American Jazz in Jack Kerouac's Research Proposal

Excerpt from Research Proposal :

Obviously, Sal Paradise, much like Kerouac himself, loves American jazz music, especially played on the acoustic guitar by an African-American jazz/blues giant like Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly.

As Mark Richardson sees it, writing in "Peasant Dreams: Reading On The Road," "The strain of the basic primitive," in this case jazz, ". . . is what Sal and Dean listen to in order to hear" what they call "wailing humanity" (Texas Studies in Literature and Language, Internet) or, in other words, the vocals of someone like Leadbelly wailing out the blues, another original form of American music with roots sunk deep in the elements of jazz. For Richardson, it seems that Kerouac's application of jazz in the text of On The Road serves not only as a theme but also as the basic framework for the personalities of Sal and Dean, two rebels "on the road" and "on the beat" exploring the endless complexities of the American musical landscape.

This jazz theme in On The Road can also be applied to race and gender, for as Richardson points out, Kerouac utilizes the idea of "whiteness" as contrasted with "blackness," with the first being the so-called WASP or White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, a person who usually shuns anything to do with black culture, especially jazz music, and sees jazz musicians as peasants or those who wander from place to place, much like gypsies, without putting down social roots. As to "blackness,' this refers to African-Americans like Leadbelly, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk who stand in stark contrast to "White America" and find pleasure and satisfaction in playing jazz music. For Kerouac and Sal, this "whiteness" is the antithesis of jazz and is symbolized by "a suit of clothes too good to be comfortable" on the body of a jazz-loving, "on the beat" rebel more suited to non-conformity ("Peasant Dreams," Internet).

Richardson also makes reference to the sound of "squiggling saxophones" which causes the listener, in this case Kerouac and his fellow "beat" travelers, to break into some kind of a Dionysian dance, fueled by wine, marijuana, and sexual debauchery. Also, Richardson mentions "the tenor-man's ecstasy," perhaps symbolically cast as Charlie Parker blowing his saxophone as if in some type of ecstatic musical bliss on the stage. With this, here is the source of Kerouac's "Be-bop prose" in On The Road, particularly when Kerouac describes "the scene in a San Francisco jazz joint called Jamson's Nook," where jazz musicians emit "consonance and onomatopoeia registers" in order to induce "verbal and musical bawdiness" ("Peasant Dreams," Internet) in their audience members.

In conclusion, Jack Kerouac would almost certainly agree with Richardson when he declares that "To become hip to jazz. . . is to enter into a new relation to the body and to sexuality," something which Kerouac fully realized and understood when penning On The Road, all the while knowing that "jazz is orgasm" ("Peasant Dreams," Internet), exemplified by those

"squiggling saxophones" under the control of Charlie Parker and so many other African-American jazz musicians of the late 1940's and 1950's who demonstrated to writers like Kerouac that being "on the beat" was far more attractive and much more enjoyable.


Kernfeld, Barry, Ed. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz. New York: St. Martin's Press,


Kerouac, Jack. On the Road: 50th Anniversary Edition. New York: Viking Press, 2007.

Liukkonen, Petri. "Jack Kerouac (1922-1969)." Books and Writers. Internet. 2008. Retrieved May 16, 2009 from

Richardson, Mark. "Peasant Dreams: Reading On the Road." Texas Studies in Literature

and Language. 43.2 (Summer 2001): 218-27. Internet. 2009. Http:// / ips/

"The Influences of the Beat Generation in Jack Kerouac's Famous Novel On The Road."

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