The word jazz began to be used in earnest in the early 20th century, around 1920s. The origin of the word, however, began in 1860, with the word ‘jasm’, which at the time was slang for energy, vitality, and spirit. It was mostly used among the black population, birthed from the unique local culture of New Orleans. Interestingly enough, the first ‘jazz’ recording, in1917, was done by an all-white group of musicians. The Dixieland Jass Band recorded the song Livery Stable Blues, but the recording was never officially attributed to anyone. There was a lawsuit claiming the Jass Band had plagiarized what they heard African Americans singing in New Orleans. It’s troubling that white musicians were trying to record ‘jazz’ first. It originated in a very specific subculture, so shouldn’t New Orleanians be the first to record? Considering this was an incredibly prejudiced era, perhaps they didn’t think it would be very popular. Additionally, upon listening to this first recording, it doesn’t much sound like what we call jazz today. It has a more Charlie Chaplin, cartooney vibe.
Even before this recording, the term ‘jazz’ was being printed in newspapers as a way to describe a more upbeat, fox-trotty version of the blues, as seen in a Chicago Tribune article published in 1915, called “Blues is jazz and Jazz is blues.” In it, there is a caricature of a black saxophonist, and that of a white man who becomes young again as he hears the jazz music. The article gives a pretty good explanation for blues — a harmonic discord, it’s never written, but interpolated by the piano player and other players. Perhaps the most unique and important part of jazz is the improvisation during a performance, making each song like all the others, but at the same time, different from them.
The Jazz Player, 1915
Seagrove, Gordon Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Jul 11, 1915; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune pg. E