Earliest "jazz" composition? (May 18, 1916)

Randy Alexander strangeguitars at GMAIL.COM
Mon Dec 7 09:29:24 UTC 2009

On Mon, Dec 7, 2009 at 12:50 PM, Benjamin Zimmer <
bgzimmer at babel.ling.upenn.edu> wrote:

> Barry Popik has noted a slightly earlier musical piece entitled
> "Jazbo: Foxtrot" by Arthur S. Shaw (Chicago: Forster Music Publishers,
> © Jan. 3, 1916). Sheet music is here:
> http://www.ragtimepiano.ca/images/jazbo.pdf
> However, that was an instrumental piece, so it's not entirely clear
> what "Jazbo" might have referred to.

Any ideas about the -bo suffix in similar contemporary contexts?

> Note that the variant "jasbo
> (band)" has been found as early as Sep. 1914 referring to vaudeville
> troupes:
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/cgi-bin/wa?A2=ind0711A&L=ADS-L&P=R9580
> So "When I Hear That Jaz Band Play," would seem to hold the
> distinction of earliest unequivocal "jazz" music.

I think it's much safer to say that it is simply the earliest piece of known
music to have that word in the title; there are lots of pieces of music that
sing the praises of other styles, for example, "Play That Barbershop Chord"
is not barbershop music, but rather an early blues/jazz piece that just
didn't happen to have "jazz" or "blues" in the title.  I believe it was
originally published for piano and voice (in 1910).  It is the earliest
known reference to "barbershop" as a type of harmony.  But intrepid
etymologists may like to search for an earlier reference in newspapers and
the like!

I just happened to have performed a guitar arrangement I made of "Play That
Barbershop Chord" today, so it's wonderful to see this kind of music
discussed here.  The 1910s and thereabouts have a lot of wonderful pop music
that has been basically forgotten about.

Randy Alexander
Jilin City, China
Manchu studies: http://www.bjshengr.com/manchu
Chinese characters: http://www.bjshengr.com/yuwen

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list