I have always found it difficult to sleep, but when I was in my first year at university it was seriously bad. It was that year that I pulled my only three-nighter and I only went to sleep because I got bored. This was before Lancaster University had internet in the res. halls so I even had to walk up to the 24hr computer lab to read Buffy fanfic to pass the time.
It was very late one night that I found a TV show worth watching at that time. Four channels don't give you much option at 1am… It was Ken Burns' Jazz documentary. Looking at the Great Wiki's page, I must've come in at Episode 2. The ten episode series ran at two hours per episode so it was perfect for me to burn some time with.
It is a documentary rightly criticised for various reasons but for me it was just what I needed then: an introduction to the music. My only true exposure to jazz beforehand was Coppola's the Cotton Club movie (itself problematic) and the occasional flicker of interest in something I might hear on TV or in a movie (I remember being entranced by a moment in The Addams Family which used Duke Ellington's The Mooche and a similar experience with Billie Holiday's The Very Thought Of You during Forever Young). Otherwise, I saw jazz as being like in the Fast Show sketch: up its own arse and really very dull. I was very wrong…
Names like Ellington, Basie, Beiderbecke, Carmichael, Armstrong, Fitzgerald, Henderson began to take on special meanings to me. A whole world opened up as I realised that jazz wasn't what I thought it was – or what it had become in mainstream media. As the series progressed, I discovered more… I already loved Dean Martin and Sinatra's swing but there was more! And then Miles Davis. I still remember tearing open the packaging of Kind of Blue as I sat on the bus back to campus so I could listen to it on my discman. And the feelings when I discovered I preferred Birth of the Cool!
And for the first time, I was discovering that I loved something made by black Americans for black Americans. I was an American Studies major and it was all beginning to make sense to me… my eyes were being opened exactly as a university education should ensure they are. I began to get some understanding of what words like "segregation" really meant – more from Jazz than from class, I should add.
Did I mention I found that I loved a love of the music? Not all of it, but then there's plenty of rock music I don't like. In some ways, blues music means more to me, but if I've learned anything in my discoveries over the years, it's that all music is connected, bound together in ways expected and not.
So, for my tenth Awesome Thing, I give you Duke Ellington and his Orchestra playing "The Mooche":