Dept. of Word Lists

Some "Jazzy" Words and "Jazz" History

July 11, 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first musical use of the word jazz. To celebrate, we've put together a list of vocabulary from quotes about what Jazz is as an art form and what it has meant in the lives of those quoted.

Find the list here: "Quotes about Jazz from Those who Play it and Those who Love it." These words, useful outside of the jazz context as well, capture the ethos in which jazz was created and exists today.

Want more jazzy lingo? Check out some colorful jazz jargon explained here by jazz drummer Brian Floody.

Or join executive editor Ben Zimmer as he delves into the history of the word jazz itself. In "On Opening Day, Remembering How Baseball Begat Jazz," Ben describes the way that America's favorite pastime gave a name to America's original art form. Before it became a musical term, jazz was used in West Coast baseball to mean "spirit" or "pep."

On April 2, 1912, in a Pacific Coast League game between the Portland Beavers and the Los Angeles Angels, a pitcher uncorked his "jazz ball" — and possibly helped set into motion a chain of events that brought the word jazz together with the music it named.

And as he explains in "Jazz: A Tale of Three Cities," the word made its way from San Francisco to Chicago, where it became the name of a musical genre, even though the music owes its roots to another city, New Orleans.

New evidence shows that the term jazz, also spelled jas or jass in the early days, was in use in New Orleans as early as 1916. However, that doesn't beat Chicago, where the term was applied to music in 1915... The first known printed usage of jazz to refer to music appears in a Chicago Tribune article from July 11, 1915, entitled "Blues Is Jazz and Jazz Is Blues." Gordon Seagrove (later a prominent ad executive) wrote an account of a Chicago club where "jazz blues" was played. Over the course of 1916, the jazz bug spread to other cities, and in 1917 it became a national phenomenon, thanks to the success of the Original Dixieland Jass Band and others who made recordings labeled jazz (or jas or jass).

Finally, here is an excerpt from that historically important July 11, 1915 Chicago Tribune article (first discovered by Yale Law School librarian Fred Shapiro in 2004).

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Comments from our users:

Friday July 10th 2015, 4:00 PM
Comment by: Elaine E.
What luck to read this post today. As a jazz lover, I'll be sure to spread the word.

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