David Amram started his professional life in music as a French Hornist in the National Symphony Orchestra (Washington, D.C.) in the early 1950s, as well as playing French horn in the legendary jazz bands of Charles Mingus, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton. Appointed by Leonard Bernstein as the first Composer In Residence for the New York Philharmonic in 1966, he also composed the scores for the films Pull My Daisy (1959), Splendor In The Grass (1960) and The Manchurian Candidate (1962). He composed the scores for Joseph Papp’s Shakespeare In The Park from 1956-1967 and again worked with Papp on the comic opera 12th Night in 1968. He also wrote a second opera, The Final Ingredient, An Opera of the Holocaust, for ABC Television in 1965.
From 1964-66, Amram was the Composer and Music Director for the Lincoln Center Theatre and wrote the score for Arthur Miller’s play After The Fall (1964). A prolific composer for over 50 years, his most recent symphonic compositions include This Land, Symphonic Variations On A Song By Woody Guthrie (2007), commissioned by the Guthrie Foundation and recently performed by the Colorado Symphony with Amram conducting and recorded by Newport Classics in 2015; Giants of the Night (2002) commissioned and first premiered by flutist Sir James Galway; Kokopeli, A Symphony in Three Movements (1995), premiered by the Nashville Symphony Orchestra with Amram conducting; and Three Songs, A Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2009). He has also collaborated as a composer with Elia Kazan, Arthur Miller, Eugene Ormandy, Langston Hughes and Jacques D’Amboise and as a musician with Thelonious Monk, Johnny Depp, Hunter S. Thompson, Odetta, Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Betty Carter, Floyd Red Crow Westerman, Arlo Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Paquito D’Rivera and Tito Puente.
In 1957, he created and performed in the first ever Jazz/Poetry readings in New York City with novelist Jack Kerouac, a close friend with whom Amram collaborated artistically for over 12 years. Since the early 1950s, he has traveled the world extensively, working as a musician and a conductor in over thirty-five countries including Cuba, Kenya, Egypt, Pakistan, Israel, Latvia and China. He also regularly crisscrosses the United States and Canada. Amram is the author of three memoirs all published by Paradigm-Routledge Press, Nine Lives of a Musical Cat (2009), Offbeat: Collaborating With Kerouac (2005) and the highly acclaimed Vibrations (1968, 2007). His archive of professional and personal papers were recently acquired by the Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts Branch of the New York Public Library. And, he was recently the subject of the full-length feature documentary David Amram: The First Eighty Years, which is available on Vimeo On Demand.
In 2011, Amram was inducted into the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame as recipient of the The Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2013 he was presented with Clearwater’s Pete and Toshi Seeger Annual Power of Song Award. In 2015, The Theater For The New City honored him with their annual Love & Courage Award. And in recognition of his enormous achievements and continuing contributions to the cultural life of New York City, Brooklyn College presented David Amram with an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts and chose him as their commencement speaker.
In 2016 he received several awards for his lifetime of work as a classical composer, improvising multi-instrumentalist and pioneer of World Music. as well as touring internationally and premiering Three Lost Loves for alto saxophone, violin and piano, commissioned and performed by the New York Chamber Music Festival who have chosen him as their composer in residence for their 2016-2017 season. In 2017, he is composing a double concerto for violin, cello and orchestras and making a string orchestra version of his Greenwich Village Portraits for saxophone and orchestra as well as composing a ballet piece for choreographer Jacques d’Amboise.
While composing, he continues to perform as a guest conductor, soloist, multi-instrumentalist, band leader and narrator in five languages.