Thomas, one my students in my American music course, sent me this:
Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, "Leap Frog." What a great routine. You have to admire the skill that went into making this little video: his gestures follow Parker's and Gillespie's incredibly intricate lines perfectly, but what's more, the physical gestures seem like perfect analogues to the musical ones. It's like King Pleasure in reverse — not vocalizing horn lines, but devocalizing them, but with paradoxically the same result.
Can you do anything like this with any other kind of music?* It wouldn't work as well with, say, a Bach invention — you need the asymmetry and disruption of bop to make it seem sufficiently like human speech. This was one the things that made midcentury literary intellectuals care about jazz when they wouldn't otherwise have paid a lot of attention to music — something in the patterns and shapes of jazz lines made it seem as if literature and jazz share a common destiny. One of the things I'm writing about in my book is the bop-era project to put words and music in the same space, whether it's Kerouac trying to do in prose what he thought jazz musicians were doing in sounds, or King Pleasure setting famous horn solos to words, or the Kenneth Patchen reading his poetry to jazz, or Ken Nordine trying to find analogues to jazz improvisation in concepts (and then setting them to jazz). The consistent idea seems to be that jazz communicates something almost like words, but not quite (or vice versa), and that the point where they touch is the point where some new art might be found, not a third-stream sort of fusion of art forms but some entirely new way of conceiving and representing experience, where the flow of experience itself, the whirls and eddies of life as lived in the moment, would be not so much represented in writing as traced, like the vibrations of a seismograph registered on a piece of paper.
*except, of course, for hiphop. And, come to think of it, recitative, though that seems to be a cheat.