By Roger Paradiso

“I first met Jack in 1956 at a party…he handed me two pieces of paper. He was dressed in a plaid shirt, like a Canadian lumberjack out of work at the moment. And then he took the papers back before I could see what it was. And then he began to read. He was freestyling,” said David Amram.

The Village Trip held a reading of On the Road at the Strand Bookstore on September 17th. David Amram and his jazz group were jamming as people entered the rare books room. 

THE VILLAGE TRIP’S Cliff Pearson and Liz Thomson, with Suzanne Vega (center) at The Players Theater, with CompCord Chamber Orchestra featuring Suzanne Vega: Songs and Poems from the Village. Photo by Dan Scheffey.

I remember reading On the Road in college, too many years ago, so I was eager to hear a reading of the novel. For me, this was the event of the festival not to missed.

As soon as Mercedes Ruehl began reading, you could sense that the music and reading were as close as you could get to being in the Village around the time the novel came out on September 5th, 1957. 

All of the actors listed below were superb. And, of course, the subtle compositions of the Amram band were right on the beat. I immediately started thinking that I was watching 12 actors and musicians in search of a theater. What a great show this would make.

“I kept bumping into him and he said he was a writer and I told him I was a classical composer and a jazzman which is even more hopeless…” David mentioned at the beginning of the evening. “The third stringer from the NY Times gave a phenomenal review of On the Road and suddenly Jack was a famous person overnight. He was always true to himself which, of course, is a fatal thing to do. So a year later he committed the greatest crime in America. He fell out of fashion and most of the people who jumped on that gravy train dropped off. That’s when Beat Generation became a term. It allowed everyone who despised art and artists to be comfortable with that slot.”

MERCEDES RUEHL performing “On the Road Reading with Music” at The Strand, Rare Book Room. Photo by Dan Scheffey.

Amram continued, “This is the first time in 65 years that Jack has been honored as an artist. He would always say to me, ‘I’m an author, Davey. Why don’t they read my books?’ It took 65 years, but Amram finally got his friend the recognition he deserved as an artist. 

On the Road: Reading with Music,” produced by the Village Trip Festival in collaboration with HB Studio, at the Strand Bookstore’s rare books room. Featuring readings by Mercedes Ruehl, Marsha Mason, Dael Orlandersmith, Jose Rivera, John Ventimiglia, John Doman, Kevin Corrigan, and Stephanie Berry. Music performances by David Amram, Adam Amram, Rene Hart, and Kevin Twig.

David Amram opened 2022 Village Trip Festival with Jazz Concert on Eighth Street

“It’s so nice to be back here. I lived in the Village for 40 years, until the landlord paid off the judge and the entire block was asked to leave as quickly as possible. 

DAVID AMRAM (keyboard), Jerome Harris (behind Amram), Rene Hart (bass), Renee Manning (vocals) and Friends on Eighth Street Experience / Opening Day Concert November 10, 2022. Photo by Jamie Kalikow.

…We hope that Greenwich Village will be appreciated for its history, its spirit that came so far before, incorporating jazz, folk, and classical music, writing, painting, poetry, and, most important, a community where people were neighbors—that’s really important. And a festival with 95 events this year personifies that wonderful spirit and I’m just glad to be part of it,” said David Amram.

The Village Trip opened its festival on September 10th by taking over 8th Street for a jazz concert. The festival calls it “the Eighth Street Experience.” Led by David Amram the ensemble included several veteran Village sidemen, such as Renee Manning, a vocalist who said, “I’ve been very lucky to be invited by David. This is my second time doing it and when David gave me a call, I said I’d come back.” The Trip website says, “In the early 1980s, Manning began a five-year stint as a featured vocalist with the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. 

“What do you like about working with Amram?” Renee was asked. “He’s so creative and so sweet, and every time I’ve worked with him I’ve learned something. He’s just really cool and just where his heart is with the music and everything. I love working with David.”

NYC CITY COUNCIL MEMBER Erik Bottcher brought his guitar instead of a speech. Performing “Blowin in the Wind,” with Dave Keyes. Photo by Jamie Kalikow. 

David Keyes has played music with David Amram before and he knows drummer Lee Falco, whose dad passed away recently, owned a club called The Falcon in upstate NY that Keyes loved playing at.

Publisher George Capsis of WestView News, along with Liz Thompson and Clifford Pearson, co-chairs of the festival, addressed the crowd as the kickoff speakers. Many years ago George had seen a WPA play called It Can’t Happen Here by novelist Sinclair Lewis, who also wrote Elmer Gantry and Dodsworth. It Can’t Happen Here was about an opponent of FDR who brought fascism to America. Sound familiar? 

In 1956 George bought the house at 69 Charles Street, where he publishes WestView News. The house has become famous because it is also where Lewis had lived for three years. (Greenwich Village was full of famous artists.) George would like Sinclair Lewis to be celebrated in next year’s festival. It would make quite an interesting story on the walking tours. 

Several days after the kickoff on Eighth Street I asked David Amram what he was trying to accomplish playing jazz at the festival. He replied, “We are trying to reflect the ‘then” and the ‘now.’ When I first came to New York in 1952, I was lucky to have played with Charlie Parker. He created a song called Now is the Time seven years earlier. I asked him about the title and he said, ‘Because now was, is, and has always been the time. And now is the time.’” 

David and I then agreed, “Now is the time for this special festival tribute to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.”

“I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN” Janis Siegel honors New York City in song at Joe’s Pub. Photo by Liz Thomson.
“FRAMING THE VILLAGE” art and photo exhibition. Photo by John Eng.