Home » Black History » Jazz Me Blues – Story of an American Standard (Essentials – Music)

Jazz Me Blues – Story of an American Standard (Essentials – Music)

tom delaney_edited-1Tom Delaney was born in Charleston, South Carolina in 1889 and raised at the Jenkins Orphanage. Founded in 1891 by Rev. Daniel Jenkins, it became one of the most successful orphanages for black children in the South. One of the most famous features of the orphanage was the Jenkins Band, which performed military marching music on street corners and “passed-the-hat” for donations. Delaney performed with the band until 1910. At age 21 he was living in New York City and working as a “whorehouse professor,” playing piano, writing songs and singing in saloons, gin joints and whorehouses in the seedy sections of Manhattan. 

His first big break came when he was thirty-two years old, in 1921. Delaney’s song “Jazz Me Blues” attracted the attention of professional musicians and, more importantly, people who owned recording studios. They were always looking for songs to record, especially now that there was money to be made with “black” songs. “Jazz Me Blues” combined risqué lyrics about sex with a swinging ragtime feel.

The year before, 1920, Perry Bradford convinced a New York record company to record a “black blues” song. Mamie Smith recorded Bradford’s “Crazy Blues.” It sold more than a million copies in less than a year. Suddenly, “black blues” songs were hot. Delaney had written hundreds of blues songs by then, so he began to peddle them to record companies.

tom delaney - blues singers of the 20sDuring this time he met a young singer named Ethel Waters. She performed in vaudeville shows for years as a dancer billed as “Sweet Mama Stringbean.” Waters, however, preferred singing to dancing, and on March 21, 1921, she recorded two of Delaney’s songs for the Pace & Handy Music Company, “Down Home Blues” and “At The Jump Steady Ball.” A twenty-three year old former chemistry student named Fletcher Henderson played the piano for the session. “Down Home Blues” became a hit. Pace & Handy paired Waters and Delaney together and sent them out on tour, Waters on vocals and Delaney on piano.   

Two months later an act called Lillyn Brown and Her Jazz-Bo Syncopaters recorded “Jazz Me Blues.”  That was followed quickly by an instrumental version of the song by the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.  Both versions sold thousands of copies. Through the years more than 100 of Delaney’s songs were recorded by the most popular artists of the day. “Jazz Me Blues” became a standard recorded by Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Bix Beiderbecke, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden and Benny Goodman.

“Jazz Me Blues” lyrics

Down in Louisiana in that sunny clime, 
They play a class of music that is super fine, 
And it makes no difference if it’s rain or shine, 
You can hear that jazzin’ music playin’ all the time.

It sounds so peculiar ’cause it’s really queer, 
How its sweet vibrations seems to fill the air, 
Then to you the whole world seems to be in rhyme; 
You’ll want nothin’ else but jazzin’, jazzin’ all the time.

Every one that I ever came to spy, hear them loudly cry: 
Oh, jazz me! 
Come on, Professor, and jazz me! 
Jazz me! 
You know I like my dancing both day and night, 
And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, 
Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick,  play it in jazz time, 
Jazz time! 
Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; 
Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! 
I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me jazz-me blues!

Jazz me! 
Come on, Professor, and jazz me! 
Jazz me! 
You know I like my dancing both day and night, 
And if I don’t get my jazzin’, I don’t feel right, 
Now if it’s ragtime, take a lick, play it in jazz time, 
Jazz time! 
Don’t want it fast, don’t want it slow; 
Take your time, Professor, play it sweet and low! 
I got those doggone, low-down jazz-me, jazz-me blues! 

To read the entire story of “Jazz Me Blues” and the beginning of American popular music read Mark’s book, Doin’ The Charleston: Black Roots of American Popular Music & the Jenkins Orpahange Legacy.

doin' the charleston

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