Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Jack Kerouac & All That Jazz (Writing)

Long-Player, RTomens, 2014

It's Jazz Appreciation Month, so I hope you've been dutifully appreciating it. Once May comes, you can stop. I wrote the a book on Jazz once. That makes me an expert, so you'd better listen. There are lots of books on Jazz written by experts but none of them are like mine. Perhaps no books are really like one another, so the authors hope. Otherwise, what's the point? In retrospect (and I may have even thought it at the time) my book is akin to a Jazz solo. In case you don't know, the point of those is to improvise, thus charting a course through territory for which you have no map and you're travelling very fast. Unless it's a ballad. Even so, quick unthinking is required and you're dependent on an ability to arrive somehow without getting lost. A bit like writing, only you have no opportunity to return and edit.

Much of my writing was unedited because I wanted to capture the 'sound' as I made it, rather than a cleaned-up version of that sound. The benefits are enormous, not least in the 'energy' transmitted. The downside is some people will think you're a little mad. And can't write 'properly'. People said Free Jazz players couldn't play properly, thus missing the point entirely. The point being total self-expression unfettered by musical rules. Jack Kerouac famously emulated Jazz musicians in his writing. As he wrote in Essentials Of Spontaneous Prose (1957): 'sketching language is undisturbed flow from the mind of personal secret idea-words, blowing (as per jazz musician) on subject of image.'

Kerouac is closely associated with the Be-Bop era, having been around in the mid-40s when it blew up, written those experiences into books and been inspired, prose-wise. What's probably less well-known is that by 1960, when Bop was over and had been replaced by Hard Bop, as personified by Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Kerouac saw the importance of the New Thing. In The Last Word column of December 1960 he wrote: 'I think the first breakthrough since Charlie Parker has been accomplished by Ornette Coleman and Donald Cherry with his little cornet and that it will lead the way, like Parker's way, into a whole new era of jazz.' With hindsight, that's shows a smart, forward-thinking appreciation of new developments as opposed to the more common reaction of outrage and disgust. Whilst history tells us Coleman went on to earn his place as a bona fide legend, it's easy to forget the hostility towards him coming from many quarters at the time. The other point is that whilst he was a key figure in the evolution of freer forms he remained a totally singular player throughout his whole career, as distinct as Thelonious Monk's piano-playing during the be-Bop era.

Jazz is still a mystery to many who think they might get into it, or should really try, so next I'll be posting my Essential Jazz Albums. Because I'm an expert.

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