Inspired feelings of terror among the local Baptists
August 30, 2007 9:28 PM   Subscribe

"If the truth was really known about the origins of Jazz, it would certainly never be mentioned in polite society." The expression arose sometime during the later nineteenth century in the better brothels of New Orleans, which provided music and dancing as well as sex. Jazz has been around for more than a hundred years now. It is not the result of choosing a tune, but an ideal that is created first in the mind, and willed in the music, inspired by A Passion for Jazz.
posted by netbros (27 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I already knew about the whorehouse connection but it just hit me anew there is something so right about Jazz as the music of ecstasy.
posted by Rubbstone at 9:58 PM on August 30, 2007

This thread is useless without music. More here.
posted by squalor at 10:08 PM on August 30, 2007

"Jazz began as a West Coast slang term around 1912, the meaning of which varied but which did not refer to music or sex." It was first used in sports journalism in reference to baseball.
posted by imposster at 10:26 PM on August 30, 2007

(i.e. do not rely on this site for actual information about the history of jazz.)
posted by imposster at 10:52 PM on August 30, 2007

A lot of this depends on what you mean by "jazz". Dixieland goes back that far. Ragtime goes back almost that far. But jazz? I've always thought that jazz started in the 1930's.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:17 PM on August 30, 2007

Huh? I'm sorry, but when was it ever a secret? I just thought people were apathetic about it. Not like Louis Armstrong ever hid the fact that he was practically raised by prostitutes... he wore it like a badge of honor.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:26 PM on August 30, 2007

Steven, the origins of jazz started in the late 1800s in New Orleans.
posted by miss lynnster at 11:28 PM on August 30, 2007

BTW, that last link has one of the best venue names ever...

"...During the next decade he built a loyal following, entertaining dancers throughout the city (especially at Funky Butt Hall, which also doubled as a church...)"
posted by miss lynnster at 11:31 PM on August 30, 2007

Miss Lynnster, that site is describing the origins of Dixieland. It's not a question of whether Dixieland goes back that far, nor of whether Dixieland is the most important of the ancestors of Jazz. The question is where the dividing line is, and where real Jazz starts.

I don't think you're going to get any consensus on that, since it's really difficult to define "Jazz". But I don't consider it to be synonymous with Dixieland.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 11:36 PM on August 30, 2007

Jazz wasn't born in the brothels. It came out of a complex cultural/ethnic/social situation which included polite society dances, funeral music, and rural folk music. Yes, for many people, early jazz had associations of "lewd conduct" and places of ill-repute. But this critique had as much to do with racial stereotypes and fear of social change (as manifested in dancing, music, etc) as with any sort of direct relationship between an way of music making and prostitution.

(On preview: Supposedly, Bolden's theme song was titled "Funky Butt," too. I think some lyrics are given in "In Search of Buddy Bolden." )
posted by imposster at 11:39 PM on August 30, 2007

Dixieland is probably a more recent term than jazz and for many people has connotations of white appropriation of African American music. The music of the 1930s is more commonly referred to as swing.
posted by imposster at 11:43 PM on August 30, 2007

"Funky Butt, Funky Butt, take it away, open up the windows and let the bad air out." (I think there is more info in the book, but it's not at hand.)
posted by imposster at 11:52 PM on August 30, 2007

I don't believe jazz was born in brothels, however I didn't realize it was ever in dispute that many of the greatest players in the early days honed their chops while playing in them.

Swing was a form of music in the 1930s, but not all of the music of that era was swing so I've also got to dispute you there. Swing (inspired by New Orleans' red hot jazz) was the name given to the pop dance music that was eventually embraced by commercial mainstream, which mostly gained popularity thanks to radio. Prior to that American music was purely regional, and swing was the first form of music that was really embraced nationally thanks to new technology making it possible for the first time in history. (Right place, right time, basically.) In turn, swing was the first form of jazz that was eventually accepted as palatable for white audiences, part of that being thanks to the emergence of some popular white bandleaders such as Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, etc. on the scene.

If anyone wants to see a really detailed timeline for the evolution of jazz, The Thelonius Monk Institute provides a pretty thorough one that's also lined up with a historical timeline to put the eras into perspective.
posted by miss lynnster at 12:49 AM on August 31, 2007

The first use of the word jazz that the OED (subscription required) cites is

1909 C. STEWART Uncle Josh in Society (gramophone-record), One lady asked me if I danced the jazz.
posted by girandole at 1:47 AM on August 31, 2007

Next post we talk about the origins of ballet.
posted by srboisvert at 3:56 AM on August 31, 2007

Why is the history of jazz so important? Jazz is so often presented to me in terms of an important cultural trend or historical marker than as music I might like to listen to. It's really important to understand what it means, where it came from, what it says about our society, etc. There's more of this surrounding jazz than any other musical genre, by a long shot. It's kinda intimidating, makes me want to listen to Coldplay.
posted by bluejayk at 4:25 AM on August 31, 2007

It's kinda intimidating, makes me want to listen to Coldplay.

People like Coldplay, and voted for the Nazis.

You can't trust people
posted by radgardener at 6:07 AM on August 31, 2007

Of all the jazz websites out there, this one seems pretty average.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:19 AM on August 31, 2007

bluejayk: It's important because most jazz is better than Coldplay.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:43 AM on August 31, 2007

Listen to imposster, he knows what he's talking about. This It's like a slapdash compilation of every received idea about jazz. Maybe the "how to do it" parts are OK; I didn't investigate them.
posted by languagehat at 6:44 AM on August 31, 2007

If we don't know when Jazz was born, do we know when it died?

Dead as Bach I say, not that people aren't fans still...
posted by geos at 6:53 AM on August 31, 2007

I was trying to suggest not that Coldplay is more worthwhile than Jazz, but that the atmosphere that surrounds jazz is academic and off-putting for those approaching it. I like jazz, I just think its weird that the ratio of jazz to meta-jazz that any particular person is likely to experience is low. Lower, I'd venture to say, than for rock or hip hop or even 'classical' music.

Maybe that's because it's dead, as geos suggested. Or maybe it's just not marketable enough, so we're stuck hearing about it, rather than hearing it.
posted by bluejayk at 9:53 AM on August 31, 2007

Dead as Bach I say, not that people aren't fans still...

....when did Bach's music die? As far as I can see (or hear) it's still pretty vibrantly alive, receiving excellent performances for enthusiastic listeners all over the's still widely studied....still cited as influential by many living is Jazz.

I think what you mean by that statement is "I don't like Jazz or Bach." If that's the case, you should just say that.

I was trying to suggest not that Coldplay is more worthwhile than Jazz, but that the atmosphere that surrounds jazz is academic and off-putting for those approaching it.

Same problem with classical music, as you mention--I just ignore the atmosphere that surrounds it, and listen to the music (and I'm a classical musician by profession).
posted by LooseFilter at 1:04 PM on August 31, 2007

I don't see how the academic, stuffy air around certain types of music is any more off-putting than the overcommercialized, obsequious air around certain other types of music. Just try to filter out the noise and listen, my dudes.
posted by speicus at 4:26 PM on August 31, 2007

....when did Bach's music die?

Yeah, at work I was listening to BWV 147 (thank you Renée Fleming, you li'l hottie, you!) and thinking, wow, this music feels just as fresh as when I first heard it as a child.

I get the feeling jazz is a far less well-defined genre than classical music, especially baroque sacred stuff.
posted by pax digita at 6:46 PM on August 31, 2007

It always hurts me when people say jazz is dead... since I deeply love singing it & so many people still seem to love listening to it. Somehow it feels like being told that someone you love has cancer, and that you are supposed to just accept it and step aside.
posted by miss lynnster at 10:15 PM on August 31, 2007

Jazz is dead. You play any pop song backwards—anything since New Kids on the Block, really—and somewhere in there you'll hear the hidden words: 'turn me off, dead music'.

Jazz is dead. It was in its car, and it didn't notice that the times had changed (because it was staring at Bob Dylan out on Highway 61). When it was time to motor ('Move'), the poor driving conditions and unseasonally wet pavement ('The Waters of March', 'Here's That Rainy Day', 'Stormy Weather') combined with a long line of cars the other way ('Caravan') and a confusingly built intersection ('Unsquare Dance') to put it to rest.

Jazz is dead. It was on a Bumbershoot poster some years ago: Reggae and Blues and Rock are getting along just fine, but Jazz is out of step, and it's barefoot.

'S dead, man. I'm telling you: Jazz is dead.

posted by eritain at 8:53 PM on September 1, 2007

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