One hundred years ago, a league pitcher named Ben Herderson was getting ready for his opening day start for the Portland Beavers against The Angels. He began the 1912 season with a well-known reputation as an unreliable drunk.
Henderson gave to Los Angeles Times an idea of what he had planned for the game. “I got a new curve this year,” he explained, “and I’m going to pitch one or two of them tomorrow. I call it the Jazz ball because it wobbles and you simply can not do anything with it.” The headline for the item, from April 2, 1912, was simply “Ben’s Jazz Curve.” He lost that game and he was soon out of baseball entirely.
The latest historical research has located his quote as the first known use of the word “jazz” which in a few short years would bounce from West Coast ball fields to the nightclubs of Chicago and beyond.
How the word “jazz” made the leap from baseball to music is still a matter of debate and we may never know its original roots with certainty.