Print Project Proposal: The Evolution of Jazz Terminology

“He is a ‘moldy fig’ and he’ll never dig the new sounds”

Today, if someone described their taste in music by identifying themselves as a “moldy fig” you would probably be extremely confused and reply with a burst of laughter, right? Well, during the Bop era, fans and players of the earlier New Orleans jazz were commonly described using this term.

So much of Jazz is entwined in language, and so much of that language also has to do with coded language around race and culture. Beginning in the 1920s and 30s, the Jazz Age effected every aspect of life it touched. Its cultural repercussions could be felt through the prohibition era, fashion, art, women’s rights, African American’s fight for equality etc. The Jazz Age brought African American culture to the white middle class and that introduction, blending, and apprehension can be analyzed through the era’s terminology usage.  

Using Time Magazine Corpus, I plan to look at how jazz terminology has changed over time. I will explore the trends and their use by using collocates as a way to explore relationships between terms over time in publications.

The Jazz Age’s evolution can be seen through time by looking at its progression through the Bop era, ragtime, blues, and jazz-rock fusion in the late twentieth century. The vast array of African-American music in the 1900s incorporated the new technology of the century, new instruments, and perfected lyrics. Likewise, artists began to publicly take political and humanitarian stances through their music.  From Ragtime to Jazz Rock Fusion, the politics and fight for rights remained apparent through the twentieth century as well as into the twenty-first century. As R&B and Urban Music encased the 1990s, the beginning of the twenty-first century led to the hip-hop generation. Hip hop music, commonly referred to as rap music, is a genre developed in the “United States by inner-city African Americans which consists of a stylized rhythmic music that commonly accompanies rapping, a rhythmic and rhyming speech that is chanted.” This new form of music was a more aggressive and explicit form of expression than the music of the twentieth century. However, like the early 1900s, musicians took to music to express their emotions about race, politics, and religion. (shout-out to my undergraduate-self for finding this topic interesting and beginning this research in my paper entitled “Evolvement of African Slave Spirituals into Modern Day Songs,” 2017)

Thus, I will look at the use of words common in jazz culture such as zoot-suits, cats, jam, jive, and licks. I will also look at phrases such as boogie man, popsicle stick, and Tea man. I hope to analyze and find the trends within this terminology to shed light on the evolution of culture, language, music, and people through time.

2 Replies to “Print Project Proposal: The Evolution of Jazz Terminology”

  1. YES! I’m here for this project. The evolution of language is so fascinating little do we realize where did the slang, the vernacular we use on a daily basis come from? Jazz is such an American pastime with deep a foundation built from pain, love, adversity, and spirituality. I’m looking forward to learning what connections you find and how the heart of jazz has carried into movements and genres in the 21st century. What does the terminology of an era say about the times and has the meaning of those terms changed over time?

  2. This is a great concept for a project. You are going to be able to identify and explore some key trends around word use in the language changes that Jazz was a part of. I think focusing on Time Magazine for the corpus makes sense. It may also be interesting to think about taking some of the terms and trends you identify from that one publication and looking at how they do or don’t play out in the Google n-gram corpus. That would help to contextualize distinctions between the single popular publication and a much broader corpus of written english.

    I think the paper about walking in London from Guldi can serve as a good model for something that you might work up as a result from this. I think getting a good and extensive list of terms to explore is a good starting point. You can also use some of the colocates as a means to help identify some additional terms that you might use for this.

    Given that, as you’ve noted, so much about Jazz is also about race. So it would be good to add to your strategies for text analysis a focus on both explicit and coded language about race.

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