Barry Ulanov's A Jazz Glossary
Understanding is the key word of the jazz musician's use of this vocabulary. It represents a point of view, one held by a closed community, but one which is surely bona fide. This is the way a jazz musician looks at things and listens to sounds. These words are more than shortcuts for the iniated, they do more than point: they describe and interpret. Experience with them over the years demonstrates again and again that some of them, at least, really communicate with freshness and accuracy what the jazz musician intends in his playing and thinking.
air-check: a recording of a radio or television performance.
Apple, the: New York City.
baby: term of endearment used interchangeably between the sexes or man-to-man or
ballad: a romantic popular song, usually slow or middle tempo, most often with a
thrity-two bar chorus.
barrelhouse: a rough-and-ready music.
beat: as a noun, jazz time, the basic pulse; as an adjective, weary, exhausted.
blow: verb used to describe the playing of any jazz instrument, whether actually
blown or not.
blow one's top: phrase expressing exasperation, enthusiasm, or insanity (for
synonyms see flip, wig, below).
blue notes: the flatted third and seventh which create the blues scale and hence
a blues performance.
boogie woogie: a piano blues form, which from time to time has been
bop: generic term for that form of modern jazz, originally known as bebop or
rebop, which developed in the forties.
bounce: (now out of date) a buoyant beat; once particularly current in the
phrase businessman's bounce, which described a monotonous two-beat played at a fast
and nervous tempo for the delectation of tired businessman and their partner's.
break: a passage inserted in a performance while the rhythm is suspended, like a cadenza acting as a retarding element.
bridge: the third eight bars in a thirty-two bar chorus (the B section in the A-A-B-A pattern or any other which uses an A-B alternation); also called the release or channel.
bring down: to depress; as a noun, bringdown, one who depresses.
bug: to bewilder or annoy.
changes: chord progression.
character: one who is more less interesting, but out of the ordinary.
chase: alternation of solos by two or more musicians.
clambake: earlier used honorifically to mean jam session; later used to denote an improvised or arranged session which doesn't come off.
clinker: bad note, or one that is fluffed.
combo: short for combination of musicians, a small band, varying in size from trio to "tentet."
commercial: music, musician, or musicianship designed solely for fame and fgortune; also, a sponsored radio program.
cool: restrained, also a superlative of broader meaning in modern jazz.
corny: stale, trite; also cornball, a noun meaning one who is corny.
crazy: superlative, used either as adjective or interjection.
cut or cut out: to leave, to depart; the first also means to outdo a soloist or band in competition.
dad or daddy-o: an endearing form of address.
deejay: disk jockey.
dig: to understand, to penetrate with particular astutness; also to enjoy or affirm.
disk jockey: record announcer on radio or television.
Dixieland or Dixie: early jazz, epspecially of the New Orleans variety.
dog tune: a song of questionable musical quality.
drag: as a verb, to depress; as a noun, one who lowers another's spirits.
drive: to play with concentrated momentum.
eyes: usually the object of a verb, as in "to have eyes," oto be interested, to want to do something.
fake: to improvise.
fall in: to arrive.
fall out: to leave.
flip: as a verb, to lose one's head; as a noun, an original, an eccentric.
fly: smooth (to describe looks or manner of performance).
four beat: (little used today) an even four beats to the bar.
fracture: to "knock somebody out," to more, or to inspire.
funky: down-to-earth, a blues feeling, groovy.
gas: as a verb, to arouse, to stir feelings; as a noun, something that is stirring (also gasser).
gate: once upon a time synonymous with jazz musician; used as well to designate Louis Armstrong or Jack ("Big Gate") and Charlie ("Little Gate") Teagarden.
gig: as a noun, a job, usually a one-nighter; as a verb, to play such a job.
gone: see crazy.
goof: to wander in attention, to fail to discharge a responsibility (also, now outmoded, to goof off).
groovy: a superlative applied to a music that swings, or that is funky.
gutbucket: early term for early earthy music.
hame: job outside the music business.
have a ball: to enjoy oneself enormously.
head arrangement: a score put together on the the spot, by members of a band.
hip: iniated, knowing.
horn: any instrument, not simply the brass and the reeds.
hot: (now little used) once used to describe the real jazz, improvised jazz; also once used to distinguish the real jazz from the fake, and the music that swings from that which doesn't, as in hot jazz.
hype: as a verb, to decieve; as a noun, a form of deception.
icky: (obsolete) a cornball, one who does not dig.
Jack: the jazz equivalent of "Mac" or "bud" in American slang; a form of address sometimes replaced by "Jim."
jam: to improvise.
jam session: a group of improvisers at work.
jazzy: today synonymous with corny.
jitterbug: (obsolecent after the early forties) a frenzied jazz dancer, generally an adolescent.
jive: as a noun, comic speech, usually larded with ambiguous jazz terms; as a verb, to kid or to fool someone; as an adjective, fake.
jukebox: electrical coin machine which plays records.
kicks: collective noun meaning pleasure.
kill: top fracture, to delight.
latch on: to dig, to catch on; also to become one of the party, to jump on the bandwagon.
lead: the leading or top line in any section of a band; or the man who plays that part.
leap: (obsolete) jump.
lick: used in early days to designate a phrase or a solo (also, hot lick).
long hair: classical musician or partisan of traditional music.
mickey mouse: used of an orchestra that plays corn or to describe some other kind of poorly contrived sound only dubiously musical in shape.
moldy fig: a modernist's name for an ardent admirer of early jazz.
Nicksieland: the somewhat modern brand of Dixieland played by small groups at Nick's, the Greenwich Village nightclub.
off beat: weak, unaccented beat.
out of this world: outmodeed superlative.
pad: apartment, home, or bed.
pop: abbreviation of "popular song."
remote: late evening band broadcast from club, ballroom, or hotel (infrequent in present-day radio, and hence infrequently used).
rhythm-and-blues (R and B): elementary form of jazz, usually the blues, intended for backwoods audiences or their urban equivalents.
riff: two- or four-bar phrase.
rock: swing, jump.
salty: angry, irritated.
scat: to improvise with nonsense singing syllables; later called bop, or riff, instead of scat singing.
see: to read music.
scene: a particular place or atmosphere, as for example, the "New York scene" or the "Ellington scene."
send: to stimulate, move; also one who sends, a sender (little used after the swing era).
sharp: fashionable, felicitous.
sideman: a musician in a band.
society band: inoffensive commercial band of small skill, playing for what remains of the carriage trade.
solid: superlative, swing-era version; more or less synonymous with groovy.
square: the unitiated, the unknowing; one who does not dig.
standard: a tune that has become a jazz classic.
sweet: little used today but once widely applied to music that is played straight, without improvisation, but in which the melody can always be recognized.
swing: to get a beat, to move, a verb that developed out of the noun generally applied to music of the late 1930's; as a verb and as an adjective (swinging), still much used.
tag: ending added to a composition.
take five: imperative phrase meaning that one is entitled (or ordered) to take a five-minute intermission.
the end: see crazy.
ticky: see corny.
Tin Pan Alley: descriptive term for the places where popular music is composed and vended; geographically, the Broadway area in the upper 40's and lower 50's in New York.
too much: said of something so very good that it is hard to endure it for very long without pain; in general use, just another superlative.
torch: occasionally used after the 1920's and 1930's as a description of a ballad of unrequited love.
two beat: four-four time in which two of the beats are heavily accented; Dixieland, New Orleans jazz.
wail: to play extremely well.
walking rhythm: a moving, four-beat rhythmic pattern, usually said of the bass line.
wig: to flip; also to think with skill and precision, and (as a noun) brain.
world: see scene.
zoot: (obsolete) exaggerated clothing.
This glossary is taken from Barry Ulanov's A Handbook of Jazz (New York: Viking, 1959)