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Jazz Slang

AAJ Staff By

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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.
That 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.

Crumb. Someone for whom it is impossible to show respect.
Sleazy Eddie is a real "crumb."


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