So here is the first post of my new music blog stuff. I hope everyone enjoys it and please send me your questions and suggestions on the different subjects you'd like to read and learn about.
The word Jazz has a veil of mystery around it. Ask anyone what Jazz is and they can tell you about the music and describe how it's played or some of their favorite musicians but the actual origin of the word itself is a bit of a mystery. Some research has suggested that it traces to African roots in some native language of former slaves or even more evidence says it possibly is related to the French word jaser which means "to chatter." Some historical evidence suggests that it could trace to slang terms for sexual functions (I'll let you use your imagination as to what.) It is a fact that the term "Jazzing" was used in the past as a term to describe having sex but no one is sure if the term was used before the music came along or vice versa.
The saxophone player Garvin Bushell gives his opinion on the mystery by describing his early life in Louisiana:
"They said that the French had brought the perfume industry with them to New Orleans and the oil of jasmine was a popular ingredient locally. To add it to a perfume was called "jassing it up." The strong scent was popular in the red light district, where a working girl might approach a prospective customer and say "Is jass on your mind tonight young fellow?" The term had become synonymous with erotic activity and came to be applied to the music as well."
It is safe to say that no one will ever know who first used the term as most every early jazz musician has a story about how they were the ones that created it. Jelly Roll Morton even claims he was the one who invented the music itself and everyone else stole it from him! The spelling is another mystery but there is historical evidence that in the early days it was "Jass" not Jazz which would lead one to believe the perfume theory. The fact that the first Jazz record ever recored was by a group that called themselves "The Original Dixieland Jass Band" is proof of that. The trumpeter for the Original Dixieland Jass band, Nick LaRocca talks about how the term was changed from Jass to Jazz saying:
"...the term was changed because children and some adults could not resist the temptation to scratch the letter "J" from the posters."
Duke Ellington apparently did not care for the word at all saying:
"By and large, jazz always has been like the kind of man you wouldn't want your daughter to associate with. The word "jazz" has been part of the problem. The word never lost its association with those New Orleans bordellos. In the 1920s I used to try to convince Fletcher Henderson that we ought to call what we were doing "Negro music." But it's too late for that now. This music has become so integrated you can't tell one part from the other so far as color is concerned."
In the 1930s and 40s there were efforts by some magazines to change the name so that it would not be associated with sex by coming up with silly names like "ragtonia," "Amerimusic," and "crewcut" which of course did not catch on. It seems though that the "stigma" of the sexual references have for the most point disappeared on their own and Jazz is a proud American product that the world has embraced.