Ja-Da & “jass” history (part 1)


Le Bananier : Chanson nègre (“The Banana Tree : Negro Song”) was composed in 1845 by the New Orleans born pianist-composer Louis Moreau Gottschalk. The piece was widely known and loved in Gottschalk’s day. Czerny, Offenbach, Bizet and Borodin all owned copies of it. Performed here by Ivan Davis, piano –

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Jazz music was around for some time before the Roaring Twenties, the “Flapper Era” that made le jazz hot famous globally. By the late nineteenth century, the nascent musical style was migrating up the Mississippi from New Orleans, where it had started and developed a distinctive approach to melodic improvisation and rhythmic syncopation (this was the indispensable “swing” without which, of course, it don’t mean a thing). Early jazz was a spicy gumbo that blended the sounds of the African-Caribbean bamboula sessions and the city’s Negro piano professors with the conventions of the French salons and opera houses ; add to that the blues of the South and the higher “Spanish tinge” of the Gulf’s colonial mélange. No small part of this original synthesis was the vaudeville gagging on French society dances, an often trenchant burlesquing or bouleversation of Louisiana’s genteel quadrilles — the erstwhile proud domain of Bourbon Street’s dancing-masters. The Western classical music and conservatory and ceremonial dance elements have been too often understated in recent musical scholarship ; they informed the very fabric of jazz from the beginning, even down to the material assumptions behind its expression, for example, in the valve action of instruments, a detailing applied from Europe’s Industrial Revolution and the orchestral prerequisites of Berlioz and Bizet ; and as Branford Marsalis has put it so correctly and so well, jazz is “the signal attainment of the American mulatto in music”.

Le Banjo : Fantaisie grotesque composed by Gottschalk in 1853 ; performed here by Joseph Cheng –

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“Try Me Out” (Fox Trot) with Jelly Roll Morton and His Orchestra in 1929 –

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To name this emerging musical phenomenon, attested terms of this approximate period are “jig-jagging” and counting “raggedy time” so as to “rag the music” as was done on Confederate surplus band instruments, early on, down in New Orleans, thus “Rag Time” ; and the forms “jass” and “jad” —to give just two of the many variant spellings of jazz— some of which served as verbal circumventions that club promoters devised to avoid the ribald connotations of the word jazz, the better to beat the censors in advertising.

As Lawrence Gushee relates in his book Pioneers of Jazz 

We know that the term “jaz” was endemic in show business circles around this time—and for how many years previously? What was novel was to apply it to music in Chicago. After all, Brown’s Band at the Lambs’ Cafe in May [1915] had been given the bowdlerized billing of “Jad Band.”

Thereby hangs a tale, recounted by Ray Lopez to Richard Holbrook. It was the third week of Brown’s Band tenure at the Lambs’; they had just finished a “beautiful” number, Hawaiian Butterfly, when a South Side grifter named Darby Kelly shouted, “Jazz it up, Ray” and the band played the uptempo “Banana Peel Rag.” Two “big wheels” from Lyon & Healy—the most important music store in Chicago—were intrigued by the music and the word “jazz.” Smiley Corbett, the owner of Lambs’, had his waiter bring over a dictionary from the hotel across the street he also owned. Corbett and the two men from Lyon & Healy tried in vain to find the word “jazz” in the dictionary, but found what seemed to them close: “jade, a wild and vicious woman.” The remembered date is too late since the famous advertisement with the word “jad” was printed on Saturday at the end of their first week.
      – Pioneers of Jazz: The Story of the Creole Band

By the close of the Great War, three years after Tom Brown’s Dixieland ensemble was being billed in Chicago advertisements as a “Jad Band”, Bob Carleton published his sensational “Ja-Da” (1918).

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https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/91/Ja-Da_cover_1918.jpg
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This curious song title was not made up of German “Yes” hyphenated with Russian “Yes” as it may appear, but rather reflected the ja– in jazz (the sound that got the city air red hot) and perhaps echoing the scat syllables of jazz singers as well. Arthur Fields’s interpretation of Ja-Da is amongst the earliest recorded (the year after the song was published, in fact). Unlike most recorded versions from that period, which tended to opt for a purely instrumental arrangement or altered lyrics, Fields sings it with Carleton’s words intact.
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You’ve heard all about your raggy melodies,
Ev’ry thing from opera down to harmony,
But I’ve a little song that I will sing to you,
It’s going to win you through and through.
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There ain’t much to the words but the music is grand.
And you’ll be singing it to beat the band.
Now you’ve heard of your “Will O’ The Wisp”
But give a little listen to this:
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It goes –
[CHORUS]
Ja-Da, Ja-Da,
Ja-Da Ja-Da Jing Jing Jing,
Ja-Da, Ja-Da,
Ja-Da Ja-Da Jing Jing Jing.
That’s a funny little bit of melody,
It’s so soothing and appealing to me.
It goes
Ja-Da, Ja-Da,
Ja-Da Ja-Da Jing Jing Jing.
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Now ev’ry one was singing a Hawaiian strain,
Ev’ry one seem’d to have it on their brain,
When Yaka Hicky Hoola Do was all the craze,
Why, that’s the one that had ’em dazed.
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The object now is for something new,
Something that will appeal to you,
And here’s a little melody that you will find,
Will linger, linger there on your mind:
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It goes –
[CHORUS]
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As many etymologists analyse it, the word jass or jazz was synonymous with “pep, spunk, verve” in its early use (compare slang jism) to convey the notion of a spirited musical performance. Going further than that, however, it would seem plausible to propose for the ultimate derivation (and you may be sure there are plenty of theories out there) that jass originated in the French la chasse, signifying a “chase, hunt, pursuit” and describing some of the propulsive Creole dances of Louisiana. We do know that La Chasse, as a descriptive musical title, is present from the Middle Ages onwards in all periods of classical music, notably as published in France, Louisiana’s colonial ruler till 1803 (and, after all, La Louisiane was a largely French-speaking territory named for Saint Louis, the King’s patron for whom he was named). In most instances, the word Chasse names a “characteristic” piece in the most colourful, amusing and imitative style conceivable : all hallmarks of early jazz as well.
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One of the very first jazz records released was “Livery Stable Blues” (later called “Barnyard Blues”, it was the B side of an A side “One-Step” number) ; it was performed by the Original Dixieland Jass Band and produced by Victor Talking Machine Company in 1917 –
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La Chasse composed circa 1528 by Clément Janequin –
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