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Jazz Slang

AAJ Staff By

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Jazz Box. a jazz guitar.
The Ibanez PM model was developed in conjunction with Pat Metheny to meet his demand for a true "jazz box"

Jitterbug. A jumpy, jittery energetic dance or one who danced this dance during the swing period.
Artie Shaw is a hot clarinetist. He sure has all of the "jitterbugs" jumpin.'

Jive. A versatile word which can be used as a noun, verb or adjective. Noun—an odd form of speech. Verb—to fool someone. Adjective—phoney or fake.
Old Satchmo can lay down some crazy "jive." Don't "jive"me man, I wasn't born yesterday. That cat is one "jive" dude.

JAMF (Jive A—Mother F----R). Someone who is not thought highly of.

Joe Below. A musician who plays under-scale.
How can you expect to make a buck when "Joe Below" almost plays for free?

Jump. To swing.
Let's check out that bar over there. It sounds like the joint is "jumpin.'"

Junk. Heroin.
"Junk" and booze have laid a heavy toll on Jazz.

Kill. To fracture or delight.
You "kill" me, man, the way you're always clowning around.

Lame. Something that doesn't quite cut it.
Some of the cats that claim to be playin' Jazz these days are layin' down some "lame" music.

Licks, hot licks. An early term for phrase or solo.
Louie can really lay down some "hot licks."

Licorice Stick. Clarinet
Gee, Jody, doesn't it "chill 'ya" the way Benny plays that "licorice stick"?

Lid. Hat.
Hey man, nice lid.
"Lid" has also entered the world of hip-hop slang via a company called Ultimate Lids that makes hats.

Moldy Fig. During the Bop era, fans and players of the new music used this term to discribe fans and players of the earlier New Orleans Jazz.
What do you expect, Eddie is a "moldy fig" and he'll never dig the new sounds.

Muggles. One nickname for marijuana used by early Jazzmen (Armstrong has a song by this title).
Hey, Louis, I need to calm down. You got any "muggles?"

My Chops is beat. When a brass man's lips give out.
Too many high C's tonight, man, "my chops is beat!!"

Noodlin'—To just play notes that have no particular meaning to a tune or solo.
Quit "noodlin" cat, let's start working the tune.

Out of this world. A superlative which is no longer in common use.
I'm tellin' ya, man, the way Benny Goodman blows is "out of this world."

Out to Lunch. Same as lame.
That guy is "out to lunch," I can't stand the way he plays.

Pad. House, home, apartment or bed.
Hey, Lester, c'mon up to my "pad" you look like you need to cool down.

Popsicle Stick. A saxophonist's reed.
I'm playing a great popsicle stick.

Rock. To swing or jump (as in Jump bands—the fore-runners of Rock and Roll bands).
Louis Jordan's band really "rocks."

Rock and Roll. Of course the new music of the 50's, but originally slang for sex.
Hey, baby, you're drivin' me crazy, let's "rock and roll."

Rusty Gate. Someone who can't play.
That cat swings like a rusty gate.

Sackbut. The Sackbut was a 16th century instrument, similar to the trombone.
The History of the Sackbut

Scat. Improvise lyrics as nonsense syllables. Said to have originated on the "Hot Five" song "Heebie Jeebies" when Louis Armstrong dropped his lyrics.
I can really dig Dizzy's new way of singing "scat."

Scene. A place or atmosphere.
In the late twenties, Armstrong was the man on the New York "scene."

Schmaltz it. Play it "long-haired."

Schmaltz or Schmalz. It's the Yiddish word for chicken fat, and has been a slang term in the U.S. since the '20s for anything sickeningly sweet or "greasy," especially music or poetry.
That Lombardo guy is popular, but he sure plays a lot of "schmaltz."

Scratch. (see Bread)
I need to get my axe fixed, but I got no "scratch."

Screwin' the Pooch. Really bad mistakes while playing music.
Roscoe must've had a bad day, cause he's really "screwin' the pooch."

Send. to move or to stimulate.
Roscoe, you really "send" me.

Sharp. Fashionable.
Hey, Rufus, that's one "sharp" looking suit of clothes you're sportin' there.

Sides. Records.
We sat around and dug "sides." Or, as George Crater (or was it Ira Gitler?) once put it, "I sat around with another musician and Doug Sides." ~ Bob Blumenthal

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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