early "jazz" in Variety

Ben Zimmer bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM
Sun Oct 27 19:38:38 UTC 2013

Some social media posts today claim that "jazz" first appeared in
print on this day in 1916, in Variety:


This is evidently a misunderstanding of the claim that "jazz" first
appeared *in Variety* on 10/29/16. That more limited claim may be
true, but only if we're talking about the "jazz" spelling. As I noted
previously, "jass" (and "jassed") appeared in the 9/1/16 issue.

I realized that the Fulton History site has some holes in its coverage
of Variety -- for 1916, it doesn't seem to have any issues past
September. So instead I consulted the Internet Archive (archive.org),
which is more comprehensive (and easier to navigate):


For the sake of completeness, here are all of the 1916 cites for
"jaz(z)"/"jas(s)" that I've found in Variety. Along with the 9/1/16
"jass(ed)", there are early examples of "jas" (from 9/22 and 10/20) in
a vaudeville context. The interplay of musical and vaudeville usage
during this period is notable. There's also "jazz up" = 'enliven' from
12/8/16, antedating OED3's 4/6/17 first cite (sense 3b of "jazz" v.).

Variety, Sept. 1, 1916, p. 28
Both were applauded and the dancers of both turns whooped things up
nicely but the Madison Street bunch handed the palm to the Jass Band
carried by Fogarty's Dancers. This aggregation of musicians proved a
genuine novelty and the five men banged away merrily nearly all the
time they were on view. The dancing was no doubt appreciated and the
audience entertained with the Texas Tommy dance brought more
up-to-date but the real interest was centered in the coatless but
whiteshirted white musicians who "jassed" away at the raggedy,
foxtrotty numbers. The music may not spell class but it does spell
"jass" and what more would anyone at McVicker's want?

Variety, Sept. 22, 1916, p. 69
[review of "Vanity Fair of 1917" at the Lincoln Hippodrome]
The cast of principals is a corker. Their work alone is almost
sufficient to carry the tab along the top line. With some of the
"merry old jas" the results are certain.

Variety, Oct. 20, 1916, p. 39
[review of vaudeville show at the Majestic]
Fay, Two Coleys and Fay used more talk, likewise some songs and some
jas bits that caught on immensely.

Variety, Oct. 27, 1916, p. 12
Chicago, the home of "Walkin' the Dog," "Ballin' the Jack" and sundry
other cabaret features, has added another innovation to its list of
discoveries in the so-called "Jazz Bands." The Jazz Band is composed
of three or more instruments and seldom plays regulated music. The
College Inn and practically all the other high class places of
entertainment have a Jazz Band featured, while the low cost makes it
possible for all the smaller places to carry their Jazz orchestra.

Variety, Nov. 3, 1916, p. 20
Chicago's claim to originating "Jazz Bands" and "Balling the Jack" are
as groundless, according to Variety's New Orleans correspondent, as
'Frisco's assuming to be the locale for the first "Todolo" and "Turkey
Trot" dances. ... "Jazz Bands" have been popular there [New Orleans]
for over two years, and Chicago cabaret owners brought entertainers
from that city to introduce the idea.

Variety, Nov. 3, 1916, p. 40
Joe Morris, of the Joe Morris Music Co., is expected to land on music
row here Thursday to give the Chicago office his personal inspection.
Walter Wilson, local manager, may give him a jass band reception.

Variety, Nov. 10, 1916, p. 37 (advt.)
Bert Kelly. America's premier ragtime banjoist and his original jass
orchestria [sic]. Now in their 94th week at Chicago's leading Cafe.
College Inn -- Hotel Sherman, Chicago, Ill.

Variety, Nov. 17, 1916, p. 12
The Movie Inn (Wabash avenue), Chicago, not only has an augmented
"Jass Band," directed by Sammy Baum, but has a Bartholdi orchestra,
the Inn making quite a play for the dancers.

Variety, Nov. 17, 1916, p. 46
A "Jass" parade will precede the I.A.T.S.E. ball Thursday.

Variety, Nov. 24, 1916, p. 13
Editor, Variety: A person named Wadsworth, claiming to be the
originator of the College Inn "Jass Orchestra" idea is infringing on
my reputation and managers and owners of cafes and hotels are warned
that he is not the originator, but that Bert Kelly is and that they
must abide by the consequences if this Wadsworth is engaged.
This man was in my orchestra and employed as a saxophone player and
was discharged for reasons best known to himself. At no time did he
ever have anything to do with the business end or leadership of the
College Inn "jass" orchestra. --Bert Kelly.

Variety, Nov. 24, 1916, p. 16
Now that "Jazz" bands are getting popular, the boys will have to start
writing Hokum Music.

Variety, Dec. 1, 1916, p. 8
Bert Kelly is an established favorite at the College Inn, Hotel
Sherman, Chicago, where his dance orchestra and "Jass Band" are a

Variety, Dec. 1, 1916, p. 35
A lot of speed, a lot of jass and a noisy instrumental finish that put
the turn over. ... An act that the Majestic folks seem to revel in and
they got much satisfaction out of it. Well arranged for jass effects.

Variety, Dec. 1, 1916, p. 40
Doyle and Elaine, from vaudeville, billed as "the girls with the
jiggly feet," with piano, songs, "jass band" instruments and their
dancing, stopped the show cold.

Variety, Dec. 8, 1916, p. 20
One of the type of "girl acts" designed for small time, and as such
this offering will pass as soon as the comedy is jazzed up a bit and a
couple of numbers added for the girls.

Variety, Dec. 8, 1916, p. 34 (advt.)
Harry Steppe with the "Hello Girls." American Burlesk Circuit - Season
1916-17. The one and only original "Watch Your 'Steppe'" coming east
with a new supply of laughs, bladders, hokum, jass, and sure fire

Variety, Dec. 29, 1916, p. 14
The Yiddish song used as the third number is very well put over, and
with the aid of a lot of "jaz" she scores with "Too High" at the

On Thu, May 2, 2013 at 5:53 PM, Ben Zimmer wrote:
> As Barry has informed us, the quirky fultonhistory.com site has
> archived early issues of _Variety_ -- a top-level index shows that the
> coverage is from 1906 to 1922:
> http://fultonhistory.com/my%20photo%20albums/All%20Newspapers/Variety/index.html
> The best way to use the archive, I've found, is by doing a Google site
> search, constructing a query like so: <http://goo.gl/Bs5Lk>
> (site:fultonhistory.com inurl:variety inurl:1916 jass|jazz|jaz). That
> turns up a mention of a "jass band" in the Sept. 1, 1916 issue, in a
> review of entertainment at McVicker's Theatre in Chicago (see first
> cite below). According to Laurence Gushee in _Pioneers of Jazz_, this
> would have been the Original Dixieland Jass Band (then accompanying
> Fogarty's Dancing Revue), though their rivals the Creole Band also
> played the same venue:
> http://books.google.com/books?id=M8Zw7lmvLvAC&pg=PT324
> As Garson noted, most page images in the archive don't have dates on
> them, so you need to navigate back to the first page of the issue to
> find the date. Here are a couple of antedatings:
> * jazz/jass, v. 'play jazz music' (OED3 28 June 1917)
> 1916 _Variety_ 1 Sept. 28/1 The dancing was no doubt appreciated and
> the audience entertained with the Texas Tommy dance brought more
> up-to-date but the real interest was centered in the coatless but
> whiteshirted white musicians who "jassed" away at the raggedy,
> foxtrotty numbers. The music may not spell class but it does spell
> "jass" and what more would anyone at McVicker's want?
> p. 1: http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2015/Variety/Variety%201916/Variety%201916%20-%201143.pdf
> p. 28: http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2015/Variety/Variety%201916/Variety%201916%20-%201170.pdf
> * jazzist (OED3 1921)
> 1917 _Variety_ 21 Sept. 26/1 Miss Seeley has assembled the greatest
> aggregation of "Jazzists" in America (the Benny Fields combination
> from Chicago's South Side).
> p. 1: http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2015/Variety/Variety%201917/Variety%201917%20-%202757.pdf
> p. 26: http://fultonhistory.com/Newspaper%2015/Variety/Variety%201917/Variety%201917%20-%202780.pdf

Ben Zimmer

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

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