How to Listen to Jazz

An award-winning music writer on learning to appreciate a sudden skronk as much as a beautiful trill.

Nobody knows where the word “jazz” originated. It feels today like something that’s always been. A vivid monosyllable—like dawn, or ash. Like the color blue. It might come from the French word jaser, chitchat, or from their word for hunting, chasser. It might have been invented by Titanic-era baseball players, who called their wobbliest pitches “jazz balls.” Many scholars tie “jazz” to “jasm,” an archaic term for energy, spirit or semen.