Editor, Webmaster:  Phil Cartwright       Editor@earlyjas.org
In Tune -- by Bill Fuller
Additions, comments, corrections,
contributions to Bill Fuller %Earlyjas, or
e-mail: jazzytubs@aol.com
In Tune               December 2006

The Term 'Jazz'

One of the more intriguing theories says “jazz” emerged with the Tom Brown band, which
pre-dated the Original Dixieland Jass Band, as a term used to describe the semi-raucous
way, always rhythmic, and quite infectious music these men played. When Tom Brown’s
band came to Chicago directly from New Orleans, the word “jazz” had a semi-sordid,
sexual connotation. Chicago Musicians Union officials decided that the competition was
unnecessary and intolerable, so they tagged Brown’s group a “jass” or “jazz” band
thinking it would be an effective smear. But their attempts backfired. The band and term
caught on and from that time on the band was known as Brown’s Dixieland Jass Band, a
name as virile as its sound.
Henry Finck, music author and critic, quotes an article that appeared in the 20’s in the New
York Sun:
“ …The word ‘jazz’ is African in origin. It is common on the Gold Coast and in the
hinterland of Cape Coast Castle. In his study of the Creole patois and idioms in New
Orleans, Lafcadio Hearn reported that the word ‘jazz,’ meaning to speed things up, to
make excitement, was common among the blacks of  the South and had been adopted by
the Creoles as a term to be applied to music of a rudimentary syncopated type .In the old
plantation days when the slaves were  having one of their rare holidays and the fun
languished, some West Coast African would cry out: ‘Jazz ‘er up!’ and this would be the cue
for fast and furious fun…”  

One might think that a lot of 1920’s songs would have the word “jazz” in them. Indeed
there are:  One database lists 126 different titles containing the words ‘Jazz’ or ‘Jass’.  The
song writers in Tin Pan Alley were working overtime to try and cash in on the jazz craze in
that era. In fact, there are a relatively few good classic jazz tunes that refer to jazz in the
title.  It’s interesting to speculate on the origin of the term from the way it is used in song

DOCTOR JAZZ (1927) by Joe ‘King’ Oliver who also wrote “Canal Street Blues.” Joe wrote
this while at the Plantation Club in Chicago and advertised it by hiring a cart like they did
in New Orleans to haul the band around while they played it. It was actually more heavily
popularized by Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers.
JAZZ ME BLUES (1923), composed by Tom Delaney who also wrote “Nobody Knows the
Way I Feel This Morning.” This was recorded by Bix Beiderbecke and his Wolverines on
the Gennett label in 1924. It was first introduced by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings in 1923.
JAZZIN’ BABY BLUES (1922) by Richard Myknee Jones, was most likely the source for
Paul Mares’ 1923, “Tin Roof Blues.” In 1923 Mares’ New Orleans Rhythm Kings introduced
such tunes as “Farewell Blues” and “Panama.”
AT THE JAZZ BAND BALL (1918) by Nick LaRocca and the Original Dixieland Jass Band
who popularized it. According to LaRocca it was based on the harmonies of the popular
1908 hit, “Shine On Harvest Moon.”
Earlville Association for Ragtime Lovers Yearning
for Jazz Advancement and Socialization
“jazz” is about as illusive as the fabled “lost”
recording of Buddy Bolden, but there is no
dearth of possible explanations:            
Some say the term comes from the phonetic
spelling of the abbreviation of a jazz musician
named Charles (Chas., Jass,. Jazz).
Some say that the term comes from the French
word jaser meaning to pep up or exhilarate.