Jazz Merazz

George Thompson george.thompson at NYU.EDU
Sat Nov 21 01:49:03 UTC 2009

Here is a pretty puzzle:

        On September 17, 1916 the San Francisco Chronicle (p. 23) published a book review under the heading
                Noted Artist and Humorist Publishes a Collection of Rare Tales and Poems.
        This dealt with a book of sketches and poems called Psychological Autobiographeries.  [sic]
        The book is otherwise known as Poems & Tales, Much in the Manner of the Psychological Autobiographists, by James M. Flagg; and, as it happens, James M. Flagg is James Murgeon Flagg, not James Montgomery Flagg.
        The reviewer picked out several items:
        Preferences are, of course, matters of taste, but the present scribe was most delighted with "Jazz Merazz," in which we are told of a model, the Goddess of proportion of whom it was well said by many "that any-one who would kick on her figure would kick on being hung."  And Jazz proceeds to add that what drove him to distraction was that she would only pose in the one exclusive subject -- Vanity -- the same being most comprehensive.  For the benefit of those who object to slang it should be stated that it is Jazz and not Flagg who is speaking.
        The book has been digitized, and is searchable; but, as it happens, although the other passages cited by the review are findable, "Jazz Merazz" isn't.  But the digitized book is the Stylus edition volume 5, 156 pp. (though properly 176 pp.).  There is also a Stylus ed., volume 5, 210 pages, which is at Brown, and a Stylus ed. volume 7, 175 pp., (though properly 188 pp.) which is at Yale.
        So it seems that there were 3 editions of this thing in 1916; the copy that fell into the hands of the reviewer on the Chronicle was one of the two longer editions; the copy that the University of California digitized was the shortest, and doesn't contain the "Jazz Merazz" story.

        September 1916 is a bit late for the mere appearance of the word "jazz" to be remarkable; but it would be well if one of the Yale chaps among us (or if any of us use the Brown Library) were to take a look at the book there, to see whether any thing about the way that "Jazz Merazz" is handled in the story makes it interesting.

        A couple of months later, the Chronicle printed a letter:
        ***  Any real artist can run his brains off the end of his brush without carrying on like a raving maniac, and even produce a "Stella" in five days from any model in town.  The "nuttiness" of would-bes makes the lives of genuine, natural-born artists a burden -- the former should be electrocuted, or something.
        [signed]  JAZZ MERAZZ
        San Francisco Chronicle, November 10, 1916, p. ?, col. ?
        This letter has been found by someone in whom it has struck a cord:
        Truer words were never typeset. “Jazz Merazz,” you long-dead proto-beatnik wiseass, I love you.  This won’t be the last item I poach from The People’s Safety Valve, but I don’t expect to surpass it.
>From "The Hope Chest: Bad news from the past"
http://mrparallel.wordpress.com/2009/09/09/razzmatazz-from-jazz-merazz/ (with a facsimile of the letter).


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

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

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