Friday, August 29, 2014

Sam Charters - Jack Kerouac's Jazz - 1 - (Intro)

[Sam Charters]

This weekend - jazz weekend, we'll present legendary jazz scholar, Sam Charters  (in a talk given on July 26, 1982 at The Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado, on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary On The Road Conference)  "Jack's Jazz' 

Today, just a few brief moments from his opening remarks. Tomorrow, a full transcription of his lucid talk. 

[note - none of the illustrations or the hyperlinks are the responsibility of Sam Charters  -  this recording begins in media res - Charters has been just playing a series of  representative early swing band recordings

SC: ...what you’ve been hearing is a series of recordings by the finest experimental black swing orchestras of the middle of the 1940s, (it) started off, if you’re interested, with Harland Leonard and the Rockets, and (then we) had Gerald Wilson, the last we heard was Billy Eckstine  singing "Jelly, Jelly Jelly"and in the trumpet section of the band was Dizzy Gillespie.

My name is Sam Charters. I do a lot of writing about the blues and about jazz. I was listening to jazz about the same time Jack Kerouac was, even if, maybe, I listened from a different side of the bandstand than he did. I just want to say that the last time I went to Lowell to see Jack was at the funeral, and I remember we were standing there in front of this.. shape, and trying to understand if that could, indeed, be Jack, with the make-up and the crucifix wrapped around the hands. And Allen Ginsberg was standing beside Annie [his wife, Ann Charters] and I, and said, “I have the feeling now that Jack has imagined us all”  - And I have the feeling, these last few days, [on the occasion, in 1982, at Naropa, the Kerouac Conference) of  that somehow all of this is something that Jack might have imagined, that we’re all, for these few days,  products of Jack Kerouac’s imagination. My own personal feeling is that this is the greatest class-reunion I have ever been to, because, in a way, we’re all graduates of the class of 1957, the year that On The Road was published.

The person I was waiting for, John Clellon Holmes, has arrived. [to John Clellon Holmes, as he takes his seat] Perfectly alright, John, I wouldn’t have started without you.

Thelonious Monk

What I’m going to do is I’m going to give you a portrait of the jazz that Jack loved and that he listened to. I’m going to try and narrow it down to talk about three of the jazz musicians that meant the most to him – CharlieParker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. I realize that, for a lot of you, rock ‘n roll has kind of obliterated that view of jazz and, in a way, rock ‘n roll has an excitement that jazz was looking for, but jazz, and the jazz of this period, is one of the most exciting creating.. creative movements American music has had, and I hope, to some way, show you a little of that, and I want to show you what jazz felt.. how it felt to Jack.

We said a lot about Jack in the last few days but one thing that we can’t say enough is that Jack loved  - Jack loved the things of life, he loved the people of his life, he loved his mother’s apple-pie, he loved Lowell, he loved the rivers, and he also loved jazz. Jack Kerouac loved jazz with an intensity that most of us can’t even imagine. He tried to create what he called a jazz writing-style, a bop writing style, and his fine book of poems, Mexico City Blues, he called that the session of a tenor saxophone blowing long lazy choruses of blues on the afternoon. On the one side, he was looking for the blues, on the other side he was looking for bop. These have had such an important influence on Jack, they’ve helped shape his art (so) that it’s important to know what it was he was looking for. 

He gives us a mirror in his books of the jazz that he loved, and his books are a mirror of his life, so, surprisingly.. not surprisingly, in the early books, the jazz doesn’t appear. When we look at Visions of Gerard or Maggie Cassidy or Doctor Sax, the jazz isn’t there. But then you get to On The Road, he mentions Dexter Gordon, Wardell Gray, George Shearing, Slim Galliard – there’s the wonderful “History of Jazz” that he talks about Lester Young, Stan Getz, Wynonie Harris, Lionel Hampton, Lucky Millinder, Subterraneans, Chu Berry, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughan, Gerry Mulligan, Billy Eckstine, Art Blakey, and a wonderful comment about Thelonious Monk, “sweating, leading the generation with his elbow chords, eyeing the band madly to lead them on, the monk and saint of bop” which is a  marvelous description of what he was. And then there’s a just incredible feast of jazz in Visions of Cody, which, as you know, is the parallel book to On The Road. He and Neal listened to jazz, loved jazz, get off with jazz, experience jazz, feel jazz, throughout the book. There are almost too many musicians in it even to mention Alan Eager, Gerry Mulligan, Billie Holiday, Artie Shaw, Charlie Christian, Billy May, Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, Stan Kenton, "Artistry in Boogie", Lionel Hampton, even Jelly Roll Morton, Glenn Miller, Lennie Tristano, Sonny Stitt (Sonny Stitt who died last Friday so one of the great generation is gone) James Moody, Joe Holiday, Brew Moore, King Pleasure. The names go on and on and on, something that to Kerouac was a living presence.

to be continued..

[Audio for the above may be heard here, (the first approximately five-and-a-half minutes) 
- and also here
- see

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Jazz and the Beat Generation

Jazz and the Beat Generation

from On The Road -  "They ate voraciously as Dean [Neal Cassady], sandwich in hand, stood bowed and jumping before the big phonograph, listening to a wild bop record I had just bought called “The Hunt,” with Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray blowing their tops before a screaming audience that gave the record fantastic frenzied volume."

Allen Ginsberg - on "Howl" - "Lester Young, actually, is what I was thinking about. "Howl" is all "Lester Leaps In". And I got that from Kerouac. Or paid attention to it on account of Kerouac, surely - he made me listen to it."

"No periods...but the vigorous space dash separating rhetorical breathing (as jazz musician drawing breath between outblown phrases)…"- Jack Kerouac (from "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose") 

Yeah, Kerouac learned his line - directly from Charlie Parker, and (Dizzy) Gillespie, and (Thelonious) Monk. He was listening in (19)43 to Symphony Sid and listening to "Night in Tunisia" and all the Bird-flight-noted things which he then adapted to prose line" (Allen Ginsberg)

Lester Young's birthday yesterday, Charlie "Bird" Parker's tomorrow. Jazz is our focus on the Allen Ginsberg Project for the next few days -  Jazz and the Beat Generation

We'll direct you, first off, to Mike Janssen over at Literary Kicks for a useful intro'. 
(and for our Spanish readers - Adrian Barahona)

more tomorrow!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Lester Young's Birthday

Lost Treasures from Jazz's Golden Age Head to Harlem Museum
[Lester Young - "Prez" - (1909-1959)]

August 27 - It's Lester Young's birthday today 

Henry Ferrini's upcoming  film biography is our focus. More on that essential documentary here.

Drummer Tootie Heath recalls Lester's lingo, Wayne Shorter recalls apprenticeship with Prez, George Wein recalls sitting-in, Monica Getz recalls travelling on the bus, David Amram, in 2009, speaking of the exuberance of Lester Young

As Ralph J Gleason memorably put it, "If you don't know who Pres was, you've missed a great part of America".

Here's the original "Lester Leaps In" from 1939 (first take)


Here's "Lester Leaps In " (second take) 

Allen, in 1968, to interviewer Michael Aldrich:  "Lester Young was what I was thinking about.."Howl" is all "Lester Leaps In"

Douglas Henry Daniels: Lester Leaps In, The life and times of Lester 'Pres' Young, Boston 2002

Here's more (an NPR report) from the 2009 centennial 

Francois Postif's legendary 1959 interview may be seen here
but, more importantly, must be heard here.

Frank Büchmann-Møller: You just fight for your life, The story of Lester Young, New York 1990

August 27-29, WKCR's annual Lester Young and Charlie Parker birthday broadcasts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 104 (Weird Juxtapositions)

[John Ashbery - The Little Tower of Babel, (2010) - collage 15.2 cms x 20.3 cms - courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery

(Weird juxtapositions) - Gregory Corso is a master of this. He actually took this method beyond the Surrealists and beyond any others that I know, in his book Happy Birthday of Death, and had a series of brilliant single-word poems - "Bomb" (which we have in here (in our anthology)), "Marriage" - taking a concept or an idea (an idea-word, not just the word but the idea-word) - and then writing down, wittily, all the archetypal associations and turns and gifts, jumps of association, ordinary literal clunky reality takes, as well as fantastic mythological takes (like, if you had "shoes", he'd wind up talking about Hermes' sandals, as well as well as the shoe-shop, and the old shoe-man, and the shoe peddler, and the man without shoes, and the barefoot Hottentot, and the..) - or "Hair" - (has anybody read that?) - he's got a poem, "Hair", in which he talks about Yul Brynner, Ish Kabibble, Harpo Marx..

Student: "Stained-glass hair"

AG: "Stained-glass hair", hair sticky with chewing gum, short hair, military hair, hippie hair, any variation. So it's variations on the theme, and, actually, it's like a musical fugue, or just like any jazz musician blowing ideas on a theme. Whatever extravagance comes into mind, (and the bigger the jump the better). Because, what it does (is) it illustrates the mind actually at work. It illustrates the nature of the human mind. So there could be no greater subject, or no greater method of writing poetry, in a certain way - (It's) more naked. It's the most naked method of writing, because you see (the) pure mind, (and) see the mind in it's own quixotic element, (William) Shakespeare does it in some of his Sonnets - "Tired for all these for restful death I cry..", and then it's a list of all the fatiguing, disappointing, bitter, aspects of life.

Student: Do you think it's letting your subconscious flow?

AG: Well, it's mixed, it's very mixed. Sometimes, the lines are totally subconscious and sometimes, they are calculated. It depends. If you're sitting with a paper, writing, my experience is, if you're doing this form (I'm talking about this particular form we've been talking about, which is a catalogue, or list, poem, or litany, where you have a repeated fixed word concept and then you make variations on it and let your mind go anywhere it wants), during the time of composition, probably, you'll encounter every possible function of the mind - completely calculated conscious, completely unconscious accidental - you start to write one word and you'll type out the beginning of another by mistake. So you do tap whatever you could call "unconscious", if there is such a thing.

(William) Burroughs gave a good definition before (sic) when he said, "Art reminds us of what we already (know)", "makes us recognize what we already knew".  You can't tell anybody anything he didn't know already,

Student:  (but) what we didn't know we know.

AG:  Oh, what was the phrasing?

Student:  Isn't it, something that you know but that you don't know that you know.

AG: Yeah. So there's no unconscious, in the sense that we know it. But then there is an unconscious in the sense that we don't know we know it sometimes. That's why we make slips of the tongue, or that's how we write, actually. My writing is really an attempt to discover what I think. The process of creation is (as) a revelation of what you were thinking all along that you didn't notice, that you didn't know you know.

to be continued

[Audio for the above can be heard herebeginning at sixty-five-and-three-quarter minutes in and continuing to approximately sixty-nine-and-three-quarter minutes in]