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
Because it fits his longevity, professional stature and the personal respect in which he is universally held.
Hodges, Johnny --- Jeep, Rabbit
Johnny Hodges was known as Jeep and Rabbit. Don't know the source of either. Another reader observes that Jeep came from the "Popeye" cartoon strip.
According to Harry Carney, Hodges was called Rabbit because he loved lettuce and tomato sandwiches. -Dirk Ludigkeit. Another reader suggests that "Rabbit" resulted from Hodges quick trips up to a room and back at brothels.
This is somewhat scatological, but I have it on the authority of a guy who used to house some of the Ellington band members when they came through Baltimore Way Back When that Johnny Hodges got the nickname Rabbit because when the boys would visit a house of ill-repute, Hodges would (to put it as nicely as I can) go upstairs and only minutes later would come back down.
Jackson, Milt --- Bags
Milt admitted that he got his nickname, Bags, from the temporary furrows under his eyes incurred by a drinking binge after his release from the Army.
Johnson, James Louis --- J.J.
J.J. used to sign his compositions with only his first and last initials (i.e., [J]ames [J]ohnson). This eventually stuck as a nickname. However, it is no longer a nickname, as he had his name officially changed in 1970.
Jones, Joseph --- Philly Joe
Philadelphia drummer Philly Joe Jones was given this nickname to distinguish him from Basie drummer Jo Jones.
Kirnon, Conrad --- Connie Kay
At Birdland one night, em cee Pee Wee Marquette had trouble pronouncing Kirnon and simply introduced Connie Kay.
La Menthe, Ferdinand Joseph --- Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll's father, F. P. La Menthe, left home early in Jelly's youth and his mother remarried to a man named Morton. Hence, the name Morton. The "Jelly Roll" portion of the nickname has sexual connotations, and comes from early in his career when he was a pimp and a hustler as well as a musician.
Lewis, Meade --- Lux
As a child, Meade "Lux" Lewis was called "The Duke of Luxembourg" from the comic strip "Alphonse and Gaston."
Professor Longhair & other "professors"
"Professor" or "Fess" was generally given to teachers / mentors. "Longhair" is what jazz musicians used to call classical music, because of the long hair of Paderewski & other male artists. But it also refers to someone who knows his stuff - a theorist or a great inventor. Steve Danby
Massaro, Salvatore --- Eddie Lang, Blind Willie Dunn
Eddie Lang was probably just an attempt to Americanize. Blind Willie Dunn was an attempt to Bluesify (to coin a word).
McKay, Eleanor Gough --- Billie Holiday, Lady Day
Eleanor McKay was her legal name after her father left, but Eleanor took her father's last name and the nickname "Billie." We are not sure where the "Billie" handle came from. Her good friend, saxophonist Lester Young called her "Lady Day" because of his tremendous respect for her and because he thought her every inch a lady.
Miley, James --- Bubber
We're not sure why the Ellington trumpeter was called Bubber. If you know, let us.
Mulligan, Gerry --- Jeru
Gerry Mulligan's Jeru came from his name.
Nanton, Joseph --- Tricky Sam
Ellington trombonist Joe Nanton was nicknamed "Tricky Sam" by Otto Hardwicke. This nickname probably reflects Nanton's prowess as a trombonist and his ability to apply Bubber Miley's trumpet wa- wa effects to trombone. (Original entry.)
I can't remember who gave Nanton that nickname, but it was NOT because of his skill with the plunger mute. Nanton had perfected a technique of drinking on-stage without anyone noticing. - Dirk Ludigkeit
Navarro, Theodore --- Fats or Fat Girl
Bop trumpeter Navarro received the nickname "Fat Girl" because he was somewhat overweight and effeminate. "Fats" was derived from "Fat Girl."
As I understand it, Fats Navarro was called Fat Girl because he had a high-pitched voice, not because he was effeminate.
Newman, David --- Fathead
No, it wasn't because his head was fat. Saxophonist Newman was given this nickname by his music teacher after he fumbled an arpeggio.
Norvo, Red and Bailey, Mildred --- Mr. and Mrs. Swing
Even though "Red" is obviously a nickname, that is not what this entry is about. The nickname "Mr. and Mrs. Swing" is unique because it refers to more than one person. It was bestowed on Red and Mildred because there was no more swinging (in the music sense) couple than they were during their marriage.
Oliver, Joseph --- King
Oliver was dubbed "King" because he was literally the "King" of early New Orleans jazz cornet players.
Page, Oran --- Hot Lips
Trumpeter Oran Page was called the "Hot Lips" because of his hot Armstrong-like trumpet playing.
Parker, Charlie --- Bird, Yardbird
Early in his career, Charlie was dubbed "Yardbird" because of his love for chicken. The nickname stuck and was eventually shortened to "Bird." (Original entry.)
According to one version, he and his band (including employer Jay McShann) were driving to town when a chicken ran out into the road. Upon hitting the bird, Charlie got out, picked it up and took it all the way to their destination to get it cooked up. Hence, the musicians called him Yardbird, which was later shortened to "Yard" or "Bird".
Peterson, Oscar --- Josh
Powell, Earl --- Bud
Not sure why the Bop pianist was called "Bud." Let us know if you know why.
Prestopnk, Irving --- Irving Fazola
Irving Fazola took the name Fazola from the the notes Fa, So and La of the tonic scale. Thus, Fa- So-La or Fa-Zo-La.
Pridgett, Gertrude Melissa Nix --- Ma Rainey
In 1902 she married the song and dance man William "Pa" Rainey on stage she was billed as Ma Rainey. They had a minstrel act called Ma & Pa Rainey.
Reinhardt, Jean Baptiste --- Django
Not sure why the virtuoso guitarist was called "Django." If you know, let us know. A reader points out that "Django" is the Gypsy name for Jean.
Rogers, Milton M. --- Shorty (real name Milton Rajonsky)
I'm guessing that the trumpeter was called "Shorty" because of his stature.
Rollins, Theodore Walter --- Sonny, Newk
Not sure why Rollins was called "Sonny." He got the nickname "Newk" because of his resemblance to Dodgers' pitcher Don Newcombe.
Rushing, Jimmy --- Mister Five-by-Five
It was Jimmy's body build that caused people to call him "Mister Five-by-Five."
Sims, Jack --- Zoot
Sims became known as "Zoot" after he stood behind a music stand with the word zoot painted on it.
Sinatra, Frank --- Old Blue Eyes
Pop Jazz singer Sinatra was called "Old Blue Eyes" for obvious reasons.
Smith, Buster --- Professor
We're not sure why this alto saxophonist was called "professor", but we do know that he was one of Charlie Parker's mentor's. Maybe that's why.
Smith, Jimmy --- Cat
Smith, Leroy Gordon --- Stuff
The Jazz fiddle genius earned the nickname "Stuff" because he was bad with names and addressed people as "Hey, Stuff!"
Smith, Willie --- The Lion
The story usually attached to "the Lion" handle was that during World War One, when Smith was in the artillery, he stood by his gun through shot and shell and thus earned his nickname for his bravery. Whether any of this is true I cannot verify. -Jonathan Fox
Stewart, Leroy --- Slam
Not sure why this bassist (a member of the popular "Slim and Slam" duo of the late thirties and the forties) was called "Slam." If you know, let us know.
Strayhorn, Billy --- Sweetpea
Billy got this nickname from the famous "Popeye" cartoon strip. Otto Hardwicke may be responsible for bestowing it.
Or the appellation may have come from the fact that he was pretty openly gay, which was somewhat rare in those days (and circles).
Teagarden, Jack --- Big Gate
At one point in the history of Jazz, "gate" was synonymous with a Jazz musician. Thus, "Big Gate" was a good nickname for the trombonist.
Teagarden, Charlie --- Little Gate
Since Jack was "Big Gate," it was natural that Charlie should be called "Little Gate."
Torme, Mel --- The Velvet Fog
Singer Torme was given this nickname because of his velvety singing voice.
Trumbauer, Frank --- Tram
This clarinet playing straight man sidekick of Bix Beiderbecke was called "Tram" because of his last name. "Tram" was surprisingly named by Lester Young as one of his strongest influences in a 1950's interview.
Turner, Joe --- Big Joe
Kansas City blues shouter "Big Joe" Turner received this nickname because of his large size.
Vinson, Eddie --- Cleanhead or Mr. Cleanhead .
Saxophonist Eddie Vinson was called "Cleanhead" for his bald pate (Original entry.)
Vinson was the victim of a substance called "conk" used by African Americans to straighten their hair in those days. The solution tended to get extremely hot and "Cleanhead" couldn't leave it on his head long enough to do what it was supposed to do, so he started trying to get it out and patches of his hair came with it. Since he had to go to work that evening and had no desire to wear a bandana or handkerchief on his head, he shaved off what was left. The band members had a ball with the epithets and the sobriquet "Cleanhead" stuck.
Another version courtesy of Axel Melhardt: While Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson worked at my club JAZZLAND in Vienna, Austria in the 70-ies I found him one morning at the hotel in front of the mirror shaving his head. He told me that after his big hit "Folks call me Mr.Cleanhead" he had to upkeep his bald head for the rest of his life in order to get gigs. Up until his early death he had full hair (with little white patches) which grew only on his days off stage.
Waller, Thomas --- Fats
There is no mystery to the nickname "Fats" which was given to the rotund stride pianist Thomas Waller.
Webster, Ben --- Frog, The Brute
Ben Webster was known as Frog, I think because of his somewhat bulging eyes.
Williams, Charles Melvin --- Cootie
We don't know why Ellington trumpeter Charles Melvin Williams was called "Cootie". If you do, let us know.
Young, Lester Willis --- Pres, The President
Lester's nickname "Pres" or "The President" comes from his good friend Billie Holiday who thought that he was, indeed, the "president" of saxophone players.