Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Celtic Crush Interview


            Celtic Crush is the only Celtic rock and traditional radio show broadcast throughout all of North America. It can be heard on Saturday mornings 7pm ET and Tuesday nights 11pm ET on SiriusXM Satellite Radio (The Spectrum - Ch. 28).

            “It really makes a difference,” says its host, Larry Kirwan, “when you know you can be heard from Arizona up to Labrador in the Arctic Circle or from Florida to Alaska. Even with the big New York AM channels you can rarely hear them fifty miles from the city.”

            But then Celtic Crush is a unique show no matter what way you look at it. A mixture of music and talk that sometimes harkens back to the glory days of FM radio of but done in a fast paced and modern manner.

            “I grew up listening to the taste and knowledge of John Peel on BBC but I also loved the excitement of the DJs on pirate radio. Then when I came to New York everyone listened to WNEW-FM and I came under the influence of people like Vin Scelsa, Alison Steele, Jonathan Schwartz and Meg Griffin. Yet when I came to do my own show I knew that the world had changed, if you want to tie a lot of different types of music together in an informed manner, then you must do so with contemporary energy.”

            And Celtic Crush pushes the envelope when it comes to the vast array of music you will hear in the course of a three-hour show. As Kirwan promises at the beginning of each show you will hear “a selection of the old, the very old, the new and the very new in music from the 8 Celtic nations and their related cultures.”

            “Celtic music is now so broad-based that it’s almost dizzying. It has infiltrated its way across the whole rock genre and traditional musicians are now combining with the music and musicians of many other cultures. The trick is – how to combine it all so that a three-hour radio show can seem organic. I’ve found that you need two elements, great songs and a style of delivery that is both conversational, dramatic and always tells a story.”

            “I begin work on Saturday’s show early in the week, plotting out thirteen sets of three songs, taking care to repeat no more than one or two songs from the previous show.  The first set will set a theme as I begin each show with a two to four minute monologue that must capture the attention of the listeners. I rarely use notes, in that way there’s always an element of danger and some of the best pieces come when improvising. There’s nothing quite like the live element to radio.”

            How does he choose the songs? On a recent show I heard music ranging from the revered Sean O’Riada to Irish R&B sensations, The Strypes; from The Furey Brothers to Afro-Celt Sound System; from Shaz Oye, a Nigerian-Irish chanteuse to The Pogues.

            “I choose them by the song – not the singer. People who subscribe to SiriusXM are radio heads and they have a vast array of choices – over 150 channels of every type of music and talk – so you have to be able to hold your audience. Your show is only as strong as your weakest song. So every song has to be great. I don’t care if it’s old or new, in fashion or out of fashion, a great song always shines through. And when you’re playing 40 of them in the course of a show then you had better make sure that they’re all top of the line.

            “A Celtic Crush listener may have their favorite genre, say Celtic Punk of the Dropkick Murphys or the musical lyricism of Sinead O’Connor; or a Damien Dempsey ballad or a trad Irish band like Dervish. I have to make sure that the song I choose will be the best so that someone who doesn’t care as much for that genre will be sampling the cream of the crop.”

            How does he get the Dubliners from the 60’s to mix with a more modern band like Swell Season?

“That’s simple,” Kirwan laughs. “Both Luke Kelly and Glen Hansard have red hair! But seriously, both are telling stories and being a musician I can hear the songs in my head and chose ones that will mix well in some way. The rest is done through the magic of the segue, perhaps cross-fade them. And if you can get a couple of seconds of beautiful dissonance before the new song succeeds the old one, then all the better.”

Where does he come up with the various facts and information that spice his voice breaks?

“Well, I’ve been around. Through Black 47 I know many of the acts I play, or else have seen them. I occasionally check some fact on the internet the night before, but for the most part, once I plan out the sequence of songs early in the week, I’m thinking of them and ways of presenting them come to mind. I don’t take notes but then when I’m doing the show I can improvise around some of the ideas.”

I always enjoy Kirwan’s interview. They seem very relaxed even when dealing with occasionally difficult subjects like Sinead O’Connor.

“Well, I’ve given so many interviews myself with Black 47, I know the last thing some stressed out singer on tour needs is another series of banal and generic questions. You’ve got to make it interesting for the artist. I keep it as much as possible focused on the music. That’s the most important thing to any serious artist. It’s a relief for them to deal with someone who knows what they’ve gone through to get this far. And they love to talk about their songs, and their craft and, frankly, that’s what my very informed audience wants to hear about.”

Who were his favorite interviewees?

“Friends like Dave King and Bridget Reagan of Flogging Molly or Rosanne Cash are always great as we just let our hair down and have a chat that can go really deep at times, dealing with fears and failures along with joys and triumphs. Richard Thompson was my first and, after he relaxed, he spoke very movingly about the late Sandy Denny, one of my favorite artists. But perhaps, Ray Davies of the Kinks was the standout.”

What makes The Kinks Celtic?

“Well, Davies is a Welsh name but Ray considers himself very Celtic. He lives part of the year in Cork. And besides he’s one of the great storytellers in rock – a real seanchai. He was utterly charming but in a sincere manner, had total recall of his experiences. He’s also one of my songwriting heroes. He talked at length about the Kinks’ classic, Waterloo Sunset. He remembered every detail of its writing and recording and was thrilled to talk about it. The response from the listeners by email was stunning.”

Does Kirwan respond to every email? He did within hours to mine when requesting this interview.

“It’s an important part of the show – that interaction between host and audience. I give out my email address a couple of times during each show. People love to make suggestions and even send CDs and mp3s of their favorite songs. I listen to them all and choose the best. It’s great to find a powerful song from an unknown artist and give them an outlet.  
          
So what’s next for Celtic Crush?

“I don’t know, we’ll see who’s coming through town and get them up in the studio. I think Glen Hansard is coming up soon again. I’d like to get Van Morrison in some day and talk about his music.  

But it’s Monday morning and I have Saturday’s show to prepare. I always try to introduce a couple of great new songs every week and then mix them in with selections from a database of what must be around 1500 songs. Then find some interesting subjects to weave in amongst them. I often look at it the way the old bards must have – you’re going into the noble’s house to entertain with a mixture of song and story. You’re singing for your supper – you better get it right.”

Saturday, 5 April 2014

The Ballad of Brendan Behan


Born in the glory of Russell Street
You grew up humming Amhrán na Bhfiann
Your auld lad did time in a Free State jail
For Republican activities beyond the pale
You were your Granny’s best boy, your Mammy’s best chap
You loved to butter the old ladies up
But your soul had been scorched with the orange, white and green
You were the one and only Brendan Behan

            I often wonder about biographies. Can you really get to the truth of someone you’ve never met?

            I was an avid reader of biographies until I happened on one about a friend, Lester Bangs, the iconic rock critic. It was well written and researched, and captured the public image of the man to a T but had scarce little to do with the troubled, insecure person that I often encountered late at night in the Bells of Hell.

            Turned out the writer had only met Lester once, and obviously on an occasion when Mr. Bangs was in top myth-making form.

            I was very aware of this when writing The Ballad of Brendan Behan for Last Call, the final Black 47 CD. What was the man really like, and when exactly did he morph from the dynamic, socially conscious writer to the pugnacious, often-inebriated public figure of his later years?

            One thing for sure, Brendan Behan packed a lot of living into a short life before succumbing from drinking and diabetes 50 years ago. Even back then, few had seen his plays or read his books and yet he was the most infamous Irishmen of his time.

            Did the fame kill him or was he always on a one-way track to destruction? One thing I do know, you have to shovel aside a lot of media exaggeration and infatuation to get to the heart of the man. That being done, you come face to face with a force of nature and a very original voice.

            For Brendan Behan was the proud, unfettered spokesman for working class Dublin. True, Sean O’Casey had already paraded vital inner-city characters across the world’s stages; but the abstemious O’Casey wrote about other people, Behan rarely wrote about anyone but himself. And therein, lay the seeds of his downfall. For you need a cool head and a pragmatic disposition to navigate the reefs that separate the private from the public personae.

            Brendan possessed neither. He was all passion and heat, with no little interest in self-promotion and celebrity. It’s interesting to contrast him with his spiritual heir, Shane McGowan, another singular voice of the people.

Shane has never hidden Behan’s influence, and why should he? He’s one of the many who benefited from Brendan’s proletarian trailblazing. And yet the gap-toothed London singer from day one has had a healthy disregard for the media. Perhaps, that’s what has kept him alive.

            “Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves.”

            Despite the defiance of this quote, Brendan – unlike Shane - was deeply wounded by criticism, especially in his final years when it became obvious that he had wasted his talent in endless pub-crawls.

            But could his fate have been any different given that he spent so much of his youth in prison, sometimes in solitary confinement? Undoubtedly an alcoholic, he rarely drank at home but was always in need of the warmth of a pub, the liberating effect of gargle, and an audience.

            Without fame and publishing advances he would have been just another garrulous drunk who would eventually stagger home and deal with the hangovers and empty pockets. Instead there was always someone who wanted to bask in his glory or a press photographer with an eye for a juicy story.

            In the end though Brendan opened the door for so many who didn’t have the proper accent, background or education, but like him had the burning desire to tell the unalloyed story of their lives. And that’s why the “laughing boy” still matters 50 years after his death at the age of 41.

You left us your poetry, your soul and your dreams
You’ll always be our one and only Brendan Behan

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

The Price of Privacy


            What do you think of Edward Snowden? 

            I’m talking about the bespectacled gentleman who broke the news that the NSA is keeping tabs all of us. You could reduce his actions to a simple – “Well, he betrayed his country, allowed our enemies access to national security secrets, so send him up the river for 20 years.” You’d definitely have a point.

            On the other hand, most great political and social changes have originated with rebels who decide their government, or its methods of ruling, are detrimental to the welfare of its citizens.

            Those who opposed the Vietnam and Iraq wars are now seen to be on the side of the angels while the “patriots” who sent American kids halfway around the world to be maimed and slaughtered are discredited.

            If nothing else Snowden’s case once more highlights the fact that when governments accrue great powers - allied with breathtaking technical tools - they will use them. Remember the smirking face of Donald Rumsfeld at televised news conferences as he extolled US firepower during the first  “surgical strikes” on Baghdad.

            We watched in fascination as offending targets were pinpointed and summarily destroyed much like in a video game. No mention was made, however, of the many innocent people who died in these assaults.

            The bottom line is – if the NSA has the power to vacuum great quantities of phone and internet data, it will; and, given the right set of circumstances, that information will be used for political purposes. And I’m not talking Republican/Democrat here. President Obama shows every bit as much zeal in maintaining a secretive and burgeoning national security apparatus as his paranoid predecessor.

            Had Snowden not blown the whistle, none of us would have been any the wiser about the sheer extent of government surveillance. No one is saying that a tap shouldn’t be put on potential suicide bombers or the like, but there was a time when you needed a court order to do that - and that system worked well.

            But Snowden has only touched the tip of the intrusion iceberg.  Take Google, and in particular its Gmail service. Ever notice just how the various advertisements that appear on your social media pages are so tuned into your interests?

            Oh man, have they got me down! Ads for Celtic Rock, Manchester United, and pale ales, appear with numbing regularity; of late, however, offers of cures for alcoholism and flagging sexual interest have caused me deep concern. Does Google know something I don’t?

            Recently I’ve been inundated with ads for Gilt? Never heard of it? Well, neither had I, but it’s an online outfit that can garner you large discounts on brand clothing. Now I’ve never bought an article of clothing online, so was wondering if Google had finally hit a wall. But, lo and behold, turns out I had loaned my computer to a friend and, upon inquiry, discovered that like any respectable young metrosexual he visits Gilt.com everyday.

            It’s a crazy ever-morphing world. The very concept of privacy is out the window in most people’s lives. Take the twin phenomena of reality shows and Facebook. In a mad lust for celebrity many are willing to abase themselves before millions on television, while most others share intimacies online that would have appeared shocking a decade ago.

Many people under 30 find this all this quite normal. Few care that if you put something up on Facebook you are granting the company the right to exploit that information for commercial purposes.

            Why get upset? Everyone else is doing it, and besides it doesn’t cost anything. In the end, however, privacy will cost - and a lot. For many of us have already made a pact with the digital devil – if I use your free services I hereby grant you the right to exploit me in return.

            That difficult but perceptive man, George Orwell, must be groaning in his grave. Not only has 1984 come to pass but, hey, we’re all down and dirty with it.

            That’s why I think Edward Snowden is much more saint than sinner; I would even venture to call him a citizen visionary. He has seen the future and is prepared to do something about it.
            

Sunday, 16 March 2014

St. Patrick's Day Message


On one day a year, they congregated outside St. Patrick's Cathedral off Prince Street in New York City and marched in celebration. To some of these immigrant Irish and their American born children it was a religious occasion, but to most the gathering was an affirmation of their right, not only to survive but to thrive in their adopted country. That's what I sense on St. Patrick's Day - an echo from a time when the Irish were despised outsiders.  And that's why I go along with the raucous energy, the excitement and even the green beer, the plastic shamrocks and the ubiquitous leprechaun. 

I didn't always feel that way. When I arrived from Ireland, these manifestations of Irish-America were at best embarrassing. Back home, our own celebrations were rigid and religious; we did sport actual sprigs of shamrock but there was no beer, green or otherwise on this gloomy church holiday. The Parade up Fifth Avenue and the ensuing bacchanal seemed downright pagan by comparison.

I had other immigrant battles of my own ahead. Black 47 was formed to create music that would reflect the complexity of immigrant and contemporary Irish-American life and to banish When Irish Eyes Are Smiling off to a well earned rest at the bottom of Galway Bay. This idea met with not a little resistance in the north Bronx and the south sides of Boston and Chicago; but when irate patrons would yell out in the middle of a reggae/reel "Why can't yez sing somethin' Irish?" I would return the compliment with, "I'm from Ireland, I wrote it! That makes it Irish!"

With time and familiarity, Irish-America came to accept and even treasure Black 47, probably more for our insistence that each generation bears responsibility for solving the political problems in the North of Ireland, than for recasting Danny Boy as a formidable gay construction worker. I, in turn, learned to appreciate the traditions of the community I had joined along with the reasons for the ritualized celebration of our patron saint.  And now on St. Patrick's Day, no matter what stage I'm on, mixed in with the swirl of guitars, horns, pipes and drums, I hear an old, but jarring, memory of a people rejoicing as they rose up from their knees.

Our battles, for the most part, have been won; indeed, one has to search an encyclopedia for mention of the Know-Nothing Party or various 19th Century nativist politicians and gangs. Anti-Irish sentiment, not to mention Anti-Catholicism is a thing of the past. Might it not be time then that our New York St. Patrick's Day Parade broadens its parameters to celebrate all Irishness no matter what religion (or lack thereof), sexuality or political conviction? It's a broad step, I know. But with the makings of a just peace finally taking seed in the North of Ireland, might we not some day witness Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and various members of the Irish Gay community walk arm in arm up Fifth Avenue. Impossible? Times change and with them tactics and even treasured principles!

Whatever about Parade pipe dreams, we still must honor the memory of those who paved the way for us. Part of that responsibility is that Irish-Americans should never forget the new immigrants from other lands, legal and otherwise. Many, like our forebears, are fleeing tyranny and are striving to feed and educate their families. It would be the ultimate irony if an Irish-American were to look down upon the least of them; for, in my mind anyway, there is no place in the Irish soul for racism, sectarianism, homophobia or even dumb old Archie Bunker type xenophobia.

I once heard Pete Hamill ask: "What does the Pakistani taxi driver say to his children when he gets home after 12 hours behind the wheel?" I can't answer for certain but I'll bet he echoes many of the sentiments of those Irish who gathered outside St. Patrick's Cathedral so many immigrant tears and years ago.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Transport


             Wexford has long had an association with Australia. It began soon after the uprising of 1798 - when Lord Cornwallis declared an end to executions those rebels still in captivity were shipped off to the Botany Bay penal colony.

            They took their grudges with them and in 1804 rose up again, only to be defeated on Rouse Hill thereafter rechristened Vinegar Hill in memory of the last battle of the Wexford rebellion.

            In the 1950’s many more Wexfordians took advantage of the subsidized Ten Pound Boat Fares for those who promised to settle in Australia, perhaps lured by the visions of spending Christmas on a sweltering beach rather than freezing in our December dampness.

            One other exodus was less known though often spoken about by my grandfather. It was an effort by successive English governments to seed their Australian colony by sentencing women to seven years penal servitude often for offences as trifling as stealing a pound of butter.

            With no chance of returning home the hope was that the unfortunate women would breed with male convicts, their offspring eventually providing cheap labor in this far off outpost of the empire.

            Thus when Tom Keneally invited me to collaborate on a musical concerning four of these exiled Irish women I was familiar with the situation. Tom, who wrote the novel, Schindler’s List, had a more personal connection. In 1838, his wife’s great-grandmother, had been sent from Cork to Sydney aboard the convict transport ship, Whisper for stealing a bolt of cloth.

            It would take many years of writing and revision before Transport was deemed stage worthy. We began with a concert version at the Irish Arts Center, before heading to Sydney’s Sidetrack Theatre for a full workshop. Transport is currently receiving its world premiere production at New York’s Irish Repertory Theatre.

            My job was to turn the penal voyage of the four women into music, hopefully of an uplifting nature. Oddly enough, this was less difficult than it might seem; for the English authorities, at a minimum, wished to deliver the convicts alive and kicking – dead ladies tend not to make good breeders.

            A fiddler was provided to many ships – dancing, it was felt, would keep this valuable human cargo in good nick for the criminal suitors who awaited them.

            Was there romance on board? Inevitably, when you cramp single men and women aboard an overcrowded, sweltering vessel for four months; not to mention that sailors were often allowed to share their berths with a “sea wife”.

            Nonetheless, the misery could be profound – women had often been torn from husbands and children with no chance of reunion. Keneally’s genius is that you recognize the DNA of the modern Australian character in the four women he and director, Tony Walton bring to life at the Rep.

            As the ship leaves the Northern hemisphere the ladies begin to turn the tables on their jailers - and their own destinies. For ironically, they are the lucky ones, escaping from a country teetering towards famine and starvation.

            How to summon this scenario into music? It would have been easy to recreate an Australian Black 47 but the nautical setting demanded a different style. In the end I employed a mixture of Irish Traditional, British Music Hall and Show Tunes to capture both the tragedy and ultimate redemptive nature of the story.

            Did Tom Keneally and I succeed? There are nights when I think we came close, others when I despair of ever transforming such a complex subject into a coherent musical. But the audiences have been solidly behind Transport with either full or sold-out houses the norm.

            In the end, though, all that matters is that the story of these brave Irish women is finally being told. They were abandoned people – dead to those they were torn away from. Some entered second marriages in Australia and their descendants are only now communicating with distant cousins back in Ireland.

            Perhaps, the most telling lyric in the show is delivered by Kate O’Hare, a young revolutionary, when she sings about her fiancée and the country she will never see again:

                        But I will go on
                        I will put this pain behind me
                        Now that you’re lost
                        Lost unto me…

Transport will continue at The Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd Street, NYC until April 6th  For information on tickets go to www.irishrep.org or call 212-727-2737
            

Power To The People


            How will historians view our age? Will it be “the best of times and the worst of times?” Probably.

            With the disaster in Iraq receding and the winding down of involvement in Afghanistan, there’s an almost universal distaste for illogical foreign adventures. Even on the Far Right there’s a growing consensus that an over-bloated defense budget is not good for the country’s fiscal health.

            The first faltering steps are being taken to ensure that every citizen has a right to decent health care at a reasonable price, even if the power and influence of the health insurance companies remain pervasive.

            On the debit side income inequality continues to be the dominant issue; in the current political climate it’s difficult to see just what effective steps can be taken to alleviate the growing financial imbalance – short of a radical overhaul of the economic system.

            That’s hardly likely, but then again there’s always people power. On a tour of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the summer of 1989, I witnessed the birth of a peaceful mass movement that led to the dismantling of many hated police states.

            No one is comparing income inequality with the excesses of those wretched fascist entities, except to point out that things can actually change and quickly. It’s no exaggeration to state that there’s been a growing unease in the US with the fact that the top 1% controls over 43% of the nation’s wealth.
 
            This was highlighted by the golden parachute of $109 million granted Henrique de Castro by Yahoo after 15 unsuccessful months as Chief Operations Officer. To cap it all, Mr. Castro was only second in command.

            Any less august personage would be on his way out the door, pink slip in hand, within minutes of HR coolly informing him that his services are no longer required.

            Nor is the system working for corporation stockholders. Profits may be peaking yet dividends remain paltry. Between executive salaries, stock buy-backs and the maintenance of large cash reserves, the wealth is not being spread or reinvested. Rather power and rewards are concentrated in the hands of an elite circle of chairmen and CEO’s.

What’s to be done? Well, some years back the Occupy Movement – though
unfocused - highlighted the gathering disquiet of young people who foresee a life of low salaries and high college loans repayments. But when autumn winds began to bite, rebellious youth stampeded back online in the hope of nailing down some coveted internship.

The general mood in the more adult workforce seems to be: keep your head down until better times. But will the salad days of the pre-financial crisis return? Probably not – it’s a changed world, more high-tech, interactive and competitive.

Industrial output is high, mostly because those still employed are picking up the slack after wholesale dismissals. Why hire when the current staff can make do? Why invest if that means hiring expensive full time employees. Far better use temps or part timers – hey how about that nice new batch of college graduate interns!

            Besides, both white and blue-collar jobs can now be outsourced. Why hire in Detroit when it’s less expensive in Delhi? The world’s your oyster if you’re a cost-cutting executive.

            Once we get beyond the political smokescreen of Obamacare, income inequality will be the dominant issue. Raising the minimum wage will help those at the bottom of the economic ladder; the taxing of all income – earned, investment and capital gains - at the same rate will give a haircut to those at the top.

            But should change stop there? Apple alone is sitting on $159 Billion in cash reserves, most of it overseas. Should these profits be repatriated and thus become subject to US taxes? Should corporations be “encouraged” to invest in American workers?

Issues like these will call for rational debate rather than the usual finger pointing and name-calling. From the Founding Fathers on, political discourse has been incendiary, but at the worst of times well-intentioned people get together and work for the common good.

            We’re at one of those points now. The system needs an overhaul. It will come from neither Left nor Right. It must come from the people.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

David Amram - Keeping the Beat


He was a legend long before I met him. When he sauntered into the Bells of Hell the joint would come to a standstill. The Clancy Brothers might have had more star power but David Amram had a word for everyone, and still does.

            It would take him a couple of hours of bantering before he’d end up in the back room where Turner & Kirwan of Wexford held court on weekends.

Their psychedelic Yellowbelly music was not for the fainthearted, but it might just as well have been Swahili Polka, Mr. Amram could, and did, jam with everyone.

Even at a distance you could feel him soak up your vibe. By the time he’d hit the stage he already had your measure. I could never get over the ease with which he could blend into the most esoteric and chord-plagued of our songs.

The guy could play the kitchen sink. He must have had pockets built into his skin for he could produce an endless supply of tin whistles and flutes, not to mention ethnic instruments whose names I still haven’t learned.

Come to think of it, he was the first person I ever heard employ the term World Music. He should have copy-written it for, to me, he’s the genre’s living embodiment.

The French Horn was his main axe and, oh man, could he make that sing! Perhaps, his greatest musical feat however was that he made the Bells’ beer-soaked, perennially out-of-tune, upright piano sound like a Steinway.

One night Frank McCourt, then a discontented, somewhat curmudgeonly schoolteacher, filled me in on David. The Limerick man could be as sharp as a tack and even less charitable if the mood was on him, but his eyes lit up as he rattled off his friend’s achievements.

“Do you know,” said he, “that David was a Beat?”

“Like Jack and Alan,” I replied without missing a beat, as if Kerouac and Ginsburg took daily strolls along Wexford’s broad boulevards.

Namedropping was an art form in the Bells but you had to be careful around McCourt for he could spot a poseur a mile away.

With great gusto he informed me that Amram and Kerouac invented the Poetry/Jazz combination. Doesn’t surprise me now for David could put sweet music behind a crowd of braying donkeys, and often did when Turner and I drank too much Southern Comfort.

Frank’s list went on and on. Was there anyone this man hadn’t played with - Bob Dylan, Dizzy Gillespie, James Galway, Tito Puente?

The next time he graced the stage with Turner & Kirwan I was a tad nervous but there was no need, for David’s belief is that everyone has music within them, some just have to dig deeper to find it.

A few years back he celebrated his 80th birthday with a show at Symphony Space. It was vintage Amram – he began with some of his symphonic and chamber pieces. Then, as if tiring of such formality, he joined a succession of musical friends in jams that he initiated, but then allowed to progress in whatever way the moment called for.

He began the Black 47 piece with a slip jig that ended up in some alternate Celtic Jazz universe and had me high for a week following.

Coming up on February 16th he’ll celebrate his 59 years of keeping downtown Manhattan hip with a world premiere of Greenwich Village Portraits at Poussin Rouge on Bleecker Street. It’s dedicated to three of his many friends, Arthur Miller, Odetta and, you guessed it, Frank McCourt.

I can only imagine how he’ll musically sum up the Limerick seanchaí but I’m sure it will be with much the same sparkle as I saw in Frank’s eyes when he boasted to me long ago of the achievements of his dear friend, David Amram.

How often do you get to see and experience a living legend? Miss this show at your peril! There’ll be some famous ghosts bellying up to the bar. But even more important, David Amram will be the straw stirring the musical drink. As he said to me on his 80th birthday, “this is just a warm up for the 80 years ahead!”

Greenwich Village Portraits An evening with David Amram and Friends
 Celebrating the music, the artists and spirit of New York’s beloved Greenwich Village
Feb 16th 7-9 pm at the Poisson Rouge  Bleecker and Thompson Streets in Greenwich Village