A Friday, September 16 concert at Joe’s Pub in Manhattan centered on Beat Generation writer/poet Jack Kerouac’s 100th birthday, but the most jaw-dropping number at hand that night was 65; it had been so many years since one of the performers of the evening, David Amram, had pioneered improvisation Jazz poetry in an art gallery a few blocks away in 1957, along the On the road author. And though more years have passed in the meantime than Kerouac has on earth, 91-year-old Amram remains nimble on everything from piano to panpipes while effortlessly dispersing his mind . good words in the blink of an eye.
Alongside Latin jazz maestro Bobby Sanabria, Amram toasted the legacy of his late friend and collaborator as part of The Village Journey, an annual festival celebrating the rich cultural and musical heritage of New York’s Greenwich Village. (In its fourth iteration, the festival expanded to a two-week affair, from September 10 to 25.) But the atmosphere at Joe’s Pub on Friday night was less inherited and more lively. The concert, titled Children of the American Bop (And Mambo!) Night, was a vibrant, flowing, breathing dose of Charlie Parker-esque bebop and mambo music (think Titos, Puente and Rodríguez) that fueled the pounding rhythms of the Beat Generation and its scribes, from Kerouac to Allen Ginsberg.
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With bandleader Sanabria on drums and Amram alternating between piano, bongos and pennywhistle, the main band (which included Amram’s son Adam on percussion) was joined by Bronx native Jennifer Jade Ledesna, whose uplifting voice and lithe dance dominated the stage during the mambo. Numbers; Antoinette Montague, raised in Newark, NJ, a surprisingly powerful jazz and blues singer whose pipes and presence elevated the evening; plus, actress Adira Amram (David’s daughter) and the irrepressible Marcos de la Fuente, who performed Kerouac’s lyrics in English and Spanish, respectively, while the band played the music Kerouac loved.
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“Shakespeare said ‘brevity is the soul of wit’ / As for tonight, I guess that’s it,” Amram joked over a groove at the end of the show. (By a strange coincidence, Turner Classic Movies started showing movies from 1961 splendor in the grass shortly after the end of the performance, which includes a score by Amram – so, in a sense, his music played well into the evening long after he left the stage.)
It’s far from over for The Village Trip, which continues for another week and includes many musical events. There are two concert tributes to Phil Ochs (September 18 and 21), an evening of music by Charlie Parker and Stefan Wolpe (September 22), a celebration of Philip Glass at 85 (September 23) and much more.