[Dixielandjazz] Jazz Etymology

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Mar 25 12:49:57 PDT 2009

For those interested in the more earthy origins of  the word "jazz"  
and other words to describe OKOM, see below; Sourced at: http://www.apassion4jazz.net/etymology.html

This is why those of us who play for the kids should use the word  
"jazz" in our descriptions of the music we play, and why my band uses  
a little bawdy humor to describe what Jazz is.

Pornography morphing into musical art? Who would have thought that?  

Steve Barbone

Etymology of Jazz
JAS,  JASS,  JAZ,  JASCZ  or just plain  JAZZ
"If the truth was really known about the origins of Jazz, it would  
certainly never be mentioned in polite society."

The expression arose sometime during the later nineteenth century in  
the better brothels of New Orleans, which provided music and dancing  
as well as sex. The original Jazz band, according to Herbert Asbury's  
The Latin Quarter (1938), was the 'Spasm Band' made up of seven boys,  
aged twelve to fifteen, who first appeared in New Orleans about 1895.  
They advertised themselves as the "Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band."
In c.1900 (see Jazz Timeline) another band adopted the same billing  
for an appearance at the Haymarket dance hall, it is said the 'Spasms'  
loaded their pockets with rocks and dropped by to protest the  
infringement. This prompted the owner of the hall to repaint his  
advertising placards to read: "Razzy Dazzy Jazzy Band!" If the  
memories of Asbury's sources were correct (he talked to two surviving  
members of the 'Spasms') this represents the word's earliest-known  
appearance in print.
'Jazz' is not a bad word now, but almost certainly is of extremely low  
origin, referring to copulation before it was applied to music,  
dancing, and nonsense (i.e., all that Jazz). The vulgar word was in  
general currency in dance halls thirty years or more ago" (Clay Smith,  
Etude 9/24). "According to Raven I. McDavid Sr. of Greenville, S.C.,  
the 1919 announcement of the first 'Jazz band' to play in Columbia,  
where he was then serving in the state legislature, inspired feelings  
of terror among the local Baptists such as what might have been  
aroused by a personal appearance of Yahweh. Until that time 'Jazz' had  
never been heard in the Palmetto States except as a verb meaning to  
copulate" (H. L. Mencken, The American Language Raven I. McDavid Jr.  
1963). "She never stepped out of line once in all the years we been  
teamed up. I can't sell her on jazzing the chump now" (William Lindsay  
Gresham, Nightmare Alley 1946).
'Jazz' probably comes from a Creole or perhaps African word, but exact  
connections have not been proven. The presumed sexual origin is quite  
in accord with the development of many other related words, most  
'boogie-woogie' was used in the nineteenth century by blacks in the  
American South to refer to secondary syphilis.
'gig' the musician's engagement, probably derives immediately from the  
'gig' that is a dance or party, but 'gig' and 'gigi' (or 'giggy') also  
are old slang terms for the vulva; the first has been dated to the  
seventeenth century.
'jelly roll' is black slang from the nineteenth century for the vulva,  
with various related meanings, i.e. sexual intercourse, a loving  
woman, a man obsessed with finding same. "What you want?" she asked  
softly. "Jelly roll?'" (Thomas Wolfe, Look Homeward Angel 1929). The  
term probably derives from 'jelly' meaning semen: "Give her cold jelly  
to take up her belly, And once a day swinge her again" (John Fletcher,  
The Begger's Bush 1622). Related expressions include 'jelly bag,'  
referring both to the scrotum and the female genitals; 'jerk [one's]  
jelly,' to masturbate; and 'jelly,' a good-looking woman. 'Jelly roll'  
appears in many blues songs, such as "I Ain't Gonna Give Nobody None  
o' My Jelly Roll," "Nobody in Town Can Bake a Jelly Roll Like Mine,"  
and "Jelly Roll Blues," the last by Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe "Jelly  
Roll" Morton (1885-1941).
'juke' The modern 'jukebox' was preceded by 'juke house' which was a  
brothel to Southern blacks; the basic term coming from a Gullah word  
meaning disorderly or wicked.
'swing' The now archaic 'swinge' was used for many years as a synonym  
for copulation ('swive' according to the OED's discreet definition).  
Note the quote from 1622 in 'jelly roll' above. Or as John Dryden put  
it: "And that baggage, Beatrix, how I would swinge her if I  
could" (Enemy's Love 1668). The oldest meaning of both 'swinge' and  
'swing' deal with beating, striking and whipping (i.e., the swing of a  
weapon predates the back and forth swaying of a swing or the rhythmic  
swing of music). For reasons that are not hard to guess, the  
conjunction of violent and sexual senses within the same word is very  
In a more modern sense, Swing has been used describing 'wife-swapping'  
and related activities involving one or more partners of either sex.  
It has been so used from about 1964 or earlier, depending on the  
interpretation one gives to Frank Sinatra's 1956 record album Songs  
for Swinging Lovers.

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