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Jazz Slang

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From just about its inception, Jazz has had a (spoken) language all its own.

Though most words haven't seen the light of day outside of a jazz club, quite a few have found their way into the mainstream American lexicon, and are still bandied about today. Words like, hip, cat and daddy-o have helped contribute to Jazz's "cool" mystique.

This list contains a few of those colloquial gems; if you know of any others, please send them to us.

18 Karat --- All the way, full out.
The Duke is a classy guy, his heart is "18 karat."

Air-check --- A recording of a radio or television performance.
Did you hear the "air-check" of Billie Holiday with Gerry Mulligan?

The Apple --- New York city. This is now common usage.
We got a gig up in "The Apple" at Minton's with Diz and Bird.

Axe --- An instrument.
Hey, Jack, bring your "axe" over tomorrow and we'll jam.

Baby --- A term of endearment.
Hey, "baby," I got some bread, lets paint the town.

Bad --- Good.
Thar dude Wynton Marsalis does some "bad" ass playin.'

Bag --- A person's particular interest.
I'd like to play with your combo, dude, but your sound just ain't my "bag.."

Balloon lungs --- A brass man with plenty of wind.
That cat must have "balloon lungs," Stix said he held that note for three and half minutes!"

Barn Burner --- Originally in Sinatra slang this was a stylish, classy woman, but today, it can even be applied to a good football game.
Hey, Quincy, did you see Stella over at the diner? Man, she is one amazing "barn burner."

Barrelhouse --- Barrelhouse was the colloquial term for a cabaret in New Orleans where liquor was served. Barrelhouse music is the type of music played in one of these cabarets.
Hey, Man, I dig this "barrelhouse" music. It flows free.

Beat --- Exhausted or tired.
Man, we been blowin' all night. I'm really "beat."

Birdbrain --- A Charlie Parker imitator.
It's 1957 already. We need something new. I'm gettin' tired of all of the "Birdbrains" around these days..

Blow --- A jazzman's term for playing any instrument.
That European guy, Django Reinhardt, can really "blow."

Blow your top --- A phrase which expresses enthusiasm or exasperation.
Hey man, I know it's tough, but don't "blow your top."

The Bomb --- Very cool.
The Crusader's new CD, "Louisiana Hot Sauce" is "the bomb."

Boogie Man --- In the jazz slanguage of 1935, this was a critic.
Roscoe just waxed a great disc and the "boogie man" gave it a bad review.

Boogie Woogie --- An early piano blues form that was popularized in Chicago. The term has sexual overtones.
Hey, Lester, dig that "boogie woogie" that Yancy is layin' down.

Bose Bouncing --- To play notes so low as to bounce a Bose speaker from its foundation.
I'm sorry, my bassist was just "Bose bouncing.

Bread --- A jazzman's word for money.
Alright, Jack, if ya want me to play, ya gotta come up with some "bread."

Break it down --- Get hot!! Go to town.

Bring Down or Bringdown --- As a verb—to depress. As a noun—one who depresses.
Hey, man, don't "bring me down" with all of this crazy talk.
Hey, let's get out of here, that guy is a real "bringdown."

Bug --- To annoy or bewilder.
Man, don't "bug" me with that jive about cleanin' up my act.

Burnin --- Used to describe a particularly emotional or technically excellent solo.
Hey, man, did you hear that solo by Lee? It was "burnin."

Cans --- Headphones.
That last take was really kickin,' put on the "cans" and lets record the final take.

Cats --- Folks who play jazz music.
I used to partake in late-night jam sessions with the "cats" over at Sid's.

Changes --- Chord progression.
Hey, Pops, dig those "changes" that the Hawk is playin.'

Character --- An interesting, out of the ordinary person.
Sonny is certainly a "character."

Chick --- A young and pretty girl.
Hey, Buster, leave it alone. That "chick" is outta your league.

Chill 'ya --- When an unusual "hot" passion gives you goose pimples.
Gee, Jody, doesn't it "chill 'ya" the way Benny plays the clarinet?

Chops --- The ability to play an instrument, a highly refined technique. Also refers to a brass players facial muscles.
"He played the hell out of that Gershwin; he's sure got chops." and "My chops are still achin' from last nights gig."

Clams --- Mistakes while playing music.
Charlie is really layin' down some "clams" tonight.

Clinker --- A bad note or one that is fluffed.
Hey, Charlie, that was some "clinker" that you just hit.

Combo --- Combination of musicians that varies in size from 3 to 10.
Here me talkin' to ya Lester. Did you see that supreme "combo" that the Hawk put together?

Cool --- A restrained approach to music. A superlative which has gained wide acceptance outside of jazz.
That cat Miles Davis plays some "cool" jazz. That cat Miles, is "cool."

Corny, Cornball --- A jazz man's term for trite, sweet or stale.
Man, Guy Lombardo is one "corny" cat. Man, Guy Lombardo plays some "cornball" music.

Crazy --- Another jazz superlative.
Count Basie's band sure lays down a "crazy" beat.

Crib --- Same as pad.
Hey, baby, come on up to my crib awhile and relax.

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