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Jazz Humor

Jazz Nicknames

By Published: March 4, 2004
McKinley Dorham was originally nicknamed "Kinny" but this usually got misheard as Kenny. This is how it started to appear in record labels when he started recording. If you check lps he's on you can see the struggle over Kinny vs. Kenny. -Jonathan Fox

Edison, Harry --- Sweets

Trumpeter Edison was reputedly given the nickname "Sweets" by fellow Basie band member Lester Young. We're not sure why Lester called Harry "Sweets," but "The Pres" was notorious for bestowing nicknames.

I've recently read that Lester called Harry "Sweets" because Harry had a way with words and with music.

Eldridge, Roy --- Little Jazz

Trumpeter Eldridge received this nickname as a result of his diminutive size.

Ellington, Edward Kennedy --- Duke

The young Edward Ellington was called "Duke" by his friends and family because of his ducal manner and his natty dressing.

Evans, William --- Lateef, Yusef

Another Bill Evans. Sounds like a great trivia question!

Filipelli, Joseph Edward --- Flip Phillips

I suspect that Flip's nickname derived from his name.

Fitzgerald, Ella --- First Lady of Song

This was her nickname because she truly was the "First Lady of Song."

Gaillard, Bulee --- Slim

Not sure why this guitarist (a member of the popular "Slim and Slam" duo of the late thirties and the forties) was called "Slim." Was he thin? Let us know.

Gillespie, John Birks --- Dizzy

Gillespie acquired the nickname "Dizzy" early in his career because of his "off-the-wall" antics both onstage and off. During the bop period, while others were acting "cool," Gillespie was still acting "Dizzy" and very showman-like.

Gonsalves, Paul --- Mex

Ellington tenor saxophonist Gonsalves was mistakenly called "Mex" by some people who believed that this descendant of Cape Verdeans was Mexican.

Goodman, Benny --- King of Swing

Benny was called the "King of Swing" because of his tremendous success and fan following in much the same way that Elvis was dubbed the "King."

Green, Freddie --- Father Time

For the rock-solid beat he gave to the Count Basie band.

Green, Ian Ernest Gilmore --- Gil Evans

Gil once did an album named "Svengali." It had a credit line that said "Anagram by Gerry Mulligan." Svengali, of course, is GIl Evans, rearranged. It's the most original album credit in jazz, with the possible exception of Phil Woods's credit line that said "embouchure by" and then gave the name of his dentist.

Hampton, Locksley Wellington --- Slide

This trombone player, tuba player and composer from Indianapolis was probably called "Slide" because he played trombone at an early age.

Hanna, Roland— Sir Roland Hanna It's not a nickname; he came by his aristocraic title legitimately. After leading a benefit tour in Africa for young African students, he was knighted in 1970 by the late president of Liberia, William Tubman.

Hawkins, Coleman --- Bean, Hawk

The "Hawk" nickname is obviously a shortening of Hawkins. "Hawk" was also known as "Bean" but we don't know why. Do you? A reader says that the "Bean" tag was bestowed because of Hawkins intellect.

One of the Classics CD liner notes tells of one time in the late 30s, when Hawkins was playing in England as a featured player for the Jack Hilton (Hylton?) orchestra, and had been quoted, I guess in Melody Maker, claiming that a good player should be able to improvise in any key. The band members surrepticiously played a tune ONE HALF TONE lower, moving it from an easy sax key to a very tough one. Hawkins, coming in for his solo, realized what was going on almost instantly, delivered a respectable solo, and NEVER MENTIONED IT afterwards.

Here's another take on "Bean." The story is that some cats looked at hs eyes and said that they look like some beans after they had soaked in some water prior to cooking. Beans swell in standing water. Hence, his eyes look like swollen beans. I've heard this story on more than one occasion.

And how about this one?

Hawkins was called "Bean" because he came from Boston or "Beantown," as it was known. apparently, people in Boston use dto eat a lot of beans with brown bread.

Lester Young once called Hawkins "The First President." Although this is not technically a nickname, it is interesting and worth a mention.

Henderson, Fletcher --- Smack

Someone out there please tell us why this mild mannered bandleader was called "Smack." A reader suggests that "Smack" is slang for heroin and that Henderson's laid back manner earned him the nickname.

Another reader states he smacked his lips when he ate.

Herman, Woodrow Charles --- Woody

Bandleader Herman's nickname was obviously a derivation of his first name.

Hines, Earl --- Fatha

Earl acquired this nickname because of his kind temperament. Many musicians felt that they could confide in him and tell him their problems and personal feelings.

Quite aside from his undoubted value as a mentor, Hines was an old guy (in his forties in the forties) who wore a toupe. — Steve Danby

Hinton, Milt --- Judge


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