early references to "jazz" in recent books

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Wed Oct 12 17:06:29 UTC 2005

Here are quotations that add to the demonstration of the early
geographic spread of the word and to the unself-conscious way that it
was printed in newspapers from various parts of the country.  I still
take this as evidence that the word was not known to have an obscene
The first quote, December 22, 1916, is from before any jazz records had
been released, but after the appearance of the Bert Kelly, Tom Brown,
Johnny Stein and ODJB groups in Chicago clubs.  The 2nd and 3rd,
February 27, 1917 & March 14, 1917, come at the time that the ODJB
was causing a stir in NYC and had made the first jazz record.

1916:   The elements took a hand in the presentation of the new
Majestic bill yesterday with the result that the matinee was drawn out
well past 5 o'clock, owing to the non-arrival of the Alabama Jazz band,
the headliners.  This negro troupe was delayed eight hours in the jump
from Omaha. . . .
        By their performance a new branch of music was laid open to
Cedar Rapids listeners.  Jazz music has been attempted previously but
it has been confined for the most part to trombone moanings and the
customary raggy tempo.  This is a part of jazz -- but it is not jazz.
There is included the squeak of a clarinet and the thrumming of a bass
viol, all grouped together is some sort of African time which was
evidently the basis of ragtime music.
        This must have been real jazz, for a group of performers who
had finished their work and come to the front of the house to sit
across the aisle, writher in appreciation and shouted approval.  ***
        Cedar Rapids Evening Gazette, December 22, 1916, p. 9, col. ?
Quoted in Lawrence Gushee, Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole
Band, N. Y., &c: Oxford U. Pr., 2005, p. 195 & p. 340, fn. 40

1917:   These clever negro entertainers have come to be known in
vaudeville circles as the "Jas" band, "jas" being a vaudeville word
denoting the putting of speed, ginger or pep into an act.  And
the "Jas" band well deserves the name for the act is full of music, fun
and speed every moment the musicians are on the stage.  Ragtime is
played as it never was before.  That last sentence is a true [sic] but
you will have to hear the band yourself to realize how true it is.
        Detroit Free Press, February 27, 1917, p. ?, col. ?  Quoted in
Lawrence Gushee, Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band, N. Y.,
&c: Oxford U. Pr., 2005, p. 202 and p. 341, fn. 56

1917:   Because you wanted to know what a Jass Band is we went to the
Winter Garden on Sunday night and last night at Reisenweber's.  At the
Winter Garden the band is called the Creole Band and at Reisenweber's
they call it the Original Dixieland Jass Band.  What is a Jass Band?
Edward B. Edwards, who gave us his engraved card which
read "Trombonist" and who is the leader of the originals, said: "A Jass
Band is composed of oboes [!], clarinets, cornets, trombones, banjoes
and always a drum. . . .  But the music is a matter of the ear and not
of technique.  None of us knows music.  One carries the melody and the
rest do what they please.  Some play countermelodies, some play freak
noises, and some just play.  I can't tell you how.  You "got to feel"
Jass.  The time is syncopated.  Jass I think means a jumble.  We came
from New Orleans by way of Chicago. . . .  To us it seems a lot of
weird effects intended to make one dance with every part of one's body
but the feet.  And later the dancer did a Jass dance that would have
made a jelly fish wonder why it was so named.
        New York Globe & Commercial Advertiser, March 14, 1917, p. ?,
col. ?  Quoted in Lawrence Gushee, Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the
Creole Band, N. Y., &c: Oxford U. Pr., 2005, p. 206 and p. 342, fn 68.

1917:   There was the sound of rivalry as well as revelry last Monday
night when Drake and Walker's six-piece band of jazz experts were
playing down in the old 1500 block on 18th street.  Drake has some soft
toned cunning and sensational artists who run a close second in harmony
and easily out jazz all jazzers in stirring and catch syncopations.
They had just finished a dissection treatment of the "Blues"
intermingling such popular stuff as "Yaaka Hula, Hicky Dula" and "My
Mother's Rosary" played first in pianissimo and then in its loud
opposite, such as seemingly only black musicians can do, when who
should come thundering up the avenue but a delegation from Billy
Kling's!  The Jazz aggregation, however, discovered the attack in due
time. . . .
        Kansas City Sun, July 28, 1917, p. 3.  Quoted in Frank Driggs
and Chuch Haddix, Kansas City Jazz, from Ragtime to Bebop: A History,
N. Y>: Oxford U. Pr, 2005, p. 40 and fn 2, p. 241.  (The authors note
that the rival band is properly called Billy King's.)


George A. Thompson
Author of A Documentary History of "The African Theatre", Northwestern
Univ. Pr., 1998, but nothing much lately.

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