Composer, conductor, multi-instrumentalist, and raconteur par excellence David Amram put on a show at the Greenwich Village venue Cornelia Street Cafe (there was a round of applause when it was announced that the Cafe's lease, despite contemporary Village real estate madness, has been extended for five years; it has been in its location since 1977) on Monday evening, April 2. The event was arranged by Lion's Head veteran Jack Deacy, who spread the word with help from Dermot McEvoy, who maintains a e-mail list of over 100 alumni of "Lion's Head University." The Cafe's narrow performance space was packed, leaving quite a few, like your correspondent, who didn't know he needed no steenking reservation, seated on bar stools or standing in back.
By Jack's count, in addition to him, Dermot and me, these were the Lion's Head folks present: Sheila McKenna, Mary Elizabeth Pendl, Barry Murphy, Jeanine Johnson Flaherty, Tim Lee and Joann Horovitz, Mary Breasted and daughter, Peter Myers, Dave Coles, Neil Hickey, Billy Powers, Patsy Denk, Jill Freedman, and Myron Rushetzky. Also present were husband and wife actors Kier Dullea and Mia Dillon who treated us to readings from the works of Jack Kerouac, as did Canadian actor Michael Sean Collins. Frank Messina, poet laureate of the Mets (a title once earned, though never officially bestowed, on late Head regular Joel Oppenheimer), read two of his poems. Singer-songwriters Beatie Wolfe and Morley Kamen sang.
The video clip above shows David singing a segment from "Pull My Daisy", a song he composed, with lyrics from a Kerouac poem, for the film by the same title. He is joined by Cuban jazz great Paquito D'Rivera, who plays a solo on clarinet. David's excellent sidemen on this and other pieces are, from left to right: Cameron Brown on bass, Elliot Pepper on bongos, Kevin Twigg on drums (and, in a later piece, glockenspiel), and David's son Adam Amram on congas.
Here David plays a shennai, a reed instrument of Indian, or possibly Persian, origin. During the course of the evening, in addition to piano and shennai, he played French horn, a Chinese instrument the name of which I don't recall (though it may have been a huluhu), a drumlike instrument the name and origin of which I don't recall, and two tin whistles, one from each side of his mouth. He also demonstrated proper technique for playing the tambourine (it's not just shake and slap).
Those of us who were, for its too brief existence, also devotees of a bar called the Bells of Hell (it was always a moveable feast between the Bells and the Head) remember David Coles as Denver Dave, resplendent with almost shoulder length blond hair, tending bar there many nights. His western drawl and low key manner couldn't hide his keen intelligence and depth of knowledge which, as the saying goes, he wore lightly. Bells regular Zizi Roberts wrote and sang a lovely song about Dave and his "cowboy dream." After the Bells closed, Dave went to Washington, became part of the team at PBS's NewsHour, and lost his long blond mane. He's now writing a memoir, and, with piano accompaniment by David Amram, read a part of it about Amram's visits to the Bells, a portion of which is shown in the clip above. Dave's reference to "Irish acid rock" is to Turner and Kirwan of Wexford.
Closing time at the Head often called for a parting song, and "Wild Mountain Thyme" became the customary choice. I earler posted a clip of David and another former Head regular, folksinger Tom Paxton, singing "Wild Mountain Thyme" at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. On Monday night, David started it off slowly and mournfully, as it should be, on flute. After a few bars, the Head veterans started to sing, their voices swelling to the end.