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Jazz is one of the most powerful music genres in the world. Throughout its history, jazz has been able to capture the hearts and minds of the target audience and convey to them the feelings and attitudes of the artiste. Of all the forms of jazz perhaps the most important to our study is bebop.
Bebop, or otherwise called bop is a jazz melodic improvisation and extreme tempos that first gained public attention with recordings made in the mid-1940s. Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie teamed up to become one of the early pioneers of bebop.
The beat generation was a prominent and important time in the United States' literary life of the mid-1950s. 'Beat' connects both with 'beaten' and 'beatified', because the writers felt crushed by the out-dated values of society and elevated by the headiness of their own revolt (Bloomsbury 1993). The beat writers at the time ignored the rules of art as well as society, using slang to express themselves. Among the principle figures involved in the beat movement were the poets Allan Ginsberg as well as the novelist Jack Kerouac.
In his book, On the Road (1952), Kerouac tells of a group of friends who decide to travel around America forever in search of newer, more intense experience. The book, which shows how Kerouac had immersed himself into bebop and beats, depicts the actual natures of Kerouac's friends including Allan Ginsberg, and depicts how bebop had infused into their hearts. Furthermore, it describes the lifestyle and often aimless search for the worthwhile experience of the beats.
As the beat movement was struggling to find its footing, bebop was already going strong. This was particularly true especially in New York City whereby the 52nd street was heavy with jazz club activity up and down its length. Bebop's come back was ushered in by saxophonists Parker, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt among others.
The writer Jack Kerouac and his friend, Allan Ginsberg spent a lot of their time in jazz clubs such as the Red Drum, Minton's and the Open Door. Fascinated by the music that Parker and his comrades played, they immersed themselves into it. Allan Ginsberg dubbed Parker and the rest as 'The Secret Heroes'.
To investigate why the jazz became such a driving force in the lives of beat authors and the crucial role it played in the development of the beat generation, perhaps the most basic thing we need to understand is the meaning of the word 'beat'. The word beat was used during the post-war period by jazz musicians to mean down and out. The author Kerouac went further ahead to twist the meaning of the word to suite his own needs. He explained that it meant feeling the beat in jazz and enjoying it. He coined the term beatitude to refer to this colloquial expression.
Though Kerouac and other beat authors borrowed many words from jazz, bebop and other forms of jazz meant much more to the beat authors. They viewed jazz as being a way of life, a completely different way of the creative process. To them jazz served to be the ultimate point of reference. In this modern form of jazz they heard the rebellious voice calling speaking to them, to their hearts; it became a way of life. Perhaps the ideal model to demonstrate the artistic models of both the jazz musicians and the beat generation would be the late 19th Century poet Arthur Rimbaud. Rimbaud who drank heavily and wrote poetry while still at a relatively young age showed fevrent dedication to his art that at the age of 21 was unable to do any more. Through this Rimbaud was credited a Secret Hero by the beat generation.
The beat generation was constantly trying to emulate bebop and other jazz artistes in every way. This included the taking of drugs. They deeply believed that the drugs would inspire them in their art of writing just as the aided in the works of the greats such as Parker. Kerouac in his book depicts and chronicles this lifestyle. They also closely studied the use of beats and tried implementing it to their work. If we look at the works of Kerouac, for example, it can be seen that his prose is comprised of a style in which the words are spoken in very strong bursts and his overall language style is rarely revised and lack punctuation. Kerouac commented that beat prose was spontaneous with lack of revision and punctuation. Kerouac showed his admiration for bebop and jazz in general in his books. In the book, 'On the Road' (1952), he tells the story of Louis Armstrong, Roy Elridge and Charlie Parker. His prose further illustrates their encounters with other artistes such as Charlie Parker watching the Basie and Benny Molten band (On the Road, 1952). By taking on the role of a historian Kerouac shows his admiration for the jazz and bebop greats.
Ginsberg was seen as being a poetic in the fashion of a bebop musician rather than a traditional poet. The similarities in bebop and beat poetry are striking. In bebop and other forms of jazz there is notable stress applied to the second and fourth beats. This is different to the style common to the Western music which comprises applying stress to the first and third beats. In this respect, jazz is similar to African music. Beat poetry is similar to jazz as it has a similar looser and syncopated rhythm. Ginsberg illustrated this point quite properly in his classic poem, 'The Howl'. We can compare this poem or any other beat poem to Charlie Parker's song. The verbal techniques used in beat poetry would be found to be strikingly similar to the jazz songs.
John Cellon Holmes is another author who greatly admired the jazz and bebop greats. He dedicated a book, whose entirety showed his admiration for sax player Edgar pool. He quoted that he stayed up with Kerouac in a journal entry listening to the works of Symphony Sid, Dizzy and Parker.
If we consider who amongst the beat generation who felt the strongest racial empathy with the jazz world, Leroi James is perhaps the best example. Leroi James, who later changed his name to Baraka, being African-American set himself aside from the other beat authors and used his race to fuel his poetry. He is noted as being very extreme especially in his political and racial view points. In his poetry, his goals closely resemble those of the jazz artist, John Coltrane, whom Baraka greatly admired.
The beat generation also saw bebop as a rebellious way out of white middle-class conformity especially after the post war period. In excerpts taken from Kerouac's book, 'On the Road (1952)', its characters quote that In America people should do as they wished. The beats saw the bebop artistes as the ideal rebels. The beats perspective on American culture differed greatly from traditional American culture in the 1950s. This was clearly depicted in the literary works of Jack Kerouac and the poems of Allan Ginsberg. They used the musical characteristics of bebop to illustrate this fact.
Bob Kaufman exemplifies the beat spirit. He was largely considered to be the most influential black poet of his era and had his beginnings as a street poet. He devoted himself to Buddhism and believed that poetry was a higher calling. People held on to his every word owing to how he read his poetry. His use of bop in poetry was truly commendable.
The effects of bebop on the beat generation are many and varied. Often it is said that through their interaction with beats, this young group of academic writers and poets inserted elements into their respective kinds of literature that touched their younger readers and listeners and spoke to their hearts. It was a revolution and placed a strong emphasis on language and honesty culturing soon to be writers to express themselves more than they were being taught at the time. Through the beat generation there emerged a new group of intelligent and compassionate writers with Richard Brautigan and Henry Miller serving as a few examples.
There are large amounts of beat literature and when considering its influence, they are all about content and challenging social morals. Bebop challenged the existing parameters of music and encouraged the expansion of such parameters. This influence can clearly be seen in the works of Jack Kerouac and Bob Kaufman.
The beat movement relied heavily upon the jazz prowess of the greats such as Charlie Parker and Miles Davis for the inspiration of valuable works such as Kerouac's 'On the Road' (1952) and Ginsberg's 'Howl'. It was fortunate that the two movements coincided at the same time period.
The influence of bebop on the beat generation is undeniable. From the large amount of literature available from that period, it is clear that the infusion of bebop into literary works was great. Through the bebop new styles and formats came into play regarding literary works. Bebop, not only influenced the literary works of the time, it also influenced great changes in the lifestyle of the authors and poets involved. The authors and poets involved were seen to be largely emulating the bebop artistes whom they admired in all ways. Behavioral changes such as open sexuality and partaking in drugs was the result. Thus when compared against the mid 1950s culture, it can be seen the bebop greatly influenced the beat generation and was largely responsible for its growth and evolution.