Intermediate+ Word of the Day: jazz

jazz (noun, verb) /dʒæz/ LISTEN

A man playing jazz in the street

Jazz is a music genre that originated in the early 1920s in New Orleans, US. However, jazz is also a slang word that means ‘liveliness, excitement, spirit,’ as well as ‘pep or enthusiasm,’ in reference to a person. It can also mean ‘unnamed things that are similar or related to another thing.’ In fact, that is why people started calling the music style jazz in the first place. In a negative sense, jazz means ‘insincere or pretentious talk.’ As a verb, to jazz means not only to play jazz music, but also ‘to excite or accelerate’ and, vulgarly, ‘to have sex,’ though it is rarely used as a verb these days in any of its senses.

Example sentences

  • Fred bought a trumpet and has started to take jazz lessons.
  • Dolly couldn't believe all the jazz surrounding the upcoming parade.
  • That new girl may not have much experience, but she does have jazz.
  • Billy keeps talking about his important new job, but I think it's all jazz.
  • She likes sewing, scrapbooking, and all that arts and crafts jazz.
  • Every Thursday, the four of them get together at the bar and jazz on stage. Anybody can join in, as long as they bring a musical instrument.

Words often used with jazz

jazz up: this expression can mean to add liveliness or excitement, or to add ornamentation. Example: “Monique says we need to jazz up the flyers to make sure people notice them, but I think they’re fine as they are. What do you think?” In an archaic sense, it could also mean ‘to accelerate.’

and all that jazz: an expression that groups together unnamed but similar things. Example: “Andrea told me about a new shop that sells vintage records, posters, and all that jazz. We should check it out!”

jazz hands: outspread, energetic hands. The term was coined in theatrical jazz dance, but it’s often used (sometimes mockingly) in other contexts.

In pop culture

Jazz, as a musical genre, is very hard to define. It originated in African American culture in New Orleans, according to most historians, in the late 19th or early 20th century. It is characterized by a mix of rhythms, blues notes and improvisation, and is influenced by folk, blues and ragtime, as well as European military marches and West Africn music. It became popular in the 1920s, which is sometimes known as the jazz age. If you want to listen to some jazz from that time period, there’s a good songlist here:

As it spread, jazz developed different styles, feeding off the popular and traditional music of different places. Here’s a more modern jazz song you might recognize, Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World” in 1967:

Additional information

While jazz is rarely used as a verb now, there is an adjective derived form the verb that you’ll still hear: jazzed, meaning excited. (“Sheila’s jazzed about tomorrow’s basketball game. She got us front-row tickets!”)

Did you know?

In addition to a musical genre, jazz is also a type of dance. It emerged with the music, and was originally a fast-paced, improvised dance. Since then, it’s developed into a theatrical dance (sometimes called modern jazz to avoid confusion). Here is some jazz choreography from the American competition TV show So You Think You Can Dance.

Other forms

jazzer (noun), jazzy (adjective)

Origin

Jazz dates back to the beginning of the 20th century. It is believed to have appeared as baseball slang originally, but soon came to mean the kind of music we know today. It probably comes from the Creole patois jass, which meant ‘strenuous activity,’ but was often used to specifically refer to sex and some dances of African origin. It is likely a variation on the Creole word jasm, from the mid-19th century, and probably has African roots. It is related to the Mandingo word jasi and the Temne word yas. The sense of ‘rubbish, unnecessary talk or ornamentation’ dates back to the 1920s. The verb, usually found as the phrase jazz up, meaning ‘to speed or liven up,’ comes from the noun and appeared around the same time.

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