Bop for Kerouac is one of Mark Murphy’s best albums, and that’s saying a lot because over the years he has recorded some of the finest and most innovative jazz vocal albums of all time. It’s a concept album that is focused on the aesthetic of the Beats and features vocalise adaptations of Charlie Parker tunes and solos as well as texts taken from the writings of Jack Kerouac, particularly the novel On the Road.
The album starts off with “Be-Bop Lives” which most jazz fans will immediately recognize as “Boplicity” from the seminal Birth of the Cool album of Gerry Mulligan, Miles Davis, Gil Evans fame. “Parker’s Mood” features a great Murphy vocalise with tenor saxophone obbligato. In the middle of the tune Murphy abandons song for spoken word dialogue that is similar to Kerouac’s spoken word performances with Steve Allen, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn.
“You Better Go Now,” a slow ballad most notably associated with Dakota Staton receives a poignantly emotional reading by Murphy. The Beat infatuation with the lower end of the socio-economic scale continues in “The Bad and the Beautiful.” Here Murphy delivers an extremely emotional performance accompanied only by Bill Hays on the Fender Rhodes.
The most remarkable performance of the album, however, is “Ballad of the Sad Young Men,” a tune not that well known but one that has been recorded more recently by Kurt Elling. Murphy starts off by reciting the famous concluding lines to Kerouac’s On the Road that memorialize Dean Moriarty and the unsuccessful quest to find his father. Kerouac’s text fits brilliantly with the song, which is a lament about things left undone and opportunities left unrealized. Murphy’s performance is nothing less than heart rending. He grabs you in the guts and never lets go.
Bop for Kerouac is absolute proof why Mark Murphy is one of the most influential jazz singers of the past four decades. He is the musical godfather of a whole new generation of jazz singers, like Patricia Barber and Kurt Elling. If you own just one vocal jazz CD this should be it.
Track Listing: Be Bop Lives (Boplicity); Goodbye Pork Pie Hat; Parker's Mood; You Better Go Now; You've Proven Your Point; Bad and the Beautiful; Down St. Thomas Way; Ballad of the Sad Young Men
Personnel: Mark Murphy, vocals; Roy McCurdy, drums; Bob Magnusson, bass; Michael Spiro, Latin percussion; Bill Hays, keyboards; Richie Cole, alto and tenor saxophones; Bruce Forman, keyboards, guitar; Jeff Hamilton, drums; Luther Hughes, bass