100 Years of Jazz in 99 Minutes

It’s funny how things work out isn’t it? 

Six years ago, in the midst of my English Literature degree I fell in love with a module called Post-Victorian Literature, and more specifically, Evelyn Waugh’s novel Vile Bodies.

The novel is a satire of the Bright Young Things of the 1920s, with their carefree attitudes and wild antics. I don’t know whether it was because up until this point I had been studying the starchy Victorian novel, or because it was a reflection of the lifestyle I was living back then- but I loved it! 

The lecturer, a Mr. Chris Baldick, was himself rather old-fashioned, highly intelligent and completely mesmerising. We sat in an attic room with a tiny window, scribbling down his every word. My favourite ever Baldick quote is “What on earth is ‘fat-pig style’?” in reference to Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent.

I was so home-sick that I returned home the day after I’d submitted my work. Nestled back in my own room I delved into Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Alec Waugh’s The Loom of Youth and Nancy Mitford’s Highland Fling. I absorbed various biographies on the Mitford sisters, Josephine Baker, Scott & Zelda Fitzgerald, Nancy Cunard- one discovery led to another and I was hooked.

Trend setter that I am, flappers and 1920’s style have become the theme du jour over the last few years, allowing me to make the most of my vast collection of embellished dresses and beaded head dresses. I’ve attended Gatsby-style balls, Charleston dance classes, spent New Year’s Eve in full flapper attire and found myself at an amazing 20’s themed Secret Cinema event.

With dancing, one usually encounters music and I soon found an interest in the, then, new US import- jazz music.

Now, wouldn’t it be lovely if a hand-written invitation had been passed to me by the butler over breakfast. However these days, one has to make do with an email in their inbox. Would I do ___ the honour of attending a jazz soirée, etc. etc. The venue was two hours away and in two days time!

I knew my darling Nana would love to experience this so I took her as my companion. And what a wonderful time we had! For some reason we were given the best seats in the house and as the band emerged from the back of the hall we couldn’t help but grin. I can’t pretent to be a jazz expert of any sort but I just know I enjoy it!

Of course, jazz music transcends several decades and countries (as the band demonstrated by marching us through the last 100 years of the genre in little over an hour and a half), but my obsession with flappers has blinded me to everything else. So when Nana told me she used to jive to jazz in the 50’s, it was a whole new discovery for me. There is something beautiful about triggering an old memory- I could have cried with joy when she relived the days of dancing with my late grandad. How they moved from London to the countryside as a young, newly married couple and that their new friends were rather taken-aback by their exuberant, largely improvised jiving. Nana said she wasn’t keen on the attention but grandad would drag her on to the dance floor and it would end in a round of applause.

We purchased a CD from the band and listened to it on the two hour drive home, remembering the serene expression on the drummer’s face, the unbelievable speed of the pianist’s fingers and the goosebump-enducing singing voice of the trumpet player, of all people!

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