Gallery Index

David Amram

Forty-one years before Johanna Justin-Jinich would die too young, composer David Amram was thirty-seven years old and planning to make his will. 
Typed out quickly on a to-do list that Amram tucked away among his massive collection of personal papers, musical scores, photographs, book drafts and concert reviews, I came across it by chance while working on a gallery exhibit of Amram's life and work, Rising Young Composer, as well a new Afterward to his classic 1968 memoir, Vibrations, in the summer of 2006. 
I write about it here to fit it carefully, like a puzzle piece, into the chronology of Amram's life and to show how even the most mundane and everyday of objects can leave behind an intriguing biographical trace. 

To-Do List, Courtesy of David Amram  
It was sometime in 1967, just after he had been named by Leonard Bernstein as the first composer-in-residence of the New York Philharmonic, that composer David Amram wrote a to-do list, where first on his agenda was to "make a will."
His life, up until that point, had simply been too busy. A musical prodigy in his youth, he had skipped out of his studies in music composition at the Manhattan School of Music in 1956, after his daily schedule of working at the Post Office, performing practically every night, all night, with his jazz trio, as well as jazz greats such as Lionel Hampton, Charles Mingus and Dizzy Gillespie and composing music for Joe Papp's Shakespeare in the Park and New York playwrights like Arthur Miller, started getting in the way.
He eventually was able to give up his job at the Post Office, after getting some work in the movies, writing scores for John Frankenheimer and Elia Kazan.  Then came the call from Leonard Bernstein at the New York Philharmonic and David found himself profiled as America's most rising young composer in a four-page feature article in Life magazine.  Yes, he thought, now was time to take stock, act like a grown-up and make a will.  It would literally be, among other important practicalities he needed to take care of during those days, (like buying fireproof cabinets, calling the neck doctor and writing his mother's friend), be the first thing on his list.
He never did, however, though it remains on some of his to-do lists to this very day.  He plans to, he tells me, now in his seventy-ninth year, to get around to it, the very first moment the distraction of making music doesn't get in his way. 
Audrey Sprenger is currently finishing fieldwork for her new book, The Beauty Parts, An Impossibly Romantic Biography About Jack Kerouac.