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Jazz Music Essay, Research Paper

The Relationship of Jazz Music and Jack Kerouac

There is a distinct relationship between jazz music and the Beat Generation, particularly Jack Kerouac. The writings of the beat generation were often influenced by the different styles of jazz. One certain style of jazz known as bop and bebop were the most influential of all forms on the beat generation. They were an improvised form of jazz that has been traced back to originating in Harlem in the early forties and fifties. A harmonically and rhythmically intricate style of jazz, bebop originated in a Harlem jam session and gained a certain off-the-beaten-path popularity through the forties and fifties. Smaller than the big swing bands, bebop combos were well-suited to the proliferating, cramped jazz clubs on 52nd Street in New York and in other cities where improvisational pyrotechnics ignited audiences. Among the Beats, Cassady and Kerouac were especially rabid fans. (Palamountain 1) The relationship between jazz and Kerouac is a very important one, which can easily be seen, in his writing style.

Jack Kerouac s style of writing was very close to the style of jazz music. It was often improvised as they went on, with no particular direction, just many different possibilities of where to go. Kerouac had frequented Harlem music joints since his undergraduate days, and in 1951 they inspired bop prosody . Kerouac s model was a tenor man drawing a breath and blowing a phrase on his saxophone, till he runs out of breath, and when he does, his sentence, his statement s been made that s how I therefore separate my sentences, as breath separations of mind. (Watson 139) Since jazz was such an improvised form of music, Kerouac felt it was the most truthful form of music, going from one note to another with no set rule of what to do. He used this type of style in many of his writings. Some of his characters float around, get much detail for a few pages, and then disappear as if they never existed. Wild form, bop prosody, and spontaneous prose offered not simply technique but Kerouac s version of a writer s religion. Surveying America s pop culture and its down-at-the-heels theater marquees, jalopies, and diners, Kerouac transformed these physical stimuli through the act of spontaneous writing, pushing the limits of the expressiveness to reach ecstasy and redemption. (Watson 139) Kerouac had said that at times he would be in a state of unconsciousness while writing due to the excitement and energy of it. This is the same type of energy found in jazz music. There is a very distinct energy level in jazz that almost puts the listener into a trance following along with the flow of the music. This is the same sort of excitement and flow that can be found in much of Kerouac s writing.

On The Road was one of the most obvious of Kerouac s writings where the relationship between jazz and his style can be seen. The sentence structure in this novel is almost like no other, continuously flowing. The original text was actually written on one large scroll of paper, later transferred onto normal sheets of paper when the novel was published. In On The Road even the lifestyles that were being written about were reflective of jazz. The lives led in that novel were unpredictable, and changing from second to second, very similar to jazz. The interest in jazz is also mentioned throughout the novel by many of the characters. The character Dean Moriarty is a very sharp, character who is often moving at high speeds, whether it is his thoughts, or his driving. This seems to be another symbol of jazz music, and the style which was often very fast paced. Kerouac also uses many descriptions and references in On The Road which relate to jazz. He even mentions some of the more famous jazz musicians. There was an early Dizzy Gillespie [record] there that he valued- Congo Blues, with Max West on the drums. (Kerouac 220) In chapter 10 of On The Road there is a large amount of references to jazz, and jazz musicians. The characters are all attending a club where jazz and bop are being performed, and there are many descriptions of the musicians, almost in amazement of how they dress, act, and most importantly perform their music. This was a very important scene in highlighting the importance of jazz music and how it relates to the beat generation. It was such an important event that Kerouac wrote Suddenly Dean stared into the darkness of a corner beyond the bandstand and said, Sal, God has arrived. Throughout On The Road , jazz was a very influential aspect of life for the characters, and how they went about living their lives.

The entire beat generation had a relationship to jazz music. A major part of the beat generation was influenced by the idea of perpetual motion. This is the main theme in On The Road , and in many other writings from this era. This desire for perpetual motion can also be seen in the use of the drugs that were commonly used such as speed. The desire for perpetual motion can also be seen in jazz music. The constantly changing and improvised format of jazz was also moving almost perpetually. Jazz music was often played freely, in jam sessions, where other musicians could join in, and make the music keep going. An interesting part of On The Road takes place when they travel down south, and jazz music and culture are much more likely to be found. There is more excitement, and the characters enthusiasm comes to a high point. They are moved by this music, as they are moved by their desire to constantly be moving and traveling. Another possible relation to jazz music is its purity. It was a raw, form of music, but very pure and truthful. When Dean and Sal go to Mexico, they are trying to get close to their roots, and to nature, the purest form of life. Throughout the beat generation this need for perpetual motion and excitement for jazz music were very common, and almost completely paralleled each other.

The relationship of jazz music and the beat generation, particularly Jack Kerouac s writings is a very important one. Like any artist, writer, or other person, the influences behind their work are just as important as their own. The influences affect their style, opinions, and life in general. Jazz provided a very important influence for Jack Kerouac. It helped him express his unique style of writing in his bop prosody and spontaneous prose formats. Kerouac was so influenced and interested in jazz that he eventually put out a record of jazz type music with him singing. He also did poetry readings with jazz accompaniment. All of this led to many other joint efforts between jazz musicians and beat generation poets and writers. The relationship to jazz was an important one, and is very obviously highlighted throughout Kerouac s works, as with the other beat generation writers.

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