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Prepared by Barbara Rodriguez, November 1996; Extensively revised by Dave Moore; Last updated: July 2021
Inclusive Dates: 1949; 1951; 1968
Extent: 1.25 cubic feet (1 oversized LP storage box + 1 record storage box)
Physical Location: 11th Floor
Biographical Note: John Clellon Holmes was born in Holyoke, Massachusetts on March 12, 1926. As an author, he spanned the genres of essays, poetry, and novels. Although not as prolific as many of his contemporaries, Holmes was often regarded as the spokesman for the Beat Generation, defining Beat culture in two of his essays, "This Is the Beat Generation" (1952) and "Philosophy of the Beat Generation" (1958). Some of his earlier works include: Go (1952); The Horn (1958); Get Home Free (1964), the sequel to Go; Nothing More to Declare (1967), a collection of essays about the Beat generation phenomenon; and The Bowling Green Poems (1977), written while working at Bowling Green University. Holmes also lectured at Yale University (1959) and gave workshops at the State University of Iowa (1963) and Brown University (1971). He was a professor at the University of Arkansas from 1976 until a year before his death in 1988. Some of his later works include a memorium to his old friend, Visitor: Jack Kerouac in Old Saybrook (1981), Displaced Persons: the travel essays (1987), and a final book of poems, Dire Coasts (1988). John Clellon Holmes died of cancer at age 62 in Middleton, Connecticut, on March 30, 1988.
Scope and Content: The collection includes recordings made by John Clellon Holmes include musical selections and spontaneous "riffs" and singing by Holmes, Jack Kerouac, Seymour Wyse, and Lee Nevels. Also included is Allen Ginsberg reciting selections of his own poetry, a conversation between Jack Kerouac and Ginsberg, and a recitation of two scenes from Hamlet by Kerouac. The collection is comprised of 22 sound discs.
Alternate Format Available: Original recordings on discs have been transferred onto 10 audiocassette tapes and a set of 8 reel-to-reel audio tapes.
Related Materials: In addition to these recordings, Special Collections also houses correspondence and other papers of John Clellon Holmes.
Restrictions on Use: Kent State University Special Collections and Archives does not own the copyright to the content of these discs. Permissions for duplication for any use other than personal research, must be obtained from copyright owners.
Processing Information: Almost the entire description below was created by Dave Moore, Bristol, UK. Song performer(s) and date of song recording are indicated in parentheses, when known. See also additional notes and an addendum, also supplied by Dave Moore, at the bottom of this listing for further information on the contents and historical context of many of the recordings in this collection.
Disc -- Contents:
Disc 1, Side A
Disc 1, Side B
Disc 2, Side A
Scope and Content: JCH adding second riff part to previously recorded acetates. (See Note 1 for more information.)
Disc 2, Side B
Disc 3, Side A
Disc 3, Side B
Disc 4, Side A
Disc 4, Side B
Scope and Content: Disks 5-11, 13, & 14 are the acetates provided by Seymour Wyse, already recorded with demos and other unrelated material on one side. Recordings by Holmes and friends fill up the second side, and also any remaining space on the first side. The riffings are mainly by Seymour Wyse (SW) and Jack Kerouac (JK) (usually the bass part). (See Note 4 for more information.) In the descriptions below, the leading voice is listed first.
Disc 5, Side A
Disc 5, Side B
Disc 6, Side A
Disc 6, Side B
Disc 7, Side A
Disc 7, Side B
Disc 8, Side A
Disc 8, Side B
Disc 9, Side A
Disc 9, Side B
Disc 10, Side A
Disc 10, Side B
Disc 11, Side A
Background music on above tracks: ''Don't Worry 'Bout Me" (Stan Getz, 1946); "Sid's Bounce" (Kai Winding Sextet, 1949)
Disc 11, Side B
Disc 12, Side A
Disc 12, Side B
Disc 13, Side A
Disc 13, Side B
Disc 14, Side A (See Note 14 for more information.)
Disc 14, Side B
Disc 15, Side A
Disc 15, Side B
Disc 16, Side A
Disc 16, Side B
Disc 17, Side A
Disc 17, Side B
Disc 18, Side A
Disc 18, Side B
Disc 19, Side A
Disc 19, Side B
Disc 20, Side A
Disc 20, Side B
Disc 21, Side A
Disc 22, Side A
1. On disks 1, 2 and 3, Holmes was experimenting with producing multitracked recordings, playing a previously recorded acetate while cutting a new one, thereby recording his own voice up to three times. (Although the sound quality naturally deteriorates rapidly.) This multitracking explains the presence of symbols "(I)", "(2)", and "(3)" on the labels of those disks: referring to the number of times his voice is recorded.
4. In Kerouac's autobiographical novel The Subterraneans, set in 1953, he describes how "before, I'd with Ossip Popper sung bop, made records, always taking the part of the bass fiddle thum thum to his phrasing (so much I see now like Billy Eckstine's bop phrasing)." (Grove Press, pp.67-8. Ossip Popper is a character based on Seymour Wyse.)
5. Holmes made several recordings directly from radio broadcasts, including some by Charlie Parker and others broadcast live from Birdland, New York. Since the dates of the original broadcasts are known, it enables us to determine a rough dating for the other recordings on the acetates. The Birdland transcriptions are listed below:
Charlie Parker with strings, March 24, 1951:
Laura: 5B, 15A (55 seconds gap between sections)
Dancing In The Dark: 7B
Jumping With Symphony Sid: 15A
Slim Gaillard - Sabroso: 15A
Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie, March 31, 1951:
Anthropology: 15B, 9A (30 seconds gap)
'Round Midnight: 7A, 14A (26 seconds gap)
Night In Tunisia: 12B, 11A (24 seconds gap)
(An announcement by Symphony Sid at the end of disk 4A mentions "next Friday, April 6 ... " which would also fall in 1951.)
Comparing the parts of "Laura", "Anthropology'', '"Round Midnight" and "Night In Tunisia" on the various disks with commercially released versions, the gaps between sections are more than enough to allow Holmes to swap disks. It would seem that, after the live recordings of himself and his friends had been made, Holmes filled in the remaining blank parts of his acetates with these extracts from Birdland transmissions in March 1951. Since Holmes reckons that his brother-in-law "reclaimed his [recording] equipment ... a few months later," the live recordings were probably made in late 1950 or early 1951.
6. Error in Holmes's label notes: item 3 is not "Mysterioso." The [original] Kent U. notes concerning the presence of David Izenzohn on disks 7A and 12B is apparently due to the initials marked on the labels alongside "CP" (Charlie Parker) and "DG" (Dizzy Gillespie). The initials look more like "GI" (on 7A) and "DI" (on 12B), but it is not known to whom (or what) they refer. Izenzohn was not present at these recordings. The other musicians were Bud Powell, Tommy Potter, and Roy Haynes. Holmes's date of March 30, 1951 on disks 7A and 15B conflicts with the actual date for these sessions of March 31, 1951, but is probably due to the fact that they were broadcast live after midnight.
7. Lee was a female singer. Seymour Wyse, when I questioned him, could not remember her surname. (See Addendum for more information on this singer.)
11. A transcription by Dave Moore of this conversation, together with notes by John Clellon Holmes on the recordings (as reproduced below), was published in Moody Street lrregulars #11, Spring/Summer 1982.
13. David Izenzohn is not present (see note 6).
Further notes by John Clellon Holmes on the recordings:
John Clellon Holmes's notes on disk 9A, from George Dowden, A Bibliography ofthe Works of Allen Ginsberg. 1943-1967. City Lights Books, 1971.
This record was made at a party. Jack [Kerouac] was there, Neal Cassady, too, and others whom I can't remember at this time. The all-night radio program,featuring bop, of Symphony Sid, provides the musical background -Miles, Dizzy and others are discernible, and, by accident, the music neatly points up the dense, urgent, metaphysical character of the lines. Now and again, voices can be heard. Allen's reading is, for the most part, quiet, even grave, with occasional whimsical inflections. But in the main he is serious, and the reading is a good one. Most of these poems have never been published ... to my knowledge the first recording of Allen's voice ever made.
John Clellon Holmes, from a letter to Dave Moore, Feb 6, 1982
All the acetates of which you speak [disks 9A and l lA, DM] were made the same night at a party. There was one of Jack reading suppressed sections of ON THE ROAD [actually THE TOWN AND THE CITY, DM] (that is, cutout, lyrical sections, in this case a description of the end of a football game), of Allen reading a selection of his poems, and one or two other fragmented conversations. Jack's reading of Hamlet was made somewhat later, along with the early recordings of the Three Tools (Jack, Seymore [sic] Wyse and myself) free-form riffing, and a beautiful solo-in-voice-sounds of Jack's with Stan Getz's DIAPER PIN in the background, a solo fully as good and as original as Stan's, very pure and Lesteresque. I have the originals of all these carefully stored in Old Saybrook, and if you'll remind me once we get home in mid-May I'll try to make you a cassette of those of interest. Don't worry about payment.
The acetates above were made as described in the Charters biblio around midnight in the fall (I believe) of 1949 in my apartment at 681 Lexington Avenue. Other people were there and we sat on the floor in front of this antique monster of a machine, with records sometimes playing, and simply recorded bits & pieces of things for the fun of it.
Evidence now points to a recording date of circa late 1950 to early 1951 (see note 5 above). (One of the poems that Allen Ginsberg recites, "Crash", was not written until 1950, thus precluding a 1949 date for its recording.) If Neal Cassady was present during the recording of disk 9A, as Holmes suggests above, this would limit the date to between January 16 and 22, 1951, the only time during that period that Neal was in New York. My thanks are due to Nancy Birk and Jeanne Somers for their cooperation, and to Jim Burns, for his help in identifying some of the musical items.
Since the original document was produced in 2001 further information has come to light which enables a more accurate dating of the recordings, and an identification of another of the participants.
The new information was found in Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954 (Viking/Penguin 2004).
Identification of the female singer, "Lee" (see notes 7 and 9 of the original document)
Kerouac's journal for August to October 1949 notes that he "met Lee Nevels, a Negress" several times during those months, including during parties at the apartment of John Clellon Holmes in Lexington Avenue, New York, where Seymour Wyse was also present. [Windblown World, pp. 217-236]
It is therefore fairly certain that the singer indicated by Holmes on the labels of disks 7B and 10 as "Lee" was actually Lee Nevels.
Dating of recordings
Kerouac's journal entry for Thursday, October 20, 1949 states: "Holmes and Seymour and I made some astounding 'prophetic' voice-music recordings that sound like [Lennie] Tristano' s 'Intuition'. I did a few boyishly sad Hamlet soliloquies." [Windblown World, p. 237]
These are most probably the recordings on the two sides of disk 15.
Hence, Holmes' s own dating of these recordings as "the fall of 1949" appears to be correct. Confusion had arisen previously due to the presence on the disks of radio performances from Birdland, which are known to have been transmitted in March 1951. Holmes had given the impression that he had the acetate recording machine for just a few months before returning it to his brother-in-law. It now seems likely that he borrowed the machine more than once--certainly during the fall of 1949 when these private recordings were made, and possibly again in the spring of 1951 when Holmes filled in the remaining spaces on some of the disks with recordings made off-air.