l-r - David Amram, Pete Seeger, Odetta
and Toshi Regan at The Clearwater Festival, Beacon NY Summer 2008 - Photos by
Maxine Smith and John Economos -
Click The PixTo View More Photos at econosmith.com!
Odetta and I first began to spend time together in 1969, she was already a legend
to all of us who loved music, She had a message to share with everyone... brother
and sister musicians of all genres, listeners or simply people who met her and
after talking to her were made to feel that they had some importance as a person
and that we all had a job in life. To make a contribution while we were here,
and to act responsibly towards one another. And that music was one way to bring
people together and rejoice in our shared humanity.
heals" she told me over and over again. "We must remember that we are
healers. Folk music is the root of the tree. We must always nourish those roots."
night in the Fall of 1969, after finishing my last set at the Village Gate with
my jazz quartet, I went out on the sidewalk with Ramblin' Jack Elliot, (who often
sat in with our group to do some unexpected scat singing).
a ring master, Jack corralled passersby musicians strolling down McDougal Street.
Native American singer Roland Moussaa and a group of others joined us and we all
decided to go to Billy Mitchell's open mike to hear young and upcoming singer-songwriters.
These open mikes usually started after midnight.
the small crowd who had joined us, Jack introduced me to Kris Kristofferson, who
was new to New York at that time.
take Kris to Billy's open mike so he can hear all these young whippersnappers
who are invading the Village" Jack announced to everyone, including disinterested
people who passed us by on McDougal Street.
like a plan" said Kris.
all went down the street to the small hole-in-the-wall coffee house where Billy's
open mike took place. The door was open, but there were no lights on. Billy was
nowhere in sight. The place was deserted. Usually, if there was no one there and
Billy wanted an audience for the open mike, he would sit outside the club on chair
in front of the door and sing himself, creating a one man infomercial to get people
to come in. In addition to being an accomplished guitar player, he had a secret
weapon for attracting an audience of tourists, by accompanying himself playing
intricate rhythms on his guitar using a toothbrush rather than a pick.
guess Billy got a paying gig tonight" said Jack. "I guess it's time
for us vamoose and show Kris some of the other highlights of downtown big time
as we were ready to leave, we heard an incredible voice coming from out of the
darkness from the back of the room.
said Kris "You've got some fine singers here in New York at your open mikes."
listened, spellbound, to this voice floating out of the door and filling McDougal
she ever fine" said Jack. "She sounds just like Odetta."
sneak in the back and see who it is so we can all meet her. They've got some amazing
young kids these days coming from all over the country to try to make it in New
York." said Roland.
crept through the unlit jumble of overturned chairs, coffee stained Formica tables
and returned a minute later.
didn't have to ask her who she was and ask her why she sounds so much like Odetta"
said Roland. "It IS Odetta"
knew where the light switch was. He turned it on and we all went back through
the dark and there was Odetta, as regal as ever, as if she were singing at Carnegie
so glad to see all of you here," she said, laughing.
came down to listen and support the young folks, but I guess Billy got busy and
forgot to turn on the lights and open up so I just got in the mood to try some
new things myself. Let's all play. Maybe we can bring some young folks down ourselves.
We'll be the honey that draws the flies."
all ended up playing all night, and began what Odetta and I did so often ever
since, at folk festivals, shared birthday celebrations (we were born a few weeks
apart in 1930). In recordings we made together, and in classical concerts when
I was able to invite Odetta to be a soloist with the Brooklyn Philharmonic when
I conducted the outdoor series.
also played so many benefits together over thirty-nine years that whenever we
played when we were actually paid, it was a banner occasion.
a festival in Canada, a young woman came up to us and said "Miss Odetta and
Mr. Amram, I have seen both of you in new York at so many benefits that I wanted
to invite you both to a series of concerts in Israel for next summer. We are touring
the whole country, advocating peace. We would like both of you to create music
form the occasion."
sounds like a fine idea," said Odetta. "What are the dates?"
will be most of next summer" said the young woman. "We are all volunteers,
and have practically no budget but I was told by our committee that I can guarantee
you both a one way ticket from New York to Tel Aviv, and as we tour the country,
I am sure that we can solicit enough funds to get your return air fare back to
where do you propose that we stay while touring the country?' said Odetta.
we are all camping out or crashing at people's places. But we will bring sleeping
bags for you and Mr. Amram."
said Odetta, in a gracious but stern tone of voice. "Your ideals are admirable,
but I can speak for David and myself to let you know that at this stage of our
lives, we receive round trip tickets in advance as well as a place to stay. We
don't do sleeping bag tours."
was the only benefit concert we were asked to do together that I can remember,
that we ever turned down. Usually, we would be called separately and than would
call one another to see if either of us was actually going to show up. If both
of us were free that night, we would agree to do it. We knew that no matter how
crazy the event might be, at least we could get to see one another, play music
and swap stories about our latest adventures, triumphs and mishaps on that endless
road we both traveled.
addition to being such a magnificent musical artist, Odetta was a fantastic cook
and her sweet potato recipe for thanksgiving meals at her apartment sustained
all who had the good fortune to be in her home. She always made everyone who visited
her feel like royalty in her presence.
I finally got married in 1979 and had kids, I decided it was time to invite her
over for a real, meal.
said "AmmyRammy, now that you are a family man, I will only come to supper
with you if your wife does the cooking. I remember those avant-guard omelets you
made for me on your hot plate when you were still single. They were not edible.
Cooking is an art just like music. You must learn to cook the same way you learned
to write symphonies. Tender loving care, Each ingredient counts, and the results
must be nourishing and balanced, as well as tasty. And it is preferable to eat
while sitting down, turning off the phone while eating, and not playing the piano
between courses. But I will be there and bring a home made pie "
Odetta came over, it was a special night for my wife and kids. Her elegance and
warmth and stories always filled our tiny apartment with that special glow that
she brought with her everywhere she went.
not only my kids had their lives enriched by knowing her. Odetta always went out
of her way to meet and encourage all young people to be strong and dare to excel.
Still, she never forgot her old friends or those precious roots of all the traditional
musics that she mastered and championed.
got so much material in my closet, AmmyRammy" she said. "I wish I could
sort it out put it all into a book, so that young musicians can learn what I have
learned. But I have so much more in my head that isn't written down, from what
I have learned of music from around the world. There's just never enough time
to get it all organized."
1955, when I played with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, I met musical activists
in New York who, like Mingus and Max, and Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, all felt
that music was more than show biz. They all felt that there was a higher purpose
than self aggrandizement.
the time I met Odetta in 1969, some people had forgotten that she was an activist
for freedom for everyone and the enduring voice of the civil rights movement.
But even if the short attention span of some in the entertainment industry had
their senior moments, she never forgot for a minute who she was or what she felt
she was put on earth to do.
together can bring us together," she often said to me. "Making everyone
part of the music enables the dream that we are all part of family become a reality."
why it is so important when you and Floyd Red Crow Westerman do your concerts.
The American Indians all understand that all living things are sacred and connected.
And when we all play those concerts together, everyone can feel the stage and
audience all come together. We have the chance to bring the world together, even
if only for a minute. And a minute is a long time when it's filled with love."
after sometimes spending endless hours, would always end our late night/early
morning jam session-philosophic hang out adventures with a cheery good bye.
the sun is coming up. Until our next time......see ya in a minute"
hear her saying that after an all night session when we recorded "Home on
the Range' together in 1978, as she was leaving the funky recording studio on
42nd street to meet Stereo Mike, one of her devoted fans who owned a huge black
car and would drive from Brooklyn after work at nights to escort her, dressed
in a chauffeur's outfit like a limo driver.
there will never be a "Home on the Range' like that, with Ramblin' Jack yodeling
and your Afro-Cuban band playing while I sing. I know you have to stay and edit
what we have just done, but Stereo Mike and I are going out to celebrate and hear
some young folks do what they do. See ya in a minute."
that minute will be a little longer, but I will always see her and hear her in
my heart, just as my children who grew up knowing her will see and hear her when
I leave someday join her, in what we jokingly referred to as the Great Jam Session
in the Sky.
all celebrate her glorious 77 years on earth by remembering what she stood for
and the values she cherished and practiced every day, and see if we can make a
contribution, at least once in a while in some way, as she did every day.
Dec 17 2008
Putnam Valley NY
Note! - A Celebration of An American Voice -
On February 24th, Family, Friends, Artists and keepers of The Flame
will gather to celebrate in Words and Song the LifeLoveWork of singer, songwriter
and social activist, Odetta
at Riverside Church
in NYC at 7 PM. This celebration is free and open to the public
with doors opening at 6 PM. Scheduled to lend Heart, Mind and Soul in song
and word are David Amram, Maya Angelou, Harry Belafonte, Oscar Brand, Tom Chapin,
Guy Davis, Ruby Dee, Emory Joseph, Wavy Gravy, Geoffrey Holder, The Holmes Bros.,
Marie Knight, Maria Muldaur, Bernice Reagon, Sonia Sanchez, Pete Seeger, Sweet
Honey in the Rock, Josh White, Jr., Peter Yarrow along with more special guests
Celebration for Odetta
on WBAI 99.5 FM - www.wbai.org
& Of Note! - The orginal Progressive
FM Radio station WBAI
FM 99.5 will be broadcasting Live from Riverside Church at 7 PM (EST)
and streaming Live on the Web! Click
Here To Listen Live!
Of Note! - Let
it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine! - Back
in May of 08' an evening of Song and Stories celebrating the LifeLoveWork of Odetta
was organized by Michelle Esrick and hosted by Wavy Gravy where
the faithful gathered at Banjo Jim's
in NYC. Joining this joyous celebration was David Amram, Cheatin' Hearts
with Sheriff Bob and Trip Henderson, Guy Davis, Timothy
Hill, Emory Joseph, Christine Lavin, Madeleine Peyroux,
Chaney Sims, Vincent Cross and Good Company,and a cavalcade
of other celebrants.
freelance writer, Safia Jama Cross was there and wrote this great story
about this wonderful evening at Banjo Jim's, Click
Here to Read his story at Indie
Sounds NY. Also great Photos by Mark Amrhein, Click
Here to View his Photos.
Learn more about David Amram go to: