The Marvel-Hero Music Man Is Coming

David Amram Cover

David Amram has done everything in music and is still doing it. He has composed and conducted symphonies and concertos, written music for Broadway plays and hit movies, plays French Horn, piano, trumpet and instruments from around the world that he carries in a bag that looks like the one hefted by Santa Claus. He has played jazz with Charlie Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Cecil Taylor, written the music for the Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg “Home movie” called “Pull My Daisy,” acted in the movie, and written about it in his book Creating With Kerouac. He started off this year (his 87th) by going to Cuba to play in a music festival, and next week he is coming to perform at The Jazz Kitchen on College Avenue, Indy.

Amram is one of my few fellow survivors of New York in the Fifties (he stars in my memoir of the same name and in Betsy Blankenbaker’s documentary based on the book.) He is a year older than I am, which makes him “beloved.” You have to be over 80 years old to be “beloved.” I am going to ask him how that feels when I interview him in a one-night revival of “Uncle Dan’s Story Hour” the night of May 10 at The Aristocrat Pub and Restaurant, which will be a lively prelude to his big concerts the next night, May 11, at The Jazz Kitchen. David will come accompanied by his percussionist, Adam Amram, his brilliant bongo-playing son. Last year after his Jazz Kitchen concert, Adam said “Dad was on fire!” The truth is, David Amram is always on fire!  He makes the energizer bunny look like a loafer.

I have just re-read Amram’s early autobiography, Vibrations, which takes him from age six when he got a bugle for his birthday and began his musical career to 1965, when he wrote an opera for ABC television and returned for a gig at The Five Spot, where I first heard him play in Greenwich Village in 1957. I am going to ask him the secret to his long life of continuous creativity and his Marvel Hero energy. I know it was not his home cooking, which featured omelets that contained – among everything else he had in the kitchen – peanut butter and spaghetti. (Don’t try this at home, kids.)

Come and see our spectacle – May 10 for the interview/conversation and Amram’s piano embellishments at The Aristocrat Pub and restaurant, and May 11 at The Jazz Kitchen for the big concerts, in which I will reprise my role from last year of reading a selection from New York in the Fifties of Kerouac-ian prose while David plays in the background, just as he did in the original jazz-poetry performances in Greenwich Village. To resurrect a slogan from the era: Be there or be square!

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Mark Vonnegut Has a Message for Us

Mark Vonnegut is coming to town to talk about art, creativity, mental illness, and “the myth of mental wellness” as part of “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” at The Jazz Kitchen on Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm. Tickets are $22.

Mark is the author of two absorbing memoirs, The Eden Express and Just Like Someone Without Mental Illness, Only More So. He is a practicing pediatrician in a town outside of Boston.

“I spent two years as part of Harvard Medical School’s admissions committee, where the shorthand for artistic accomplishment was ‘extras,’” Mark said.

“The arts are about as extra as breathing,” he added.

This message is especially crucial for Indianapolis right now, as the Indianapolis Business Journal has announced it will no longer be covering the arts. To implement this plan, the IBJ has laid off Lou Harry, its longtime writer on the arts.

Are the arts not a business, as well as a form of creativity, expression, beauty, and entertainment? Don’t people buy books, paintings, sculpture, tickets for plays, symphonies, movies, comedy shows, dances, singers and bands? Don’t they go to museums, pay to hear people speak about books and the arts? Don’t they pay for classes to learn to write stories, poems, memoirs, plays, novels and movies? Does no one pay to see The Heartland Film Festival, or attend events and talks and programs at The Vonnegut Museum and Library, Conner Prairie, and The Children’s Museum? Do these events and institutions not enhance and bring prestige to a community?

The sad situation of Lou Harry’s dismissal is made even more discouraging because – as far as I know – he was the only writer who wrote a regular column reviewing books and the arts. Last year a new book of Kurt Vonnegut Complete Stories, the only volume to include every short story written by this city’s most renowned native author, received only one review in any Indianapolis publication. It was by Lou Harry in The IBJ.

How important are the arts? Our state is reeling from an Opioid epidemic, ravaging towns with young peoples’ suicides and prostitution. Mark Vonnegut, doctor and author, says “The arts are both a reason and a way to get well.”

Come to hear Mark talk about the arts with me and the brilliant saxophonist Sophie Faught for “The Uncle Dan and Sophie Jam” Tuesday, March 27, 6-8 pm at The Jazz Kitchen.

Oh – and Mark isn’t just talking; he is bringing his saxophone, too.

– Dan Wakefield

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Emmett Till talk at Martin University

“What I Learned from the Till Trial and My Friendship with James Baldwin” is the subject of a talk I will give at Martin University, Thursday, March 1, at 6pm.

The address is 2186 N. Sherman Drive. Free Parking.

I covered the Emmett Till murder trial for The Nation Magazine, and knew James Baldwin when he and I lived in Greenwich Village 1957-1963. Baldwin wrote of my first book, Island in the City: The World of Spanish Harlem:

“Dan Wakefield has a remarkable combination of humility and tough-mindedness and perhaps that is why he makes theses streets and houses and those struggling, despairing and bewildered lives so vivid.”

This event is sponsored by Child Advocates, Inc. and is a free event.

Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield