Interview: David Amram at 80 - JazzWax

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November 18, 2010


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Michael Steinman

Jazz has a few wonderful octogenarians -- Joe Wilder, Joel Press, Paul Nossiter, Bob Sparkman -- proving that doing what you love keeps you young. And "Mel Rose" had a longer history in jazz than perhaps David knew: back in 1945, he ran his own short-lived jazz record label, which produced three sessions that I know of. He had wonderful taste: one session featured Bobby Hackett; one featured Hot Lips Page (with Hank Jones and Sidney Catlett); another paired Buck Clayton and Flip Phillips (with Teddy Wilson along as well). The label name? MELROSE.
Now there's a story!

Bill Kirchner

At the risk of slightly bursting Amram's bubble, John Benson Brooks beat him to the punch in arranging and recording "Shenandoah". Brooks recorded it on his album called FOLK JAZZ, U.S.A. for RCA in November 1956. The band was Nick Travis, trumpet; Zoot Sims, alto sax (not tenor sax); Al Cohn, baritone sax (playing Danny Bank's horn); Brooks, piano, arranger; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Buddy Jones, bass; and Osie Johnson, drums.

Al Cohn sounded wonderful on baritone--a pity he didn't record more on it. And Zoot Sims was an excellent alto player, as he showed here and on several other occasions (most notably, ZOOT SIMS PLAYS FOUR ALTOS).

Doug Zielke

Interesting coincidence, Ed, that you mention "Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos". I just found a fine copy digging through the bins at my local used record shop. At first I was hesitant to buy it (I'm not fond of multiple-track-trickery), but for a paltry $'s pretty darn good, and the "trickery" is well-done and does not detract from the music. A score!

Doug Zielke

"Interesting coincidence, Ed, that you mention "Zoot Sims Plays Four Altos"."

Sorry for the typo, BILL ...I need some more coffee!

Bill Kirchner

George Handy (1920-1997), who arranged ZOOT SIMS PLAYS FOUR ALTOS, is one of the undersung great composer-arrangers in jazz.

Ed Leimbacher

Some unknown "Ed" having been invoked, I'll fill in and offer a brief comment: Sims may have played wry alto but Zoots' allure was his even rarer-issimo soprano sessions. And re: arranged... didn't he prefer just to blow?

Ed Leimbacher

By the way, Marc, to bring this back to the man of the hour, the indefatigable Mr. Amram, are any of the Classical pieces mentioned early in your phone conversation available on disc? I've always admired his ability to straddle several arts or genres at once, from Beat to downbeat to downhome to homey Americana to world arcana to unlimited Amramia.

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  • Marc Myers writes regularly for The Wall Street Journal and is author of "Anatomy of 55 More Songs," "Anatomy of a Song," "Rock Concert: An Oral History" and "Why Jazz Happened." Founded in 2007, JazzWax has won three Jazz Journalists Association awards.
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