One of the important thrusts of this blog, and my own nascent career in jazz, is the way that the music is represented in writing. The internet is, of course, the place where I see most jazz writing, and after three months I’ve gotten a feel for the general writing style of the many blogs I follow.
During this time, I have noticed a few posts peppered with a word that completely distracts me from the content of any sentence in which it appears:
I first remember seeing the word come up in a post by Howard Mandel (last paragraph) and sort of rolled my eyes, in the way I used to roll my eyes at my parents’ hopeless lack of hipness. But days later, one of my favorite musician-bloggers Andrew Durkin used it to self-identify. Another young jazz musician and blogger whom I greatly admire, Darcy James Argue, has used the term a few times as well. The culmination came on Thursday, when uberjazzmetablogger Patrick Jarenwattanananon used it in A Blog Supreme’s Lester Young tribute.
So is jazzer an acceptable noun to describe jazz musicians now? After the jump, I will discuss the origins of my own issues with the word. And there’s a picture of cucumbers. Post your take in the comments, please!My earliest association with the word jazzer is its elongation, Jazzercise. I remember seeing a sign for a Jazzercise class that my school bus used to pass on the way to elementary school. Already an ardent NBA fan, I always thought that its owners were misplaced fans of the Utah Jazz. This was, of course, before I had even heard of jazz music. That’s already an association I’d rather not have to revisit merely to shorten the term “jazz musician.”
Fast-forward to high school, where the unhip associations really solidified. For the first two years of high school, the jazz band was run by two cool young jazz musicians who helped out the main band director. We trusted them, looked up to them, and checked out the “cats” they suggested we check out. They jokingly referred to us as “kittens” — cats in the making.
After my sophomore year, the band director at my high school retired and was replaced by one of the squarest, craziest, and awful music teachers with whom I have ever shared a rehearsal room. Not only did she push out our beloved jazz director, but she insisted on directing the jazz ensemble herself. She was the first person to introduce me to the word jazzer, a term that she used disparagingly to describe the undisciplined improvisers who refused to sign up for Wind Ensemble.
Perhaps my own emotional associations with the word suggest that I’m making too big of a deal out of this. But I don’t think I’m alone in hearing jazzer as the vocabulary of square, misguided band directors. I do, however, concede that it fills an expedient role as an identifier of the overall jazz community: it describes musicians as well as fans, and all who fall under its umbrella are those devoted to participation in the jazz community. It’s less specific than “jazz musician” and shorter than “member of the jazz community.” It doesn’t carry the same reverence as “cat,” the term that I use most often to describe a fellow jazz practitioner.
But jazzer carries with it a certain air of nerdiness and an unwelcome vibe to the jazz discourse. I suppose that there is opportunity for the term to be used ironically, to describe the fetishized fervor with which some people approach the music. But I don’t see how it can be used positively; the idea of being called a jazzer again literally sends a chill down my spine. So you won’t see any more use of the word at this site, and I strongly encourage other jazz writers and bloggers to use the term carefully.
I have absolutely no problem, however, with vegetable enthusiasts’ use of the word to describe a type of cucumber. I just feel sorry for the cucumber.
Jazzer jazzer jazzer jazzer … maybe if I repeat it enough it will sound absurd enough to go away. If you believe that jazzer should be saved — or you want to call out any other new arrivals to the jazz vernacular that upset you — say so in the comments below.