberts's theme was the history of jazz piano and his scholarship and insight into the repertoire was first rate. However, on each arrangement he presented improvisational designs that were feeble. Because he utilized incoherent multifarious melodic and harmonic ideas his performance lacked cohesive emotional power. "His ambition is to have a harmonic palette so broad that he can express himself in any format moving . . . beyond style," wrote Stanley Crouch in the program notes. Indeed this seemed to be Roberts's intention and that was the reason for my disappointment. Aimless eclecticism, however brilliant the technique, should not be the goal of a serious artist. To eschew style and structure at the beginning of one's jazz career is a mistake; To develop an individuating approach and then abandon it for another as Miles Davis did is one thing but to ignore style from the outset is fatuous.


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