Monday, September 17, 2012

Words Can Never Hurt Jazz

A few days ago I stumbled upon this great article from NewMusicBox What's in a Name?
The author, Ratzo B. Harris, describes and defends the use of certain words in the world of Jazz. Even the word Jazz itself is defended, because many people think " that the name “jazz” means “sexual intercourse.”" (Harris 2012) 

The  main focus of this article is on Tin Pan Alley, the print music capital of New York City at the turn of the century. Harris describes many people's view of the descriptive phrase as "pejorative and disrespectful." (Harris 2012) Despite the history of this row of shops as noisy and rambunctious I never thought of the word as negative in any sense.  It seems like it would have been a hectic place to frequent but still somewhere that I would have loved to be. The origin of the word may, in fact, be due to the many open windows and pianos with "a loud, metallic tone." (Harris 2012) This description reminds me of walking by any music school's practice rooms (although I would hope that the pianos were less metallic.) To highlight the positive aspects of the district, the author defends its merits including the quantity of "high-quality music" that was produced. (Harris 2012) The phrase Tin Pan Alley is now widely accepted as a useful historical term so it's up to the reader to have positive or negative connotative associations. 

Besides Tin Pan Alley, Harris also goes through a list of other words which originated with Jazz musicians. As someone who plays Jazz myself, I appreciate being part of a tradition that has typically been ahead of the curve both linguistically and stylistically. Jazz may mean sexual intercourse to some people, but that's for them to decide. I personally like the origination theory discussed in the article about the swinging drummer "Chaz" having something to do with it but haven't delved deep enough into the topic.

The etymology of Jazz slang is fascinating to me so any related articles I find will probably be shared. As for the rest of you, be careful with your axe when the ice is around. Be creative and make up new, exciting words!

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