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Jazz Humor

Jazz Slang

By Published: March 4, 2004
Skins player --- The drummer. (Skins comes from the days when cowhide or other dried animal skin was used to make drum heads.)
Man, we were all ready to have a little improv jam session but our "skins player" skipped out on us. There's one cat that I'm gonna skin!

Smokin' --- Playing your ass off.
I can already tell from outside that Jimmy is "smokin'" tonight.

Snap your cap --- Same as "Blow your top."
Hey, Buddy, calm down. Don't "snap your cap."

Solid --- A swing-era superlative which is little used today.
Little Jazz can blow up a storm, he's really "solid."

Split --- To leave.
Sorry I can't stick around Slick, I gotta "split."

Square --- A somewhat outmoded term meaning unknowing which can be a noun or a verb.
That cat is a real "square"

Sugar band --- A sweet band; lots of vibrato and glissando.

Supermurgitroid --- really cool.
That club was supermurgitroid!

Swing --- to get a rocking or swaying beat.
Ellington's band "swings" like no other. It's elegant.

Sraw Boss --- From Dan Nicora: The term was explained to me by Richard Davis, bassist with Thad & Mel, and many NY groups. It refers to the lead alto player in a big band, being the dude who leads all the other saxophones, knows all of the answers and takes care of the crew.

Tag --- Used to end the tune, repeating the last phrase three times.

Take five --- A way of telling someone to take a five minute break or to take a five minute break.
Hey, Cleanhead, this is a cool tune and we're blowin' too hot. We oughta "take five."

Too much --- Just one more jazz superlative. Originally something so good, that it is hard to take.
Art Blakey is a fantastic drummer. His playing is "too much."

Torch --- Used occasionally as a description of a song that expresses unrequited love.
Nobody could sing "torch" songs like Peggy Lee.

Train Wreck --- Event during the playing of a tune when the musicians "disagree" on where they are in the form (i.e. someone gets lost), so the chord changes and the melody may get confused for several bars, but depending on the abilities of the musicians (it happens to the best of them), there are usually no fatalities and the journey continues.

Tubs --- Set of drums.
Jo is really hot tonight. Listen to him pound those "tubs."

Two beat --- Four-four time with a steady two beat ground beat on the bass drum. New Orleans Jazz.
I can't dig this "two beat" jazz. My boys got to have four even beats to the measure.

Wail --- To play a tune extremely well.
Count Basie did a tune called "Prince of Wails"—a clever play on words. Damn, Basie's band can really "wail."

Walking bass or walking rhythm --- an energetic four-beat rhythm pattern.
I really dig the way Earl plays the 88's. He plays the tune with his left hand and a "walking bass" with his right.

Wax a disc --- Cut a record.
I just "waxed a disc" up at Rudy Van Gelder's studio with Jimmy Smith.

Wig, Wig out --- To flip out. Also to think precisely.
I don't know what happened, man, we were just sittin' there and Louie just "wigged out."

Wild --- Astonishing or amazing.
It's really "wild" the way Lee plays the trumpet.

Witch Doctor --- A member of the clergy.
Have you heard, Margie's brother is a "witch doctor."

Woodshed (or Shed) --- To practice.
Duke was up all night shedin' that untouchable lick.

Zoot --- Used in the thirties and forties to describe exaggerated clothes, especially a zoot suit.
Look at that cat's "zoot" suit. It's crazy, man.


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