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Jazz Nicknames

AAJ Staff By

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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.)

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