Big Sur

Improvisation and other Jazz-like Techniques in Jack Kerouac’s Writing

Bop jazz divorced itself from its mainstream predecessor when musicians like Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk began to emphasize fast tempo and improvisation over the predictable music of the swing era. These renegade musicians valued spontaneity and inspired many listeners. It is no coincidence that these Bop jazz musicians were Jack Kerouac’s first choice in music. These musicians made an indelible mark on Kerouac as seen by the numerous jazz references in his works. Therefore, to a certain extent to know bop jazz is to know something of Jack Kerouac and to know something of Jack Kerouac is to know something of bop jazz. In the same manner, if improvisation is essential to bop jazz and Kerouac’s writing is highly influenced by jazz it seems likely that characteristics of Kerouac’s writings will have elements of improvisation.

Two characteristics in particular can be traced from Kerouac’s earliest novels, such as On the Road through his career to his later works like Big Sur. One of the indispensable traits of Kerouac’s writing is the feverish geographic movement that he and his characters demonstrated. The other very notable aspect of his writing is his free-flowing, stream of consciousness sentences that...

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