[Dixielandjazz] Jazz; what's in a name

Scott Anthony santh at comcast.net
Thu Mar 26 08:59:11 PDT 2009

We published an article by scholar and author Daniel Cassidy in the Spring 
2006 issue of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation publication, the 
"Frisco Cricket" that gives a detailed history of the San Francisco origins 
of the word "Jazz". Judge for yourselves at:

Scott Anthony

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Sent: Thursday, March 26, 2009 3:45 AM
Subject: [Dixielandjazz] Jazz; what's in a name

> There are some words used in connection with New Orleans jazz that need to
> be defined. Of these probably the least important is the word "jazz" 
> itself. It
> is a word of a distinctly dubious etymology. Most dictionaries, including
> the  illustrious Oxford Dictionary, cautiously restrict themselves to 
> "20th
> Century.  Origin obscure". Occasionally one comes across suggestions that 
> it
> derives from  "jass" supposedly a slang expression for sexual intercourse. 
> That
> seems to me to  depend on Storyville being the birthplace of jazz. Since 
> this is
> not so "jass"  suffers a credibility gap as a consequence, although it 
> seems
> the least unlikely  of all the suppositions. Mervyn Cooke says that "jass" 
> was
> a derivative of  "jasm" a colloquialism for "orgasm". My favourite, if 
> only
> because it is so  ludicrous, comes in Sweeping the Blues Away in which 
> Master
> Leigh assert that it  " ... probably comes from the initials of the 
> marching
> hymn 'Jesus Almighty,  Save Our Souls'" And the band played "Believe it if 
> you
> like!" Cooke might be on  safer ground in stating that the ODJB changed 
> "jass"
> to "jazz" because  disreputable types were erasing the letter "j" on their
> posters.
> There  are very many other theories ranging from the doubtful to the
> hilarious.  According to some it came from the jasmine perfume favoured by 
> New Orleans
> prostitutes, or alternatively from a San Francisco slang word for peppy 
> and
> enthusiastic. The French verb "jaser" - to chatter - has been in the 
> witness
> box. Verdict: not proven. Someone came up with the hypothesis of a 
> derivation
> from "chasse beau" alleged to be a Louisiana dance figure. And there was 
> me
> thinking that chasse beau was a disease of sheep. Someone else lays claim 
> to
> its  origin deriving from an African dialect without offering any 
> convincing
> argument  in favour. My out and out favourite at the fanciful end of the
> spectrum is that  jazz is a corruption of the Cajun slang expression for a
> prostitute: "Jezabel" -  pronounced as "jasse-belle." And the band again 
> played
> "Believe it if you like!"  Since, as discussed elsewhere, jazz is not a 
> word often
> employed by New Orleans  musicians themselves such fruitless speculations 
> need
> detain us no longer , but  really, jasse-belle! Oh my, oh my, where do 
> they
> dredge up this stuff! By the  way, according to the author and critic Gene 
> Lees
> the first known use of the  word "jazz" in print was in a San Francisco
> newspaper report of 1913 about  drummer and dance band leader Art 
> Hickman's group.
> Incidentally - and I include  this as an illustration of the ludicrous - 
> there
> was a determined attempt in the  early-1950s by modernists in an American
> magazine (either Metronome or Downbeat  - I cannot remember which) to 
> replace the
> outmoded term "jazz", so a competition  was held to find an alternative. 
> The
> winner was "crewcut" - I kid you not! -  music "cut" by a "crew" of 
> musicians,
> all presumably wearing that cool hairstyle  favoured by modernists. 
> Mercifully,
> we were spared that as also we were  "oom-crack". This I recall was 
> suggested
> on the basis that it suggested the  off-beat emphasis on 2 and 4 in 4/4 
> time!
> The latest (2003) and possibly the  most ludicrous claim I've heard is 
> that
> the term "jazz" came about because of  the music played on the riverboat 
> JS.
> Well I never!
> Brian Wood
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