Returning to the extraordinary trove of tapes of Allen now in the archives at Stanford University, here’s a recently-discovered gem – Allen, in 1979, at Leicester University, in England, in conversation with the figure who turned on the young Jack Kerouac to a rich and life-long appreciation of jazz, his old Horace Mann schoolmate – Seymour Wyse.
Edie Parker Kerouac (remembering Seymour Wyse, in Boulder, the following year) : “Yeah and he used to scat, and he and Jack used to do this together. And the first time, it was terrific. They’d get one side of the street, Seymour, and he’d get on the other, and they’d walk down the street, and everybody would listen, it was beautiful.”
SW: (beginning the tape in media res) ….and recorded it.
AG: I remember (him) saying, “What street was Birdland?”
PO: 58th Street.
SW: Birdland? No – Go ahead , you read it, you read it, Allen. You need it. I can see that. Yeah, go on.. Birdland was about 50th Street wasn’t it? – or 51st street?
AG: 49th and Broadway…
SW 49th and… No, that was The (Royal) Roost. The Roost was further down. They were near one another. The Roost was on one side and Birdland was on the other. That was when jazz moved away from 52ndStreet forever.
PO (to SW): How long did you live with Neal (Cassady)?
SW: Well it wasn’t long, a month or two, but it was a long time, in many ways.
AG: What was the problem?
SW: Well it was very difficult, sort of, physically, living with him, in many ways.
SW: Well it was difficult to do what you wanted in your own (place), that’s all, because he takes over really..
PO: Why? What was he doing?
SW: Nothing, nothing. He wasn’t working. if that’s what you mean. He wasn’t doing anything.
Student: Just the fact that he was there….
SW: Maybe. It’s a bit distant. It wasn’t any..
AG: (It was something bringing you down a bit.)
SW: Yeah. but it wasn’t.. it wasn’t, you see.. It was one of these things that.. you feel.. you’re renting the apartment, and then suddenly someone’s come who isn’t paying the rent. And, when you think about it, you can’t really get into your own place when you want to, (or, at least it’s difficult). You resent it in the end. I mean, you make moves so that it, the relationship, terminates, which is what more or less happened. I can’t remember anything beyond that. Nothing seriously wrong, but it was bit of a practical impossibility. Beside which, it was an extremely…it was one of those New York flats (apartments) which are very.. middle-class… not really (practical).. the whole scene was very weird..
AG: (Why? were you not able to bring someone back?)
SW: Well, some of those places were mixed hotels and apartments, in New York, you know – Parc Vendome! that’s where it was – I’ve just remembered – Remember that place? And do you know what was really strange? (who) was living in the Parc Vendome in 1945? And do you know who lived across the street from the Parc Vendome? – the composer Bela Bartok, who died, around that time
AG: Of starvation.
SW: Just about .. I don’t know if it was really starvation.
AG: I saw someone on the subway once, a distinguished man with great fine white hair that looked like him.
SW: What? At that time?
AG: (19)44 – and he was riding on the subway with a threadbare black suit and a case, a little… a briefcase, but, really, the frayed threadbare black but elegant-looking suit. And he looked so great, you know, that I still remember it !
SW: Yeah. It could’ve been, couldn’t it?. Easily.
AG: And years later, when I saw pictures of him, I said “That looks like that” (because I wrote it down it my journal, where I wrote conversations and descriptions).
SW: And (do) you know the story of what happened to the piano?
AG: His piano?
SW: He might’ve had ten.. two pianos, rather, (because his wife was with him, and they used to do two-piano things, didn’t they?). And I think that they had them on credit, right? and they hadn’t paid up-to-date, and they were repossessed! – which was ridiculous!
AG: How come he didn’t have that money – he was famous?
SW: ..He was writing the Concerto for.. or the Sonata…no, the Sonata for Piano and Orchestra, the last one (number three)
AG: How come he didn’t have enough money? He was famous wasn’t he?
SW: Well, he wasn’t really, because.. he was given a commission in 1943, to write the Concerto for Orchestra, but Koussevitzky.. the Boston Symphony Orchestra, he wrote it for, for which he wrote it for.. (for which he got the fantastic sum of one thousand dollars!) – and that is about the only income he got. He was commissioned by (Yehudi) Mehuhin to write a Sonata for Violin, which he wrote later, commissoned by Primrose (sic) to write a Viola Concerto .. William Primrose, but that was never completed. That was only a sketch. But, with all that lot, he got very small sums of money, (which he spent anyway – he had to live) and, there was nothing left. You know, It’s quite incredible. But very soon after he died, his music became fashionable.
AG: (He was fashionable before he died)
SW: Not really, not really, Allen. It became fashionable almost immediately after his death
AG His Concerto for Orchestra, though, something like that?
SW: Well that was a very acceptable piece of music, because he..
AG: And that was a big deal, wasn’t it?
SW Yeah, but later – and the Concerto for Orchestra got its first hearing in (19)44 and he died in 1945. Now it’s a concert standard, isn’t it?
AG: A warhorse
SW: Yes, it’s a warhorse
AG (to Student) : Shall we go?
SW: Quite different, in fact, to the experience of Stravinsky who had a success at his doorstep during his life, you know.
Student (to AG) : I think we should..
[Audio for this interview above can be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding at approximately five-and-a-quarter minutes in]