[Dixielandjazz] Gig-etymology- Charlie Suhor writes

Norman Vickers nvickers1 at cox.net
Fri Oct 9 05:53:08 PDT 2009

To: Musicians and Jazzfans list;  DJML & Bill Campbell

From: Norman Vickers, Jazz Society of Pensacola


This is a continuing discussion about the etymology of the word "gig" as
relates to a musician's job.  It was initiated by Bill Campbell, super
jazzfan, retired military officer and current journalist in Ft. Walton Beach
area.  He plans a column about it and will give contributors credit.  He's a
member of the Musicians and Jazzfans list, so he'll get it that way.  Or you
can address him as listed above.


Explanatory note:  I have left all the correspondence here ( contrary to my
usual effort to reduce redundancy) so that, if you desire to review it, you
can see how this originated with Campbell's request.


Jazz percussionist, historian and author Charlie Suhor of Montgomery, AL
makes this contribution:




From: Charles Suhor [mailto:csuhor at zebra.net] 
Sent: Friday, October 09, 2009 12:47 AM
To: Norman Vickers
Subject: Re: Gig-etymology


How interesting that the first known reference to "gig" as a music
engagement was in the British tabloid "Melody Maker" in 1926. Especially in
light the idea of the term originating in New Orleans based on a small
carriage, or gig, that black musicians used to avoid being arrested for
playing in the streets--the source of this being a London broadcaster! I've
read several early jazz histories, by no means all of them, and have never
heard of guys playing in "small carriages." The classic (documented) story
of course is trucks with the tailgates down, currin' contests, etc. Has
anyone else heard of a gig on a gig in early N.O.? 


On Oct 8, 2009, at 8:03 PM, Norman Vickers wrote:

This is a discussion list, etc.
To: Musicians and Jazzfans list
From: Norman Vickers, Jazz Society of Pensacola.
Chicago clarinetist John Blegen sends this comment.  I have printed the
portion of Wilipedia to which John alludes. 
I was aware of the use of "gig" being a small carriage, but I like the other
allusions to "gigue" as a dance term etc.
John is a scholar  with Ph. D. having worked at the Enoch Pratt Library in
Baltimore in 1980 when the big celebration for H. L. Mencken's centennial
was being held there.   John is also on our Pensacola Mencken discussion
Thanks, John.
From: John Blegen [mailto:jcblegen at sbcglobal.net]
Sent: Thursday, October 08, 2009 7:56 PM
To: Norman Vickers
Subject: Re: Gig-etymology
There's an etymology in the Wikipedia that sounds plausible:

John Blegen

Gig (musical performance)
>From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
For other uses, see Gig.
Gig is a term commonly used by musicians with reference to their
The Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians describes it as "A term commonly
applied to a musical engagement of one night's duration only; to undertake
such an engagement."[1]

The first documented use of this term in this way appears in 1926: Melody
Maker 7 September, 1926, with the story byline stating, "One Popular Gig
Band Makes Use of a Nicely Printed Booklet.[2]
A gig is any type of performance with audience. A musician has a gig when he
or she has a show to play. Likewise, when a musician or a musical band
playing multiple shows in one location or touring, the term used is gigging.
According to Richard Digance on UK TV Channel 4's Countdown, this definition
derives from a small carriage in New Orleans, Louisiana known as a gig,
where black musicians could perform, so they would not be arrested for
playing on the street.
[edit] Sources
1 ^

'Gig', Grove Music Online ed. L. Macy (Accessed 6 Oct 2007),
<http://www.grovemusic.com> - Included in R. S. Gold: A Jazz Lexicon: an A-Z
Dictionary of Jazz Terms (New York, 1964, rev. 2/1975 as Jazz Talk)
2 ^

gig, pg.6 The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. 1989. Oxford University
Press. 6 Oct 2007


From: Norman Vickers <nvickers1 at cox.net>
To: Norman Vickers <nvickers1 at cox.net>
Sent: Thursday, October 8, 2009 7:29:07 PM
Subject: Gig-etymology
This is a discussion list--
To:  Musicians and jazzfans list
From: Norman
Bill Campbell, retired military officer, super jazzfan and newspaper
columnist in Ft. Walton Beach, FL area has this query about the origin of
the word "gig" as relates to a musical engagement.  I always thought it was
related to the word "gigue"  I believe it's French for the word dance.
Surely some scholar can help with this.  Please copy to Campbell at his
e-address below.  He promises to give credit in his column.
From: Bill Campbell [mailto:penroseiii at cox.net]

Subject: Gig
Hi Norm.....
To show you how busy I am, I found myself pondering the etymology of "gig." 
I looked it up in Webster and the last definition was "job, esp. for a
Origin unknown. So I drug out my OED and read two friggin' micro pages on
"gig," and none mentioned music.
So how about asking your network of jazz mavens if any of them have a clue
where the word came from. I promise to give you or them full credit in my
column in the Beachcomber if you come up with something.
Many thanks,
Bill Campbell

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