419

Jack Kerouac with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims: Blues And Haikus

Sid Smith By

Sign in to view read count
Jack Kerouac with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims: Blues And Haikus I discovered jazz and Jack Kerouac at roughly the same time in my teens back in the early 1970s, when his seminal novel On The Road (Viking, 1957) hooked me into the bohemian world of jazz clubs, intense friendships and the never ending highway under wide open skies described in its pages.

It barely mattered that the quick fluid prose in which this hedonistic manifesto was rolled up in didn't always make sense—it was all about feeling something rather than necessarily understanding it. "You dig?" wasn't a question as much as a state of mind. That same sensibility applied to jazz and thus, for me at least, Kerouac and jazz were inseparable. Therefore when it came to him reading and /or improvising his words with jazz musicians it would obviously be a match made in heaven. Well, as this reissue demonstrates, there's often quite a gulf between theory and practice.

Kerouac had already begun his somewhat unsteady collision course with celebrity when he wound up in a recording studio in 1958 with Al Cohn and Zoot Sims. With producer Bob Theile staring out through the glass, the trio first laid down "American Haikus." Originally released in 1959, it followed on from his previous collaborations with pianist and TV presenter, Steve Allen, Poetry of the Beat Generation (Hanover, 1959). Whereas that had largely consisted of Kerouac reading novel extracts over a jazz backing, this record attempted to connect the words directly with the music; Jack riffing quick bursts of bop-prose followed by skirmishing from Cohn and Sims.

Kerouac can often be heard giggling off-mic at their piquant responses, as though he can hardly believe his luck at being in studio with them. Though he's clearly enjoying it, the playing is waiting to be ignited rather than actually being on fire.

"Hard Hearted Old Farmer" has Al Cohn switch to piano to back Kerouac's liquor-lubed sprechtgesang for a tentative blues. Their hesitant delivery doesn't improve until Sims eventually pitches in with a few well-chosen licks.

Ironically, when Kerouac does find his rhythm much later, midway through "Poems from the Unpublished Book of The Blues," the saxophones meander distractedly in the background, increasing the suspicion that nobody on the date really believed in what they were doing.

This seems confirmed when, on "Old Western Movies" (one of the two bonus outtakes presented from the original sessions), as Kerouac is browsing through his poems trying to figure out what to do next, Theile is heard in the room commenting "It's one of the best jazz dates I've heard in years." The howl of incredulous laughter from the guys in the next room is tainted with a cruel irony.

Although the words themselves explode and fly with his trademark wildcat imagery, Kerouac's delivery is leaden and flat. Rather than dance with music, he stands squarely on its toes. Period charm aside, Ellington and Irving Mills were right: it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.


Track Listing: American Haikus; Hard Hearted Old Farmer; The Last Hotel & Some Of The Dharma; Poems from the Unpublished Book of The Blues; Old Western Movies; Conclusion Of The Railroad Earth.

Personnel: Jack Kerouac: voice; Al Cohn: saxophone, piano; Zoot Sims: saxophone.

Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: EMI Music | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read Backlog CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by Mark F. Turner
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Over the Rainbow CD/LP/Track Review Over the Rainbow
by Paul Rauch
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Before The Silence CD/LP/Track Review Before The Silence
by John Sharpe
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Process And Reality CD/LP/Track Review Process And Reality
by Mark Corroto
Published: February 24, 2017
Read Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1 CD/LP/Track Review Masters Legacy Series, Volume 1
by Edward Blanco
Published: February 24, 2017
Read The Picasso Zone CD/LP/Track Review The Picasso Zone
by Franz A. Matzner
Published: February 23, 2017
Read "Ubuntu" CD/LP/Track Review Ubuntu
by James Nadal
Published: September 8, 2016
Read "Prick of the Litter" CD/LP/Track Review Prick of the Litter
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: January 28, 2017
Read "The Day After" CD/LP/Track Review The Day After
by David A. Orthmann
Published: February 14, 2017
Read "The Sparrow" CD/LP/Track Review The Sparrow
by Bruce Lindsay
Published: September 15, 2016
Read "I Just Want to Get Paid!" CD/LP/Track Review I Just Want to Get Paid!
by Jack Bowers
Published: June 15, 2016
Read "Narrante" CD/LP/Track Review Narrante
by Mark Sullivan
Published: July 7, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!