(A bit) on the justification of jazz

Life here at UCL is a bit tricky, as a necessary part of graduate studies is figuring out the proper work-life balance (cliché, I know). I believe the double-edged sword of grad school to be the newly-, socially-acceptable idea that graduates can make more excuses to stay in and study, because they have “so much work.” I can’t possibly go out because, well, I have so much reading to do. I have a paper to work on. I’m a studious, *keen* grad student so I shouldn’t spend much time socializing. And people would believe me if I make these sorts of excuses.

I guess this reasoning isn’t false. I do have a lot of reading (and soon to be) writing to do, but that work tends to fill whatever time span I give to myself, be it two hours, an entire evening, or the expansive weekend. I have trapped myself in a corner, believing that I simply have no time to do anything else but read and worry about my classwork. The walls behind me fell apart, though, when I started getting involved in UCL’s jazz society. This society offers not just opportunities to play with each other, but time to laugh, talk about jazz, or just express our feelings about things not necessarily jazz-related. There’s this sense of inclusion and mutual benefaction that we all get from indulging in such a type of music together, and I think the Jazz Society speaks volumes to how London is in general. London welcomes all, no matter their origin, and allows one to find their niche in such a vibrantly huge place in this world.

Every Tuesday the jazz society holds a jam session at a campus bar, Phineas. From 8 PM to 9 PM the house band plays, and from 9 – 11 PM they open up the band to anyone who would like to join in and play a tune. If this kind of thing happened in the States, I’m not sure how many people would come. I think I’m safe saying that, if put in front of a band playing live, upbeat jazz music, someone my age would have a great experience. However, if presented with the idea of going to a jazz show, some friends might hesitate because jazz doesn’t carry the same idea of “fun” that the genre did 40 years ago. However, these Tuesday nights are some of the liveliest I’ve seen this campus bar, where patrons are packed shoulder-to-shoulder, to the point that I feel getting out of the establishment with ease would be pretty difficult. In other words, (I can safely assume that) people like jazz here! Friends dance, sing, and sway to the music that we make on these nights and experiencing others enjoying jazz is truly beautiful, especially from the viewpoint of a performer.

Keeping in mind, however, that this happens in the middle of the week: How in the world do I justify treating a Tuesday night as I would a Friday night back in Ann Arbor?? Well, sometimes I’m not able to properly justify this decision in a “classwork first” sort of mindset. A few nights I’ve had to sacrifice the couple extra hours of sleep to finish some work that I hadn’t finished Tuesday afternoon. I might have to sacrifice a few extra pounds (analogous to dollars, surely) to spend on an extra Wednesday pick-me-up (in the form of coffee). However, if four weeks of philosophy has taught me anything so far, it’s that we can view problems and situations in multiple different frameworks. What if I process this situation in a framework that we might call, say… “Jeffrey’s soul is not fully whole unless he gets to play music for others” framework? Okay, I’m lacking a bit of originality in naming, but I’m learning an important lesson here. Classwork and reading do not hold the entire answer to having a truly beneficial experience here in London, which is something I’m sure Roger M. Jones would have agreed with.

Having internally resolved that conflict, I wanted to bring up another topic, that of which revolves around family: Parents.

I particularly loved being in Ann Arbor because I was approximately two hours away from home. To me this was the perfect amount of separation: healthy enough distance so I could make my own life without having to consult my parents about decisions that I made, but close enough that I could go home for the weekend without spending too much time in transit. Additionally, my parents could come to events that were important to me in my time at U-M, be it graduation, a music show, a birthday, or a presentation.

Don’t get me wrong – I truly, deeply love my parents, but something is to be said for parents who raise children who are able to be independent when they need to be, but at the same time vulnerable enough to ask for help in a time of need.

Last Tuesday, one of the singers in JazzSoc had her birthday on the same night as jazz night, and her dad and his friend accompanied her to the bar to watch her sing and enjoy her birthday in good company. What surprised me, though, was when the dad got up and asked for a guitar, because he was ready to play and sing a blues. This woman’s father, getting up to perform in front of a crowd with an average age about one or two sigmas’ worth below his, was what I thought an act of true love for his daughter. And his daughter got to observe him partaking in music, on her birthday, in the company of her friends.

The sheer distance between my family and myself started to become so real at that moment. I was really happy for this experience, yet I realized the sacrifices that my parents make for my own independence. Something can be said for letting a child be independent and make their own decisions, but even more is the idea of accepting the idea that their child is going to move to the opposite side of the world. As much as they would want to (and I would, too), my parents cannot physically come to my shows, to a presentation I might have, or to celebrate most special events with me. I’m starting to realize how difficult this might be for a parent, especially when “letting go” is carried out to the extreme in my sense.

There’s something to be said about this lack of physical connection and space. In the absence of physical presence, I can start to feel the intense intangible connection that a child (and brother – shoutout to my sisters!) feels with his parents (and sisters). It’s this connection that will never leave me, that is inherent in having been born of my parents and them having raised me in their unique style and means. As much as some might not like to hear, our parents will never leave us, even when they’re across the world.

So, shouting out to mom and dad, you might not be able to physically share in my time here, but you are emotionally and spiritually taking part in every waking moment of my time. Despite my inability to send a message every day (sorry mom), I do always think about you – know that the senses of security, safety, and confidence that I feel in my own capacity to adjust and live in a new world do not come from my own inherent abilities but largely from who you are.


More to come on studies – reading week is approaching, and I have a pretty difficult paper due after this week, so stay tuned for the inevitable “I’m going to practice my ideas on my readers” post!


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