Jes Grew


From Rob Walker's NO Notes blog, an editorial reportedly published in the New Orleans Times-Picayune on June 20, 1918 — "the same year," Walker notes, "that Louis Armstrong took King Oliver's place in Kid Ory's band." Here's the lede:

Why is the jass music, and therefore, the jass band? As well ask why is the dime novel or the grease-dripping doughnut? All are manifestations of a low streak in man's tastes that has not yet come out in civilization's wash. Indeed, one might go farther, and say that jass music is the indecent story syncopated and counter-pointed. Like the improper anecdote, also in its youth, it was listened to blushingly, behind closed doors and drawn curtains, but, like all vice, it grew bolder until it dared decent surroundings, and there, was tolerated because of its oddity.

Here's the Lovecraftian peak:

Prominently, in the basement hall of rhythm, is found rag-time, and of those most devoted to the cult of the displaced accent there has developed a brotherhood of those who, devoid of harmonic and even of melodic instinct, love to fairly wallow in noise. On certain natures sound loud and meaningless has an exciting, almost an intoxicating effect, like crude colors and strong perfumes, the sight of flesh or the sadic pleasure in blood.

And here's the wrapup:

Its musical value is nil, and its possibilities of harm are great.

N.B.: This source dates the editorial to June 17, 1917. Between the competing dates of origin and the prose that almost screams "Put a 'Kick Me' sign on my back," I have to raise the possibility that the article is an urban legend. Caveat lector.

The whole essay is here. Walker's blog, which is mostly devoted to tracking the history of the song "St. James Infirmary" and its variations ("The Streets of Laredo," "The Unfortunate Rake," "Gambler's Blues," "Gambling Barroom Blues," "The Cowboy's Lament," "The Maiden's Lament," "The Bad Girl's Lament," "Blind Willie McTell," etc.) is here. One of my favorite versions of "St. James Infirmary" is here. Robert Anton Wilson, writing as "Heinrich von Hankopf," explores the deeper, darker roots of the Cult of the Displaced Accent here.

Update: Walker reassures us that both the article and the 1918 date are legitimate.