[Dixielandjazz] Chasse -Jass - Jazz - The French Connection?

Stephen G Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Sat Mar 28 18:43:02 PDT 2009

On Mar 28, 2009, at 3:00 PM, dixielandjazz-request at ml.islandnet.com  

> "Ulf Jagfors" <ulf.jagfors at telia.com> wrote:
> For what it is worth
> Stephen wrote;
> "'Jazz' probably comes from a Creole or perhaps African word, but  
> exact
> connections have not been proven."
> My Gambian counterpart in the banjo origin research Daniel Jatta  
> claims that
> there is a word in the Senegambian Wolof language "Jahazz" which  
> means to do
> something together in a disorderly or unorganized way. Could perhaps  
> fit
> very well in early jazz, I guess. If it really has any bearing on  
> the origin
> of the word jazz I do not have a clue.

Hello Ulf:

To add to the many theories, can Jass /Jazz be derived from the French  
word Chasse?  Below is excerpted from a long dissertation on Jazz  
etymology in the 1991 Oxford English Dictionary. The complete article,  
which is too long to post, but fascinating, is at:


Steve Barbone

A French etymon for JAZZ - By Bob Rigter

African slaves in Louisiana did not preserve their original African  
languages. Due to the fact that they had been captured or bought as  
individuals from various regional and tribal backgrounds, they  
developed pidgin languages in which much of the vocabulary was adopted  
from the language of their masters. Even today, French continues to be  
spoken in certain areas of Louisiana. In view of all this, the  
conclusion is justified that, in the later nineteenth century, black  
speakers in Louisiana would have quite some words of French origin in  
their vocabulary. , , ,

In New Orleans, as also in some coastal areas of Africa and on some  
islands on the trade route from Africa to Louisiana, many coloured  
people spoke a creolised French. If no English origin appears to be  
available for the American word JAZZ, a French source would seem quite  
likely in view of the origin of jazz music in New Orleans,and in view  
of its Creole and African roots.If there is a French etymon for JAZZ,  
it should satisfy the following criteria:

a. the French word can be aptly used to refer to the sense of  
accelerating the rhythm of the music without actually speeding the  
music up. This seeming acceleration is so crucially characteristic of  
jazz - and of the African strands of its origin (see Lafcadio Hearn  
(1890) p.220) - that a word referring to it would be a suitable label  
for the music.

b. the French word can be aptly used to the sexual pursuit stylised in  
the traditional African dance to the African strands in the origin of  
this type of rhythmical music. (Again, see Lafcadio Hearn (1890) p. 
220, where the music and the dancing in the French West Indies are  
described. Hearn also refers to a source dating from 1722, in which  
the exciting, rhythmical music and overtly sexual motions in dancing  
to it, are described by a French priest).

c. the French word can be used for sexual intercourse.

d. the French word must be phonetically relatable to JAZZ, or its  
earlier form JASS.

A French word that meets all these requirements is CHASSE.

CHASSE and JAZZ in French dictionaries

The Grand Larousse de la Langua Française (1971) derives CHASSER from  
Classical Latin CAPTARE. It provides two related meanings: 'chercher à  
prendre' and 'pousser devant soi, obliger à avancer ... faire avancer  
rapidement'. Clearly, the first can be related to the sexual  
connotation, and the second to the rhythmical connotation of the word  
JASS as it was used in New Orleans round 1900.

The noun CHASSE is defined (under II.1) as follows: 'Action de  
poursuivre une personne ou un animal en vu de s'en emparer.' Among the  
examples given, are: Faire la chasse au mari; Faire la chasse à une  

Le Robert, Dictionnaire de la langue française (1985), agrees with the  
Grand Larousse almost verbatim, but adds: 'ÊTRE EN CHASSE, en chaleur  
(se dit de la femelle de certains animaux à l'époque où elle recherche  
le mâle)'.

Under JAZZ, both dictionaries state that the origin of the word is  
obscure, and that it used to be written as JASS. Le Robert, in  
addition, provides '... un sens dialectal (région de la Nouvelle- 
Orléans) obscène <<coïter>>'.

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