On this date 99 years ago the first Jass [sic] tune was made commercially available to the general public on Victor Records, 18255-A.
While bands had been playing the new Jass music for several years, the “Dixie Jass Band One Step” ushered in a new era in syncopated music by being an audio artifact that could be bought and traded. The instrumental was recorded by the Original Dixieland Jass Band, a 5-piece, integrated group out of New Orleans, the cradle of Jazz music.
There is no agreed upon entomology of the word Jazz. According to the Wiki:
As with many words that began in slang, there is no definitive etymology for jazz. However, the similarity in meaning of the earliest jazz citations to jasm, a now-obsolete slang term meaning spirit, energy, vigor and dated to 1860 in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang, suggests that jasm should be considered the leading candidate for the source of jazz. A link between the two words is particularly supported by the Daily Californian‘s February 18, 1916, article, which used the spelling jaz-m, although the context and other articles in the same newspaper from this period show that jazz was intended.
Scholars think Jasm derives from or is a variant of slang jism or gism, which the Historical Dictionary of American Slang dates to 1842 and defines as “spirit; energy; spunk.” Jism also means semen or sperm, the meaning that predominates today, making jism a taboo word.
Deepening the nexus among these words is the fact that “spunk” is also a
slang term for semen, and that “spunk”—like jism/jasm—also means
spirit, energy, or courage (for example: “She showed a lot of spunk.”)
In the 19th and early 20th centuries, however, jism was still used in polite contexts. Jism, or its variant jizz (which, however, is not attested in the Historical Dictionary of American Slang until 1941), has also been suggested as a direct source for jazz. A direct derivation from jism is phonologically unlikely. Jasm itself would be, according to this assumption, the intermediary form.
That’s one story. Another comes from Greg’s Musings at Swing Review:
The word Jazz has a veil of mystery around it. Ask anyone what Jazz is and they can tell you about the music and describe how it’s played or some of their favorite musicians but the actual origin of the word itself is a bit of a mystery. Some research has suggested that it traces to African roots in some native language of former slaves or even more evidence says it possibly is related to the French word jaser which means “to chatter.” Some historical evidence suggests that it could trace to slang terms for sexual functions (I’ll let you use your imagination as to what.) It is a fact that the term “Jazzing” was used in the past as a term to describe having sex but no one is sure if the term was used before the music came along or vice versa.
The saxophone player Garvin Bushell gives his opinion on the mystery by describing his early life in Louisiana:
“They said that the French had brought the perfume industry with them to New Orleans and the oil of jasmine was a popular ingredient locally. To add it to a perfume was called “jassing it up.” The strong scent was popular in the red light district, where a working girl might approach a prospective customer and say “Is jass on your mind tonight young fellow?” The term had become synonymous with erotic activity and came to be applied to the music as well.”
It is safe to say that no one will ever know who first used the term as most every early jazz musician has a story about how they were the ones that created it. Jelly Roll Morton even claims he was the one who invented the music itself and everyone else stole it from him! The spelling is another mystery but there is historical evidence that in the early days it was “Jass” not Jazz which would lead one to believe the perfume theory. The fact that the first Jazz record ever recored was by a group that called themselves “The Original Dixieland Jass Band” is proof of that. The trumpeter for the Original Dixieland Jass band, Nick LaRocca talks about how the term was changed from Jass to Jazz saying:
“…the term was changed because children and some adults could not resist the temptation to scratch the letter “J” from the posters.”
However the name derived, or how it was originally spelled, Jazz caught the world’s attention. Starting in the early 1900s right up to today, Jazz is a force of nature. Here is the first Jazz record: