A comment on "jass" music

More about the other evening’s fright. I was being transported in my carriage to cousin Ida’s debutante ball, when the bothersome chauffeur lost his way. We found ourselves wending an unfamiliar and unsavory course along dismal streets and decrepit alleyways. I promptly set about flogging the driver with a leather lash that I stow in the carriage for just such a purpose (and after we returned home I had Papá ensure his disemployment from our family or any other family of repute, in this town and in any town on the Eastern seaboard, for the remainder of his natural life). But his well-deserved punishment did not quell my agony upon finding myself adrift in a tangle of streets where people ride not in carriages but upon mules, a district rife with Irishmen and -women scurrying around with no police presence, the stench of whiskey and syphilis permeating the air, the denizens bedecked in garments far more crass than even the wretched Orpha dares wear. I even spotted a few Italians, chattering away in their bewildering and morally inferior tongue. The prolific offspring of these foreigners is something else altogether. Why, some of these mothers bear eleven or twelve children; my own Mother was more than content to stop at a respectable eight. The families often can afford only one servant, yet they continue to breed like Spaniards.

As my heart pounded and I covered my nose with my handkerchief to prevent inhaling the miasmatic air, we passed a row of insalubrious establishments. And then a strange noise wafted into my ear from one of the drinking-halls. I daren’t even call it music; rather, ‘twas a series of sounds and – oh, I despise the very word! – rhythms strung together without heed to form or development.

“Whatever is that heinous noise?” I asked the driver, momentarily ceasing the beating.

“They call it jass, madam,” he whimpered in his brogue, “Please, madam, please stop whippin’ me.”

Before I resumed the lashing, I glimpsed inside the saloon and saw a throng of people dancing in a most loutish fashion. This crowd was composed of Irish, Negroes, and Italians alike, both the sterner sex and the fairer, all wriggling together like so many herring in a fisherman’s net. Oh, the shocking amount of mingling!

Upon witnessing this scene, I became dizzy and fainted, and have no recollection of anything else until I was parked safely in front of the ball and Horace was waving smelling salts under my nose.

The morally decrepit scene on view in that saloon could only arise from today’s dissolute and ill-educated youth, content to squander their energy on crude forms of entertainment, destroying their soul in the process; they contribute to the decay of modern society, to the masses of spurious children and the rampant rate of divorce. Why can’t they behave like the more respectable members of their class, the ones who put in an honest 16 hours’ work before lazing about or engaging in wayward pastimes? Idleness is for genteel ladies such as myself, not for young, destitute slatterns and the men who accompany them.

The activities I witnessed aside, this jass music is inconsequential as an art form. It will fade into oblivion, I am sure, within a few months or years, and its purveyors along with it. These musicians could spend their time creating something that will endure, and yet they choose to waste their lives away on this tomfoolery.


Slum children up to no good.

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