Jazz: The Word of the Century
Spring is in the air and jazz is on our stereo.
Why? Because we enjoy it and because April is Jazz Appreciation month.
Jazz is characterized by improvisation and syncopation. Originating from black
communities in the United States, the music is held together by a forceful or regular
The Word “Jazz”
Etymologists, or people who trace the history of a word by analyzing its parts, were
curious about the word jazz. Surprisingly, they didn’t find a definite answer!
Researchers worked hard to track down the origins of the word jazz and this
intrigue and excitement caused the American Dialect Society to name jazz the Word
of the Twentieth Century.
One of the earliest mentions of jazz was in 1915. The editor of the Chicago Daily
Tribune wrote that a musician had, “jazzed the jazziest streak of jazz.”
Here jazz is used as a verb, adjective and noun all in the same sentence!
The “Duke” Disagrees
Not all musicians in the early jazz era were fans of the term jazz being used to refer
to their music. Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, a prolific American musician who
wrote more than 1,000 compositions, felt that the word jazz represented economic
injustices due to the laws prohibiting the mainly black musicians from interacting
with or being a part of the very society that they were entertaining.
Often these musicians would not be allowed to enter as patrons into the casinos or
bars whose stages they were playing from.
In the 1950s, Duke Ellington would introduce his fellow musicians as being
“musicians beyond category,” rather than use the word jazz.
Thankfully, today the racist laws that prevented early jazz musicians from being a
part of society no longer exist.
Even if the “Duke” disagreed, the term jazz caught on and is used to describe the
music that entertains millions worldwide at large festivals, in smoky bars or on our
Happy Jazz Appreciation Month from the team at Ginger!
Who is your favorite jazz musician?