Jack Kerouac: Blues and Haikus

Facts and Stats: Blues and Haikus is American novelist and poet Jack Kerouac’s (1922-1969) second album and was released in 1959 by US label Hanover (co-founded by Bob Thiele and Steve Allen so they could release Kerouac on vinyl). It was re-released in 1990 for the US on CD (Rhino Word Beat) and then after a long lapse in 2008 for European CD lovers (Zonophone). More recently, it was re-issued again on CD in the US in 2012 (Rhino) and again for American vinyl hipsters in 2017 (clear vinyl) and 2018 (“blues” and yellow starburst vinyl). Bob Thiele produced the album, as per its predecessor, Poetry for the Beat Generation (1959).

This vinyl re-release is to celebrate Keroauc’s one hundredth birthday and comes in a tobacco tan colour variant [do not inhale for health reasons].

Blues and Haikus was made with tenor saxophonist, arranger and composer Al Cohn (1925-1988) and tenor/alto/soprano saxophonist John Haley “Zoot” Sims (1925-1985), who were both veterans and partners in clarinettist Woody Herman’s legendary Herd bands. The album was “possibly” recorded in the Spring of 1958 (according to the notes with The Jack Kerouac Collection, Rhino 1990). The album was released at least a year later in October 1959. It may be that Norman Granz, the jazz entrepreneur and the album’s executive producer, intentionally delayed distribution for fears of litigation on the basis the album appealed to “prurient” interest.

According to Jonah Raskin’s essay “Jack Kerouac Goes Vinyl: a Sonic Journey into Kerouac’s Three LPs – Poetry for the Beat Generation; Blues and Haikus; and Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation” , when Thiele suggested a second album, Kerouac wasn’t eager to have Steve Allen accompany him, and asked specifically for Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, who he knew well and whose work he admired. Thiele was afraid that two saxophones would overpower Kerouac and tried to persuade him to change his mind but Kerouac was determined that he would only make the record with them.

The team did more than one take of some tracks. At the end of the session, Kerouac wanted Cohn and Sims to listen to what they had recorded but they weren’t interested – they took their instruments and left, much to Kerouac’s dismay. Kerouac and Thiele instead went out and got drunk

Blues and Haikus reflects Kerouac’s interest in Eastern religion and meditative practices; a “Haiku” is a type of short form poetry originally from Japan consisting of three phrases. Kerouac’s haikus can be read in print in the posthumous Scattered Poems (1971) and Book of Haikus (2003).

Our Review: the almost ten minute “American Haikus” features some great call and response between Kerouac’s voice and the sax; the haikus themselves are relatively abstract and may cause consternation to the more conservative reader.

There seemed to be a relaxed atmosphere in the studio, with some gleeful chatter before tracks, including “Hard Hearted Old Farmer” which features Cohn making his recording debut as a piano player. Pat Thomas notes in his sleeve notes (not included with the release) that “yeah, that’s him on “Hard Hearted Old Farmer” and “The Last Hotel & Some of Dharma”.

Thomas also notes that of the two Hanover albums, “this one is a bit more musical, yet retains that ‘first thought, best thought’ vibe – sometimes with laughter and a rustling of papers. Kerouac is audibly more comfortable this time around.” Kerouac shifts between spoken word and melodious crooning on some “Hard Hearted Old Farmer” and excels with his spoken word jazz phrasing on “The Last Hotel & Some of Dharma”

“Poems from the Unpublished Book of Blues” makes up side two of the LP, which is choruses 1-23 of San Francisco Blues (written in 1954 but published posthumously in 1983). There is some great interplay between the two sax players and it’s an emotive, sometimes excitable, performance from Kerouac.

Further Reading

“Jack Kerouac Goes Vinyl: a Sonic Journey into Kerouac’s Three LPs – Poetry for the Beat Generation; Blues and Haikus; and Readings by Jack Kerouac on the Beat Generation”, Jonah Raskin, from Kerouac on Record, a Literary Soundtrack, 2018).

New Kerouac sleeve notes #2: Pat Thomas (“Rock and the Beat Generation” Substack).





Label: Real Gone Music
Release Date: 09 DEC 2022