[Jack Kerouac, 1959 – Photograph by John Cohen]
Following on from yesterday’s introductory note. Here’s transcription of Sam Charters’ lively talk at the 1982 Naropa Kerouac Conference – on Kerouac and jazz (“Jack and Jazz”) – Mr Charters, it should be noted, is not responsible for the illustrations and the various, sometime random, hyper-links, but we hope he won’t be too disappointed in them)
(And, as a complimentary experience, we would also recommend David Brent Johnson “Jazz and Jack Kerouac” on his estimable Night Lights series)
Jack heard and Jack knew, and sometimes, sometimes the music was that great, sometimes. On records you don’t hear it. You walk into a studio, cold, with your horn, it’s the wrong time of (the) morning, you gotta try and do something. Sometimes it happens, most of the time it doesn’t. But if you look around in recordings made in the little clubs, little bars, from the time, then you’ll hear it, what Jack heard. What I’m going to play you is from a tv program that I’m sure John Clelland Holmes heard, other people heard, it was from New York City in the (19)40’s it was WNEW Saturday night swing session – and they put on tape some crazy sounds in 1947 with some very beautiful people –Roy Eldridge, Flip Phillips, Charlie Ventura and you’ll hear them really blow – [Sam Charters plays select cuts from the WNEW broadcast, beginning at approximately twelve-and-a-half minutes in, and continuing to approximately twenty-two-and-a-half minutes in]
[Sam Charters begins reading from John Clellon Holmes’ “The Horn”, at approximately twenty-five-and-a-half minutes in, concluding at approximately thirty-one-and-a-half minutes in – “And there, in front of them, the bandy-legged figure stood, with wild wig that no pomade could finally subdue, a long drape jacket reaching nearly to his knees as he leaned forward to begin, his loose shirt collar already wilted with anticipatory sweat, baggy pants pegged close around the tops of plaid-laced shoes as huge as coal scuttles, foot-long watch chain swinging on his thigh – there stood Metro Myland…”….”Right there NOW, the horn was raised horizontal over them, huge, triumphant, indissiduable, a gleaming miracle in the shocked light, repeating (of itself, it seemed) “zonky! zonky! zonky! zonky! zone! in thin high-pitched squirts of sound that said a clear and untranslatable “Yes!” to everything that was not of the mind, and then were drowned abruptly by the conclusive slamming of the drums, which brough the house lights up.”]
Jack talked a lot about jazz himself and on one of the recordings he made, he recorded what he felt was his history of bop. (Now) any jazz-historian can listen to them and say, “Wow, man,Lionel Hampton doesn’t play the sax, he plays the xylophone”, well, we all know that, but that isn’t what it’s about. This is Jack’s own bop poetry, about what he felt about bop. And after I play you what he thought about it, I’m going to (let you hear) some of the things he’s talking about and try and give you a glimpse into the jazz that he means.
[Charlie Christian (1916-1942)]
Another friend if theirs from the Horace Mann days, (and a friend, certainly, of John Clellon Holmes) is Jerry Newman, who was a young kid as crazy about jazz as they were, and he was hauling up to those clubs one of his old heavy recording-machines and they were allowing him to record their jam sessions . There’s one problem with Jerry’s tapes, he.. – they weren’t tapes, they were discs – he didn’t like Charlie Parker! – so he turned the machine off every time Charlie took a solo! – So, for purposes of jazz history, they’re among the most infuriating recordings (ever made), but, later on in the ‘Fifties, he started his own record company and decided to put some of the things out – and one of the songs, if you’ll notice on the record, is a song called “Kerouac”. This was the second time that Jack’s name appeared in print. The first had been his novel. But then came this crazy song by Dizzy Gillespie, recorded in May of 1940, up at Monroes. Certainly, Dizzy didn’t call it “Kerouac”, what he was playing was “Exactly Like You”(da-da da-da da-da/da-da da-da-da/da-da-da-da-da-da…exactly like you). Now the problem, there were two problems with recording “Exactly Like You”, one was that they would have to pay royalties to the person who wrote it. Another problem was which people do forget…in those days, the people who controlled copyrights could stop any recording if they did not care for the arrangement. So a number of the fine bop musicians made recordings and found, particularly in the case of Jerome Kern, that Mrs Kern would simply not allow the records to be released. So, for once in their lives, Congress moved quickly and amended the law, so what we have in the record business now is called “Compulsory Licensing”, so that we are permitted to release any arrangement of a song, as long as we pay the royalties, but, in this case, Jerry Newman was stuck with an example of “Exactly Like You”, which he didn’t want to release and pay the royalties, and he was afraid it would get stopped. So he was talking to Allen and he said “What shall we call it ? . And Allen said “Ginsberg”, and he said, “No, that sounds too Jewish”, so then he said, “Lets call it Kerouac” so, indeed, the song you will now hear, Dizzy Gillespie playing quite improbably a song which is called “Kerouac”
[At approximately forty-one-and-three-quarter minutes in, Sam Charters plays Dizzy Gillespie’s “Kerouac’ – “A young Dizzy Gillespie, very young and not quite sure of himself but already showing signs of the kind of power and authority he was to have later”].
And then I was talking to some musicians who went and heard Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie (Parker) play bop on 52nd Street in 1945. They had done the same thing. Here were the sharpest, the hottest, the coolest, dudes in town, and they had invented a new way to play music – and these fellows said – they were musicians – and these fellows went in, and sat down, and the band stood up, and they played something that they couldn’t understand at all, and then, somehow, they all stopped together, and (then they) walked off the bandstand – and these cats said, in exactly the same way, “We didn’t understand anything they were doing”.
So here was the same thing. Bop was that kind of revolution, bop was a new beginning. As Jack said, swing music had come along (which was the ultimate commercialization of the first jazz, the first jazz was small bands, it was Louis Armstrong, it was King Oliver, it was creating in a kind of ensemble together, but it made money, so, immediately, it grew. The bands got bigger, (which means everybody had to read music, if you’re reading music, then you had to have fellas filling in the parts (they needn’t all be exciting?), so it turned in, as Jack said, to an incredible big commercial schmear – It was sold to the troops in World War II – (Harry James went on tour, Tommy Dorsey played…) it was ridiculous what happened). So all these young musicians (and at this point, they’re all kids, they’re the same age as Jack, they’re in their twenties, their nineteen, they’re twenty, they’re twenty-two), they suddenly decided that they were going to make something that was their own. And it grew out of what they all could do. It grew out of swing. It grew out of these big bands, the big ensembles, but they went back to small bands, to expressing themselves.
The chords… they changed the chords all around. What… It had gotten so popular, jazz at that point,with these jam sessions you’d get thirty-five young neighborhood tenor players wanting to sit in and play. The bandstands were too little. So they say that what happened with Monk was – (that) he started playing funny chords when they started to walking towards the bandstand with their horns – so (then) they’d stop and listen to him a little, and then they’d back off and sit down!
[Kenny Clarke (1914-1985)]
And these were the things that Jack was understanding. You have it in the piano with the chords, Monk protesting against the standardization. You have it in Kenny Clarke suddenly discovering that there was a way within his own roots and his own psyche that expressed a whole new thing. And then you have Charlie Parker who just discovered that if you carried all these simple little melodies that they were playing a step further, you found the melody that was within the melody,
Part of what they did in this marvelous burst of black expression was also try to have something that was their own. I’ve spent a lot of my life in (tape cuts out momentarily here but then takes up again) …Thomas Rice who saw a black doing a dance, and he brought the black man’s clothes, and he learned his dance, and he blacked up his face, and did it on the stage, and it was called “Jump Jim Crow”, and it became the basis of the whole of American popular entertainment in the 19th Century. The first minstrel show was four young men, (one of them Dan Emmett. who wrote “Dixie’), who “blacked-up”, put on the clothes that they’d taken from the slaves on the plantations and they did the songs in the way that they heard the slaves do them. This has been, all the time, the story of what has happened to black creativity.With bop, there was a feeling, among Parker and Gillespie, that they would do something so pure, so hard, so challenging, that, for once, whites couldn’t follow it. (And, when you look back at what happened with bop, there were, certainly, white performers, but none of them matched the creativity of the great black artists). And they have left behind a legacy in bop of just total purity. And it could only have lasted a short time because there was not an audience for it, but, because of the history, (coming when it did, 1945 through 1948), it was possible, through a number of small companies, to record it and to document it. And this is what Jack is responding to (not that it’s new, not that it’s now), Jack knew what it was, he knew that it was the spirit of revolt, he knew that it was a spirit of black-ness, he knew it was a spirit of creation, and it’s this that Jack was hearing in bop.
to be continued..