I’m for whatever gets you through the night. ~Frank Sinatra
One chord is fine. Two chords are pushing it. Three chords and you’re into jazz. ~Lou Reed
Don’t play the saxophone. Let it play you. ~Charlie Parker
Don’t worry about playing a lot of notes. Just find one pretty one. ~Miles Davis
Musically, the bebop route was magnificent, but businesswise, it was the dumbest thing I ever did. ~Woody Herman
Bebop is the music of the future (as soon as they learn how to play it). ~Dexter Gordon
Whenever someone asks “What’s that song with the saxophone?”, 90% of the time it’s Baker Street.
Though most jazz player words haven’t seen the light of day outside of a club, a few have found their way into mainstream slang, and are still bandied about today. Words like hip, cat and daddy-o contributed to jazz’s cool mystique.
Here are a few vintage jazz player vocabulary gems:
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 or Big Apple. New York city.
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.
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.