Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 106 (Joy Without Cause)


Joy is Your Birthright - Center and Connect and Be Joy-filled - Dr. Diva Verdun


Student: How can joy be

AG: Without cause?

Student: Without cause, yeah?

AG:  Well, it's a mystery. Joy without cause, meaning.. Joy, the unborn joy, I should say. "Unborn", in the sense that you can't trace it back to its womb and find the cause . And you don't have to..  It's there. It allows the universe to exist on its own without an explanation.

Student: Someone said joy…there is no such thing as joy... that has a cause. Joy with a cause isn't joy. 

AG: Yeah. Joy with a cause is conditioned on its cause and therefore isn't eternal, so to speak. You've experienced joy without a cause - just pure joy for no reason

Student: Well, I think the reason is the love of life.

AG: Well, that's a reason, but that's like saying joy..   Where does love of life come from? It allows us to experience the love of life without an excuse - without an excuse, without having to have an alibi. 

Student: Yeah

AG: Without having to explain to the cops why we love life.

Student: Yeah, that's the mystery.

AG: Okay, if you put it as it allows us to experience truly revolutionary joy that doesn't have an alibi itself to the judge, okay? A joy without judge (joy without court, judge, cops, state, or an elite - the elitist of joy - the joy that exists on its own, which is the nature of the universe, which is also unborn joy, which is to say, you don't know where it came from, you don't know where it's going, but it certainly is here, as far as here means here, and appearance means appearance and is means is. 

Student: Well, it'd be touching the eternal

AG: Yeah. Absolutely. And that's one of the few ways you can do it. The only condition of this joy is that you have to let it go, you can't cling to it, because if you try and bind it down with a reason and find the cause, then immediately you're involved back in joyless analysis (unless you do some joyous analysis).

Student: But the thing is, joy is not an insane…

AG: Nobody said joy was insane.

Student: …product of the mind.

AG: Nobody ever said joy was insane, except madmen.

Student (CC): But wouldn't the…

AG: The joyless madmen

Student (CC): Wouldn't the ideal joy be joy with cause?

AG: Well the ideal joy would be joy with cause, yes. Sure, why not. A joy.. This ideal joy would be joy with.. not so much cause as joy with…

Student: …explanation?

AG: ..explanation, if you want, but to cover every end of the universe, yes, joy with literal cause, and literal explanation, and literal root, and grounded joy, certainly. The Buddhists propose grounded joy as the reliable joy rather than an LSD trip, or a mystical experience, or a freak-out joy. The Buddhists do propose… actually, the whole method here is called The Path of Accumulation, among Buddhists. Not that you're going to experience satori, or ecstasy, or God, but you accumulate your joy by constant practice of cutting through your own aggression, and, slowly, what happens is, that the ordinary world becomes less bound-down and constricted by your bring-down, by the bring-down that you bring to it. It's self-sufficient, like eternity, or what's supposed to be eternal - that is, sufficient unto itself, however. Of course, this big explanation, this big rational, grounded, explanation of self-sufficiency and unborn nature, unborn truth.

So in that sense, the poem can be an independent object made out of language, imagined.  It also, on a psychological level, allows you to experience your own boldness, your own self-confidence, your own wildness, your own intuitions, your own - what they call these days in America -  humanistic self-expression. Also, non-self-expression, or ego-less expression (because you don't have to attach any of these imaginations to your own body or your mind - they're free, they come and go like thought). It's kind of cosmic adventurousness in language (and in thoughts too).

And also the ultimate aesthetic virtue I would say is inscrutability - Like a wise Chinaman. You don't know what's behind it, necessarily, but it's there. Just like the universe is inscrutable. So the poem can be inscrutable, can be an appearance that is radical, in the sense that it goes to the root of the imagination, and to the root of our nature, and the root of appearance and phenomena, the root of the universe itself.

[Audio for the above can be heard herebeginning at  approximately seventy-four-and-a-quarter minutes in and continuing to approximately seventy-nine-and-a-half minutes in]

Monday, September 1, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 105 (Kaddish)



Allen's August 13 1981 Naropa class continues

AG: "Kaddish", (which is a long poem, celebrated, and it's supposed to be sort of a kind of terrible masterpiece), is really just writing what I hadn't been taking into account. Just a release of particulars that may have occured to me at one time or another but I never particularly strung together and made any kind of coherent exhibition of (to myself, or others).  So it was a recognition of feelings that I had to(ward) my mother, as well as images. When I wrote down that line - "with your belly of strikes and smokestacks", I didn't quite know what I meant. But, while I was writing it, I started crying, realizing it meant everything - political (and) historical and personal. The rest of that litany there is pretty pettifoggingly literal - "with your eyes of lobotomy/with your eyes of divorce/with your eyes of stroke" - (that's just naming simple abstract facts). 



(But) The other line I thought was great was "with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots".."(With) your eyes of false China"… Actually what I was thinking when I said "Czechoslovakia attacked by robots" (I wasn't thinking of Hitler and I wasn't thinking of the Communists), I was thinking of Karel Čapek's  play "R.U.R", which is a description of the revolt of the machine - Robots - It was a book that my brother was reading when he was in college when my mother was crazy, in 1938. I just associated that with my mother coming home from the hospital. So, "with your eyes of Czechoslovakia attacked by robots" - I meant "R.U.R" (Rossum's Universal Robots) - I had no idea that it was political in that way. But it was such a strong line, I can't read it in Russia - or Czechoslavakia [editorial note - this is 1981] - It was forbidden in Czechoslovakia to translate that line.

Student: Well, that's the old connected historically... 

AG: Yes, that's  what I was saying.

Student: Yeah

AG: It is still connected totally historically. That's why I cried when I wrote it down because I didn't know what I was saying in advance. While I was writing it, just after, instantly, in a flash, I said, "Wow! - what is that? - where did that come from?"- What I was explaining  is that it came originally from an experience with my brother, my brother's reading.

Student: Yeah. Modern art does that, too.

AG: Well, yes, most of modern art is that, attempting that, yeah..  The virtue of this kind of poetry (is that) you could call it the acme of expansive poetry because you allow your imagination to expand and allow your mind to extend as far as it wants inquisitively, you can exaggerate all you want, you can indulge in hyperbole (in the most fantastic hyperbole or exaggerated metaphor), you can exercise your humor in the most fantastic way, it's all-inclusive (you can include anything you've got in your mind, as Walt Whitman includes everything that he has in his mind), so it's democratic, it can jump from the grand to the tiny, from magna- to mini-, from mega- to mini- -  "Lightning flash flint spark", as Philip Whalen wrote -  "lightning flash flint spark" - it allows you to map the extent of  Big Mind, and exhibit Big Mind to others -  so it has a kind of bodhisattva feeling - it allows you to indulge arrogance all you want without any pay-back. You can include disparate elements, as (John) Keats wanted to with his "Negative Capability", you can allow your totally ordinary mind - "With the fingers with which I am writing this poem in Prague" - it allows you to be playful all you want, which is also a great thing (as in Mozart), allows pathos (as with the (Robert) Desnos' example of "My love who doesn't even listen to me". It allows joy without cause - unexplained, unobstructed, causeless joy - allows free play for causeless joy - Energy itself. Pure energy. Unborn Joy.

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

For more on Allen and "Kaddish" - see here 
and his reading here

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sam Charters - Jack Kerouac's Jazz - 3 (Monk, Dizzy and Bird)





Dizzy Gillespie01.JPG




part 3 - Monk, Dizzy and Bird 

Sam Charters: I thought I would talk about the three black performers that Jack talks about so specifically – Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Thelonious Monk, was one of the most challenging of the three and played with them. Thelonious, unlike the other two, had severe technical limitations . I remember watching him at the Five Spot and I was always afraid when he played one of those descending runs he was going to beak his wrist, because he just never seemed to be able to quite get it together! – and er..so for Monk there was a problem in that he wasn’t going to be able to follow Parker and Gillespie into the technical level that they did. He found a style that emphasized his jaggedness, his personality, his own kind of clear crazy way of playing. I’m going to play you a funny trio record that ..was one that Jack liked. It came from this early period. He called it “Little Rootie-Tootie” and it’s a tune that Monk thought up (Thelonious Monk) as a train song, and these clanging chords that you hear in his right hand are his version of the train-whistles, and the rest is just this marvelous wacky blues showing the humor that was in bop, showing the musicality in bop and the personality.

[At approximately fifty-three-and-a-quarter minutes in, faltering at first, Sam Charters cues up and plays "Little Rootie-Tootie"




People who didn’t understand what was happening just regarded it as a lot of noise. That's particularly poignant to me because in the middle of that he does a little riff maybe you caught – da-da-da- da-da-da-da da-da-da-da-da-da-da-da – he’s playing on the piano what had been a King Oliver trumpet solo from a 1925 recording. So Monk is saying I look back to and I have my roots, even tho’ you think what I’m doing is completely beyond youm  Also in this period, about these musicians and the music, they were making it is without sentimentality. This is one thing that’s so marvelous about them. They knew what had happened. They knew what they faced. They knew the whole injustice so they couldn’t be sentimental about it. They couldn’t wallow in the kind of easy sentiment of ballads and things.They created a kind of sentiment without sentimentality. I’d like to play, to give you a fuller picture of Monk - one of his most beautiful compositions, with Monk on the piano and with one of Jack’s favorite tenor players Coleman Hawkins on tenor. This is a recording of Thelonious Monk’s very beautiful composition, "Ruby My Dear”

[At approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in, Sam Charters cues up and plays Monk playing  "Ruby, My Dear" - If you could have in your mind some of  the stanzas from Jack’s Mexico City Blues – that’s what he was talking about, that lonely tenor playing that blues on a long afternoon



[At approximately sixty-three-and-a-half minutes in, Samuel Charters continues] - Now to go to the other two of the three that Jack thought about so much  Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Dizzy was born in 1917 so he’s a little older, Jack was born in 1922, so Dizzy’s five years older. He was a prodigious seventeen year old making his first recordings (solos), he was also a very temperamental cat and, when he was with the Cab Calloway Band he stabbed Cab at one point! – (got fired for his pains there) – but, Dizzy is not at all…was not at all.. the really calm gentle man that he has become. 
Parker.. I’ll talk more about Parker. I’d like you to hear them together, at their absolute peak, when they’re dueling to see if each one can make the other give away. Here they are, sort of late into the career of classic bop – 

[At approximately fifty-seven-and-three-quarter minutes in, Sam Charters cues up and plays Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker playing together, but aborts the recording at approximately sixty-six-and-a-quarter minutes in]








– I’m going to stop it and I’m going to go ahead because it’s an interesting session, it's the last great session where they are, Charlie on alto, and Dizzy are playing together, Dizzy on trumpet. At this point their paths have diverged. Dizzy is a man of great entertaining ability, a kind of great charisma. He, at this point had become the spokesman for bop, the leading figure. Parker, strung out on drugs, already sick unto death, playing brilliantly but unable to keep more than a shadow of himself together for his wife and children, was beginning to deeply resent Dizzy. For this first number on this session that they did. he asked Dizzy to play the way he usually played in his own groups, in other words “Dizzy, stick in the mute, play quietly, and sort of follow me" . For the next number, Dizzy said, “no”. And they matched each other, (Dizzy took out the mute), and they played against each other, head on, face against face, doing what jazz musicians called “trading fours”. They’ve taken it essentially at an incredibly fast tempo so there’s no way that the piano player can take a solo, at all, it’s Monk, who’s just, just comping, and there’s a first chorus which Parker plays at an unbelievably blistering tempo. Gillespie follows and fumbles, and I think at this point, Parker probably thought he had him, but then they come back on the fours and Dizzy stands right up there face to face against him 

[Sam Charters cues up the record"I think I’m right at the start" - the audio briefly drops out but returns returns at approximately sixty-nine minutes in - continuing to approximately seventy-one-and-a half minutes in]

-  I’m going to finish by trying to give you a glimpse into the music of Charlie Parker He has  [(yes - [to audience query],  yeah, I’ll come back there, you just don’t have a lot of time.. what? What’s the line-up? - It’s Buddy Rich on drums, Curly Russell on bass, Monk comping on the piano)..]  

Of all the musicians, it was Charlie Parker that Jack loved most and identified with the most. They were both of the same age. Parker, absolute transcendent genius, at the same time, a man haunted by personal problems he could never solve. Charlie was a heroin addict from the age of fifteen and he compounded this by enormous drinking. His period as a great musician lasted only a brief time - from about 1945 to 1950. When he died, in 1955, a doctor who had not been taking care of him, estimated his age as fifty-five (Charlie was thirty-five when he died!). He was the example of what Jack meant when he wrote of those that burn and that those who give themselves completely to life, who hold nothng back. Parker’s life was his genius. His life was his music, his life was the poems that he blew out with his horn. Jack totally understood this and when he came to do his session of voice and piano with Steve Allen, he did, I think, a very moving tribute to Parker. I’d love to play for you an excerpt and then play you a little bit of Charlie Parker.

[At approximately seventy-three minutes in, Sam Charters plays audio of Steve Allen and Jack Kerouc - “Charlie Parker looked like Buddha..” ]–




I tried to think of one moment of Charlie Parker, one absolutely pure moment that would fulfill what Jack’s talking about there, and there was no question, for me, what it was. In a pick-up session, in the (19)40’s, 1945, he played a perfect blues chorus, an absolutely perfect chorus, summoning up everything the blues is, everything the blues could be, his melodic voice is totally free (at one moment he even sighs on the horn!) I’m sure a lot of you have heard it. I just want to play the solo. It’s..one of.. as far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the perfect utterances of the human spirit Charlie Parker's solo (on)  “Slam Slam Blues

cuts -off  (at approximately seventy-six-and-a-half minutes in).  I think for one of the perfect  utterances of the human spirit, we can hear it twice  (plays it again!)

Before I play the last selection,..there is going to be (as you know) a workshop, a meeting, in here, a conference, on Kerouac’s biography, which will be taking place as soon as we can re-organize the room. We began a little late because of the sound system arranging the open mike.. I’m going to finish with a.. with an example of Parker. Jack described him as “a genteel conductor of string orchestras, in front of which he stood, proud and calm like a leader of music in the great historic world night and wailed his little saxophone”. Charlie did this. He made some records with himself in front of a string orchestra. I thought this was something that was close to Jack, that was close to Charlie Parker. So we’ll finish this  session of Jack and Jazz with -  Charlie Parker’s “Summertime”



[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-two minutes in  and continuing (eighty-three-and-three-quarter minutes in, to the end of the tape]

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Sam Charters - Jack Kerouac's Jazz 2 - Jack and Jazz



[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) 


Sam Charters: I was talking last night to Edie Parker, wonderful, beautiful Edie Parker, who was Jack’s first wife. They started going up to hear jazz Harlem in 1940. She says they went up to Minton's club so much they wanted her to open a charge account. And, actually - as one tie-in with jazz - it was Lester Young, the great Kansas City tenor player, who gave Jack Kerouac his first marijuana! -  (that's right!)

Jack discovered jazz, it seems,  when he went to Horace Mann School in New York in that year of an athletic scholarship  to prepare for his football career at Columbia. He met another student named Seymour Wisewho was a great great jazz fan and Seymour really turned him on to jazz in a good way, and an exciting way, so that he saw the reality and the truth of jazz. And what I’d like to do is read a little something that Jack wrote about jazz and then try to show you the music he was talking about.

If you remember, there’s a wonderful section in On The Road when he and Neal go to a club in San Francisco to hear a jazz tenor player. There are two versions of this. The first version, significantly was published as “Jazz of The Beat Generation”  (then) it was shortened for On the Road.  This is the version that we get of "Jazz of the Beat Generation", as Jack copyrighted it and published it under the name “Jean-Louis”, in 1955. I’ll see if I can give you some of Kerouac's flavor in this there [Sam Charters begins reading from Kerouac, at approximately seven-and-a-quarter minutes in,through to approximately eleven-and-a-half minutes in]  - "Out we jumped in warm mad night hearing a wild tenorman's bawling horn across the way, going "EE-YAH!, EE-YAH!, EE-YAH!" and hands clapping to the beat and folks yelling, "Go, go, go!" Far from escorting the girls into the place, Dean was already racing across the street with his huge bandaged thumb in the air, yelling, "Blow, man, blow.." …"everything else crashed along and the cries increased and I thought the cops would come swarming in from the nearest precinct"]

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]




Now this brings us directly to a period of Jack’s life when he was a musician. He was for a brief time, very brief, a member of a little-known New York jazz vocal trio.. (you may not.. John’s holding on…) The name of this trio was "The Three Tools". We have with us one of the members of The Three Tools - John, will you please stand up - John Cleland Holmes. John loved jazz just as much as Jack did and, as he’s related it, his brother-in-law left a recording-machine in the apartment, one of these hundred-pound monsters with a huge heavy tone-arm that you could cut discs on, and he decided that they would do some rather intellectual kind of readings (Jack would read from his books, they’d read Shakespeare). What they did, of course, was get drunk, put on the machine and do this kind of vocalese, do this kind of bopping, and this kind of goofing, to records, and, believe it or not, some of the discs still exist, and we’re hoping that, some day, John will make them available to the public -The Three Tools riffing to their favorite record(s)… John also wrote a marvelous book (one of them, of course, you know is Go, one of the first descriptions of the Beat Generation, and he also wrote a..  and, I don’t know whether anyone has said that.. in many of his definitions of the times, he defined the Beat Generation. Jack said “The Beat Generation’s the one that’s with the beat in jazz, they’re the ones who hear the beat, who feel beat, and that’s why they’re Beat Generation. So it is just this whole thing of jazz/beat  which is so close. And John also wrote another book, a marvelous jazz novel (for me, the finest American jazz novel) called The Horn, and, I don’t know whether he was trying to cut Jack (in the old-fashioned “cutting” session style) but he included a description of a tenor solo in his book. And, I’m gonna have to stand up and get my wind, but, I’m going to try and give you John’s tenor solo, in answer to Jack’s tenor solo (and a little tenor "cutting contest" there) (I asked John if he’d read instead, but he said, “Hell no, I haven’t got the breath,” so I’m going to have to try it there. This is from John Clellon Holmes’ novel, The Horn – it’s about a session in Harlem. John says it’s no particular tenor player, it’s just those tenor players, the ubiquitous tenor who was in every club, and didn’t want to make the big time, but could blow, could really blow.

 [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."]  

Holmes The Horn

 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.
[Sam Charters first plays the recording of Jack Kerouac reading his "History of Bop" - “Bop began with jazz but one afternoon somewhere on a sidewalk, maybe 1939, 1940, Dizzy Gillespie, or Charlie Parker, or Thelonious Monk was walking past a men's clothing store on Forty-Second Street or South Man in L.A. and from a loudspeaker they suddenly heard a wild impossible mistake in jazz that could only have been heard inside their own imaginary head, and that is a new art. Bop"... “ “ He is home at last. His music is here to stay. His history has washed over us. His imperialistic kingdoms are coming.”]

The club that Jack was is talking about is Minton’s Playhouse. It’s in Harlem. It was  118th Street off Lennox Avenue. It was an after-hours club. Jack says they started at ten p.m., no-one got there at  ten p.m., it got started  about four in the morning when he got there.  The biggest attraction was the wonderful new young guitar player, Charlie Christian (who was with the Benny Goodman band who was coming out to jam with the house band), Charlie was twenty-two, the piano player Thelonious Monk was twenty, they had Joe Guy who was married to Billie Holiday, playing  incredibly bad trumpet - and the crowd really came to hear Charlie Christian. This got so popular that  up the street a little way, there was another club that Jack used to go to all the time called Monroe'sClark Monroe’s up-town House The band there was Dizzy Gillespie, Ken Kersey on piano and Don Byas on tenor. What Jack has done is put the two together.

















[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"].



Why bop? Why was Jack so drawn to be-bop? We look back on bebop now as a kind of historical curiosity, something that came and went. There are only a handful of people now [1982] who can play bop. There are really only a handful now who can really understand what it was. Jack knew. Jack really understood what bebop was.The things he said in that “History..” about what had happened to swing. Jazz, as you know, was a great revolutionary breakthrough.

I heard a marvelous story. Among my first books were books I wrote about jazz in New Orleans and I was talking to some fellows who’d heard the very very first jazz band in 1897 – the Buddy Bolden Band – and we tend to look back on that as being kind of corny ol’ time blues. Buddy was actually the sharpest dude in town. He had the sharpest clothes, he knew the best tunes, he was the cat who could make it with all the chicks the cat who was right "with it" – so, when these musicians went in and heard this band play, they didn’t hear some out-of-tune blues, they didn’t hear something deep down and funky, they heard the latest, the hippest, and the hottest, thing they could hear. And they said that they listened, and (that) the band stood up, and they all played a tune - and they couldn’t understand what they were doin’ – they’d never heard anything like it  - and the band stopped, and they didn’t know why they'd stopped – and they sat down - and these other cats were in the audience, and (just got up) shaking their heads, they couldn’t believe it.
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
[Kenny Clarke (1914-1985)]

The drummer that the were working with, Kenny Clarke, Kenny Clarke was playing at the Savoy Ballroom  - and they were playing these jitterbug numbers (like this – [Samuel Charters gives a fast hand clap]for everybody, and the style in those days was for the bass-drummer (because you work with your bass-drum) to play twice as fast, so he’s [Samuel Charters now claps to show a faster tempo] and he had to do that for almost every number – So, finally, Kenny Clarke, he said “Fuck this!".  So he started going [Samuel Charters  claps now with variant rhythm] he started working with the beat, instead of just breaking his leg, pumping it out. And then what Kenny Clarke discovered and it’s a beautiful thing  (and I don’t know where it came from) that if you put the rhythm back on the cymbal (you know,choo-choo-choo-choo-cho-choo), you get the bop rhythm back on the cymbal, then you can play with the drums. What had happened was this marvelous thing. Jazz, when it began, was so heavily influenced by the whole white music trip, and what it did, through bop, was become black. And what Kenny Clarke had done was to rediscover the way a basic African drum orchestra plays (because in a basic drum orchestra, the rhythm’s not in the drums, it’s in a little metal clanger that goes ch-ch-ch-ch -ch-ch-ch  all the time, and your big bass drums are going bah bah –bah-ba-ba bah bah,  and then you got your middle drums going (clap-clap-clap) and then you got your…ch-ch-chSo what Kenny Clarke did was to bring Africa back into drumming, It was suddenly black, in a way that it had never been before.

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..


[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately five-and-a-half minutes in  and continuing to approximately fifty two minutes in]