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Old 08-20-2013, 04:48 PM   #11 (permalink)
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The Swing Era - Part I

An exact history of how swing and jazz in general took root and spread across the country during the twenties and going into the thirties is impossible. The historical fabric is faded in spots, unraveled in others, ripped with big holes elsewhere. All that’s left is tatters.

Part of the problem was, as usual, racism. Careful records were not preserved or even made that documented how the gospel of jazz traveled nor who the apostles were that carried this good news far and wide. We can be certain that most of those apostles were black therefore ignored by the mainstream and therefore forgotten by posterity. Many recordings made during this time that might have afforded us important clues are now probably gone forever and those that may yet be found will be too sparse to fill out a proper narrative that surely must be rich in detail if it could ever be assembled with all its historical facts in place. Like the burning of the Library of Alexandria, most of the data has perished while only a pitiful few remnants remain—not nearly enough to tell us much of anything but only tantalize us with possibilities.

Another problem was the Depression. So many vibrant jazz scenes across the country collapsed virtually overnight that we know next to nothing about them today. Musicians migrated en masse to wherever they could find work, shutting the door behind them as they left and this, in turn, shut the door on adequate historical research.

Also World War II had an effect. There were so many shortages in the country that the recording industry ground to a virtual halt due to lack of lacquer shipments from the Far East due to Japanese seizure of that region of the world. Records were made from shellac which could not be made without lacquer. To get around the shellac shortage, labels as Capitol bought up stocks of older records, millions upon millions of them, crushed them and melted them down to be pressed into new recordings. By war’s end, Capitol Records sold an astonishing 40 million records! That should give one an idea of how many old recordings were destroyed. How many might be by various early swing bands that are now all but lost to us today is unknown but there were likely a significant number likely in the thousands.

Between 1929 and 1945, much of America’s jazz culture and history was irretrievably lost. The worst part is that we don’t even know enough to miss what we have lost—like losing a million dollars you never knew you had. Much the same thing happened to the original blues artists. We only have their recordings today because people went through the trouble of canvassing black neighborhoods door-to-door (sometimes at great personal risk) to buy old blues records from the occupants four and five decades after the fact. At best, only one in 20 had anything to sell and much of it was not in the best condition. Sometimes a record would be discovered that no one had heard of before but would be unplayable due to years of being used as a placemat for a flowerpot of some such similar thing. What old blues recordings we have today probably represent no more than a hundredth of what was actually released to the public. We can assume the same is true of jazz.

So we must be cognizant of the fact that any history of jazz and the Swing Era in particular is sketchy and arguable. That we cannot credit all the bands who played a role in spreading the gospel of swing around the country, and ultimately the world, is unfortunate but that, as they say, is how it is.

August 21, 1935 – Benny Goodman and band opened at the Palomar Ballroom on Vermont Avenue between Second and Third in Los Angeles with his band that included Gene Krupa on drums, Harry Goodman (Benny’s brother) on bass, Frank Froeba on piano, George Van Eps on guitar and nine horn-players including Pee Wee Erwin (trumpet) and Toots Mondello (alto sax). The singer was Helen Ward. Goodman had the band play a straight safe set unwilling to jump into the deep end of the pool so to speak. The reception was lukewarm. The crowd had heard the frenetic recordings and performances of the band on the radio and they expected something less restrained. After the first set ended either the band’s manager or Krupa (sources vary but was probably Krupa) told Goodman, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing!” Goodman knew he was right and pulled out the stops. When the band hit the stage for part two they attacked the audience with the craziest music anyone had ever heard and the crowd went crazy. This is now remembered as the birth of swing.

Although calling this concert the birth of swing is a bit of an overstatement, there is some truth to it. It definitely put swing on the map where it would stay for two decades. But swing didn’t jump out and present itself to the world that night. It was a while in coming. Goodman was perhaps its greatest ambassador but he was definitely not the innovator.

Goodman was born the ninth of 12 children in Chicago to Jewish parents who immigrated from the Russian Empire. Goodman was 10 when he began taking clarinet lessons at the synagogue and then moved to other teachers including classical training with Franz Schoepp. He became interested in jazz and listened to the great New Orleans clarinet masters as Jimmy Noone, Johnny Dodds and the mentally ill genius Leon Roppolo. Goodman had such a natural talent on the clarinet that he was playing professionally with the legendary cornetist Bix Beiderbecke in 1923 at the age of 14! He joined Ben Pollack’s band—the top-rated band in Chicago—in 1925 and recorded with them the following year, his first recordings. Benny’s brother, Harry, was also doing well as a jazz bassist and they usually played together.

In December of that year, David Goodman, Benny’s father, was killed in Chicago in a street accident. Benny had been trying for some time to get his father to retire saying that he and Harry were making enough money to see that he would be comfortable but David refused to consider it. Benny always regretted that his father did not live long enough to see his and Harry’s success and told people his father’s death was the bitterest blow to his family.

The Goodman brothers left for New York and appeared together and separately on a spate of projects up to 1934 including recordings and performances with Glenn Miller, Joe Venuti and Ted Lewis. During the Depression, Goodman purchased the arrangements and songbooks of the great Fletcher Henderson who led the hottest black band in Harlem. Henderson, a genius for arrangements but a poor bandleader, was in deep financial straights and badly needed the money and eagerly accepted Goodman’s help. Henderson’s orchestra, who had argued with leader over the lack of payment, had disbanded during this time so Goodman also hired many of them—the finest jazz musicians the world has ever seen—to train up his own players who were lacking the proper chops.

Fully trained by Henderson’s band and using his arrangements, the Goodman band auditioned for a dance music radio program called “Let’s Dance” and was one of three bands to make the cut. It was a huge break. The program aired for three hours per broadcast and Goodman’s time slot was such that people on the East Coast usually tuned out but the West Coast audience loved it. The radio program was sponsored by Nabisco which was suddenly paralyzed by a strike forcing the program to shut down. Goodman had nothing else going so he took his band on tour but found the reception poor as most people had no idea who he was—until he got to the West Coast where he had been a huge attraction on the “Let’s Dance” program. With his band ready to split on him, Goodman landed a gig at the Palomar Ballroom and the rest is history.
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Old 08-20-2013, 04:58 PM   #12 (permalink)
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But was Goodman the King of Swing as he is generally designated? What about this Fletcher Henderson? Who was this guy and what role does he play in the birth of swing? He was born to a middleclass black family in Cuthbert, Georgia in 1897 where classical music was the order of the day. He studied classical piano in which he excelled. Among wealthy black families, especially in the South, the playing of blues, jazz and rags was looked down on if not outright forbidden. This disdain for black folk music was even more pronounced in wealthier southern blacks who had transplanted themselves in the North and sought to appear cultured and wanted nothing to do with music that might make them appear to be sharecroppers and field hands in disguise. They shared this disdain in common with religious blacks who pronounced all forms of black folk music (with the exception of hymns and gospel) to be “the devil’s music.”

Henderson was sent to Atlanta University where he studied chemistry and mathematics. He graduated with a degree in chemistry and went to New York looking a job in that line of work. Instead, he was forced to take a job working for a black-owned company called Pace-Handy Music Company where he demonstrated songs on the piano for $22.50 a week. Henderson’s musical talent and knowledge were so good that Harry Pace began using him to organize and run jazz recording sessions for the Black Swan label owned by Pace. Henderson, in addition to hiring the bands that recorded also often played with them and wrote their arrangements. Many musicians wanted him to form a band so they could quit their current gigs and play for him. He formed a cadre of sidemen for the recording sessions. When an opening at Club Alabam on West 54th Street advertised for a bandleader, his sidemen wanting steady work and weekend gigs pressured him to go. Up to then, Henderson had not made up his mind to pursue a musical career full time still toying with the idea of finding a job as a chemist. He auditioned, was accepted and the die was cast. A short time later, Henderson left Club Alabam to take a long-running gig at the Roseland which he converted into the most important jazz venue in the country during his decade-long stint there.

The orchestra played his dazzling, complex arrangements to great acclaim. Although considered staples now, the arrangements were unheard of in Henderson’s time. They required musicians of great talent and proficiency to execute the way Henderson envisioned. True to form, his band membership was a who’s who of the swing era—Lester Young, Chu Berry, Coleman Hawkins, Omer Simeon, Ben Webster, John Kirby, Russell Procope, Clarence Holiday (Billie’s father), Sid Catlett, Buster Bailey and Benny Carter on sax. These were arguably the greatest sax men in the business. His trumpet section boasted Red Allen, J. C. Higginbotham, Benny Morton, Tommy Ladnier, Roy Eldridge, Jimmy Harrison, Rex Stewart, Dickie Wells, Joe Smith and someone named Louis Armstrong. None of the other Harlem bandleaders as Ellington or Chick Webb could come close to that even though each had awesome talent in their respective orchestras. And just as Duke had his Billy Strayhorn to help out on composition and arrangement, Henderson had the great Don Redman.

Fletcher Henderson and orchestra. Henderson sits behind the drums. Seated on the floor at the left is Coleman Hawkins. Seated behind Hawkins next to the baritone sax is Louis Armstrong.

Don Redman was born in West Virginia in 1900 and was a child prodigy learning to play a variety of instruments and excelled on all of them. By the 1920s, he was touring with Billy Paige’s Broadway Syncopators as clarinetist and sax man. He was also the band’s arranger writing all their charts. When he came to New York, he met Henderson and the two hit it off and began a partnership. Indeed, without Redman, the Fletcher Henderson Orchestra might never have attained more acclaim than being a band that helped great up and coming talent cut their teeth before moving on to greater things—not that the band didn’t serve this function but it was so much more due to the perspicacity of its arrangements.

Don Redman

Originally, their arrangements were lackluster and derivative. Well played but not particularly noteworthy. But as time went on, Henderson and Redman began to get more daring and innovative realizing their arrangements were not up to snuff and re-recorded some of them the way they were now envisioning.

When Redman began to really hit his stride as an arranger he was commissioned by Paul Whiteman to write for his orchestra. Redman came up with “The Whiteman Stomp” which both Henderson’s and Whiteman’s bands recorded in 1928. Jazz historian Ted Gioia describes it thusly: “…Redman delves into the avant-garde, crafting a highly eccentric orchestration in which fragments of musical shrapnel take flight unpredictably, coalescing into an odd type of jazz, one built on disjunction and entropy. That same year, half a world away, physicist Werner Heisenberg was articulating his famous uncertainty principle, the foundation of quantum physics. Here Redman shows his allegiance to the same zeitgeist, espousing a jagged, pointillistic style in which all continuities are called into question.”

Fletcher Henderson - Whiteman Stomp - N.Y.C. 11.05.1927 - YouTube

A strange mixture of hot swing, avant-garde and corn jazz, some of the novelty effects on the piece are reminiscent of Spike Jones whose own recordings were still a few years away yet.
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Old 08-20-2013, 05:06 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Also on the recording is saxophonist Coleman Hawkins who had been with Henderson from the beginning. Born in Saint Joseph, Missouri in 1904, his family moved to Chicago and then Kansas. He studied piano, cello and then sax by the age of 9. By the age of 17, he was playing sax for Mamie Smith’s Jazz Hounds and became a full-fledged member in 1922. When the band came to New York, Hawkins quit and joined up with Fletcher Henderson. He would stay with Henderson until 1934 but during that time, he was involved in a number of projects including solo ventures where he made his name. Miles Davis stated that the work of Coleman Hawkins opened doors to new ways of playing and hearing music. After ’34, Hawkins toured Europe as a solo artist until 1939. Lester Young, who played with Hawkins in the Henderson orchestra, stated that Hawkins was the true first president of the sax (Young’s nickname was “Pres”). “As far as myself,” said Young, “I think I’m the second one.”

Coleman Hawkins

Perhaps the greatest unsung hero of the swing era is Irving Mills. Born in 1894 to a Jewish family on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Mills and his brother, Jack, founded a music publishing company in 1919—Mills Music. Mills got hooked on jazz when he went to the Kentucky Club near 7th and Broadway one night to see the Ellington orchestra play and, instead of hopping from club to club to scope the talent as was his usual routine, Mills was glued to his seat all night.

Irving Mills

Mills began to sponsor the jazz groups in New York and owned all the most influential including Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Don Redman, Lucky Millinder, Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Ben Pollack, Raymond Scott, Willie Lewis, Will Hudson and others. He also made the careers of many great songwriters including Harry Barris (“Mississippi Mud”), Hoagy Carmichael, Gene Austin (“My Blue Heaven”), Sammy Fain (“Love Is a Many Splendored Thing”), Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields (“I’m in the Mood for Love,” “On the Sunny Side of the Street”). Mills had deep connections into RCA, Victor (separate companies back then) as well as the best clubs in New York including the Cotton Club—soon to be the most prestigious of them all. In fact, Mills was the man who got the Ellington orchestra into the Cotton Club (at the suggestion of Jimmy McHugh). Mills Music, Inc. Mills Artists Bureau owned all the contracts and copyrights of every band and writer this publishing empire employed. He also booked their gigs through Mills Artists Booking Agency.

Another innovation of Irving Mills was his practice of “bands-within-bands” in which he would pull out a smaller section of a larger orchestra and use them as a backup band or have them record their own material. He was also the first to record black and white musicians playing together in 1928. The band, Warren Mills & his Blue Serenaders, was actually Ellington’s backing singer Adelaide Hall and the Hall Johnson Choir and conducted by Matty Malneck. When Victor Records balked at distributing the record (“St. Louis Blues” b/w “Gems from Blackbirds of 1928”) due to segregation, Mills threatened to withdraw his artists from the label’s roster. Victor immediately capitulated.

Warren Mills and His Blue Serenaders - Gems from Blackbirds of 1928 - YouTube

Warren Mills Blue Serenaders - St. Louis Blues (1928) - YouTube

Adelaide Hall

Mills was not a musician but he possessed a fine singing voice and had enough talent to pitch in and help write songs. He co-wrote, for example, Ellington’s “Mood Indigo,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing)” and “Black and Tan Fantasy,” as well as Cab Calloway’s “Minnie the Moocher.” He formed his own band called Irving Mills & his Hotsy Totsy Gang which contained some of the greatest jazz figures of that era including the Dorsey Bros, Benny Goodman, Eddie Lang, Manny Klein, Joe Venuti, Glenn Miller and Red Nichols. Mills sometimes billed himself under the moniker of Joe Primrose. He sometimes sang with the band but usually was in the background. Mills also sang with Ellington’s orchestra as well as that of Jack Pettis. Hearing the following tracks, both recorded in 1928, there is little doubt of just how much the swing era owes to Irving Mills—pretty much everything.

Irving Mills and his Hotsy Totsy Gang - Diga Diga Doo 1928 - YouTube

Jack Pettis and his Pets, Irving Mills vocal - Baby (1928) - YouTube
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Old 08-20-2013, 05:10 PM   #14 (permalink)
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The playing of Louis Armstrong was another powerful influence on the development swing. When Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman first heard Louis Armstrong play, they contacted him to come to New York and provide the kind of trumpet they were looking for. Armstrong had been in Chicago playing with his mentor King Oliver and racking up quite a name for himself. Louie’s wife, pianist Lil Hardin, told Louis he had to go, this was too important to his career to pass up and so Louis went. He never played with Oliver again although they remained close.

Louis played what came to be known as “licks” or “signatures” that trademarked his sound. They were so distinctive that the listener immediately knew he was hearing Armstrong even if he’d never heard that number before. This became not only a standard for future musicians but, in swing, entire bands. These licks were often resorted to when the musician or the section was low on inspiration. They could fall back on these licks to keep the momentum going. One of Armstrong’s hottest licks was to arpeggiate descending triplets which became a staple in jazz. Another was “the rip” where he would glide up to a high note in a devastating attack and then back off on the volume while playing in vibrato. Trumpet playing in the 30s and 40s was so dependent on rips that one is hard pressed to think of how jazz would have survived without it.

In the clip below, recorded in 1924, we hear how Armstrong’s playing influenced the emergence of swing as well as Redman’s subsequent arrangements. To accommodate Louie’s style, the arrangements became more fluid, more dynamic, more syncopated. Indeed Armstrong’s playing in the 20s is largely what carried jazz into the 30s which might not have happened without him. His playing opened new avenues in the music and therefore new possibilities. The orchestrated backing riffs had to sound more like improvisations giving the whole piece a much hotter, less contrived quality.

“Shanghai Shuffle”:

Fletcher Henderson Louis Armstrong Shanghai Shuffle Roaring 20's Victrola - YouTube

But Armstrong’s most enduring and essential contribution to jazz was his rejection of paraphrasing over changes. If you look at the jazz charts I posted way back, you’ll notice the chords written over each measure or bar of music. Those chords are called changes. Paraphrasing is simply playing the melodic line written on the staff and embellishing it a little bit without deviating much from it. One was paraphrasing the melody. Armstrong outgrew this convention in the late twenties by simply playing something else entirely in each bar and linking each bar together so that the melody was entirely coherent. What made this most remarkable was that it was entirely improvised, done entirely on the fly, making the piece come to life in a way that was almost organic, a living and breathing solo. Bix Beiderbecke referred to it as a “correlated chorus.” Louis would also paraphrase in an amazingly playful way such as playing the melody fairly accurately but then suddenly hitting a note and drawing it out long past its normal duration and then suddenly playing a very fast staccato of notes to catch up just before hitting the end of the bar—a technique called “compressing time.” No classical composer had ever dreamed of doing such things with melody. It laid a foundation for future jazz to such an extent that there would have been no jazz after the twenties without Louis Armstrong.

In Louie’s version of “St. James Infirmary” from 1928, notice his incredible use of vibrato in every line he plays which is every bit as important as the notes themselves. He also does a bit of correlated chorus towards the end after first paraphrasing the melody. All done with a strong sense of swing which no jazz artists had to the extent that Louis did. This is the stuff from which modern jazz was made. It represents the turning point of jazz from traditional to modern:

Louis Armstrong - St. James Infirmary - New York 12.12. 1928 - YouTube

Armstrong’s other contribution was to switch from cornet to trumpet in 1926 which opened a floodgate of future musicians—Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Harry James, Fats Navarro, Donald Byrd, etc. who changed the face of music. Armstrong’s contribution to the evolution of the trumpet (which he switched to because it was brighter than the cornet) was that his ability to hit high notes was far beyond what most other trumpeters could do but club owners and trumpet fans wanted to hear all players hit those notes. As a result, the trumpet had to be redesigned internally to allow the average trumpet-player to hit the notes Armstrong first played without any special modification (even Louis frequently suffered from a bleeding lip hitting all those high notes). There could have been no Swing Era without Armstrong.
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Old 08-20-2013, 05:18 PM   #15 (permalink)
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Another influence on the Swing Era was whom we have mentioned but not discussed at length is Duke Ellington. To classify the Ellington Orchestra as swing would be absurd. Like the giants of jazz, Ellington is beyond classification. His music was its own jazz school.

Indeed, the Ellington orchestra did not prefer to swing as much as they were capable of it:

Duke Ellington - Cotton Club Stomp - YouTube

Duke was a composer and loved to work with moods no differently than a classical composer. His use of subtlety and nuance could rarely be matched and his musicians knew what he wanted. Swing, in contrast, was loud, fast music for the kids who loved it so that’s where the money was prompting Duke to comment that “jazz is music, swing is business.”

However, his placement on the timescale of jazz as well as his fateful decision to move to Harlem from Washington DC enabled him and his band to make indelible contributions to the emerging swing subgenre. In the early days of the era, Ellington and his musicians were laying down riffs that were certainly causing the up-and-coming swing bands to sit up and take notice. It could have hardly have been avoided.

Despite the 1935 date for the start of the Swing Era, I place it at 1928. What really set off the new generation jazz musicians from the earlier ones was simply training. Where the earlier jazz musicians such as the brilliant Freddie Keppard were often musically illiterate, the new generation was highly trained. Many, such as Mary Lou Williams, could write and arrange scores for entire orchestras. Even those that lacked that level of musical sophistication were impressive sight-readers. This is because the new generation was classically trained. Playing in large swing orchestras would simply have been impossible without it. Even earlier jazz musicians who taught themselves to play by ear had to learn to read music such as Kid Ory (who couldn’t have played for Jelly Roll Morton without being able to read) and bassist Wellman Braud (who, after all, would go on to play bass for Duke who demanded all his musicians be competent sight-readers). Louis Armstrong was not that good of a sight-reader until he married Lillian Hardin who was classically trained on piano at Fisk University. She turned him into one of the best sight-readers in all of jazz. He could not have played for Fletcher Henderson without it. There were exceptions such as Bix Beiderbecke who never learned to sight-read particularly well but made up for it with his amazing improvisatory gift.

What the classical training did in the late 20s was allow jazz a much wider cultural and musical expression by incorporating classical music and Tin Pan Alley fare. In this way, jazz was able to reach out to a wider audience as well as attract a higher grade of musician to the genre. It was the very beginnings of jazz as art music. Indeed, songs as “I’m in the Mood for Love” never could have entered the jazz idiom otherwise nor could its authors, Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, have become household names within jazz without this broadening of the jazz’s horizons by a new crop of more musically sophisticated musicians into its ranks. Art Tatum made a living of taking ordinary popular songs and turning them into incredible jazz masterpieces.

One band that deserves a lot of credit for the birth of the Swing Era, even more than Goddman’s, is Jimmie Lunceford & the Harlem Express. Goodman gets more mention in the history books because Lunceford’s popularity rested mainly in the black public and only nominally among whites. Nevertheless, Lunceford drew more people to his shows than Goodman and was doing this at least two years before Goodman started to play swing. In fact, Goodman didn’t really start to swing until he added Vido Musso on tenor sax to his orchestra in 1936. (Musso was a funny character whose English skills left something to be desired. Once while touring in Stan Kenton’s band, he told someone on the tour bus to crack open a window “before we all get sophisticated.”)

Like Goodman, Lunceford enjoyed radio success while playing at the Cotton Club, his radio stint starting a couple of months before Goodman’s. While Goodman is often credited with starting the racially integrated jazz band in 1935, Lunceford was already working with white composers, arrangers and musicians in 1933. His band was also the first with blacks to play at white colleges. Lunceford, as a rule, never played in segregated establishments preferring the venues known as “black & tans” that admitted white and black clients. While Goodman was dubbed the King of Swing by the white press in 1935, Lunceford was dubbed the “King of Syncopation” by the black press seven or eight months prior to that.

Jimmie Lunceford, "JAZZNOCRACY" (1934) - YouTube
“Jazznocracy” was the Lunceford band’s signature song for quite a while before changing it to “Uptown Blues.” Recorded in 1934, there is no doubt that this is swing well before its supposed “birth” at the Palomar Ballroom.

JImmie Lunceford And His Orchestra - YouTube
“Rhythm is Our Business” was the band’s slogan. A wonderful live clip of the Harlem Express. This gives you an idea of what you would have seen had you gone to the Cotton Club in the thirties. That’s the great Sy Oliver on trumpet.

The Lunceford band specialized in hard swing numbers or what they called “flag-wavers.” The time was right for it. In the wake of major wars, there are baby booms. We know of the most recent one that occurred just after Word War II and the generation that was being born at that time is appropriately known as “baby-boomers.” But a similar boom occurred in the wake of World War I in 1918. Since the U.S. spent only six months in that war, the boom wasn’t as huge as the one that occurred after the Second World War but it was fairly sizable and peaked about 1921. The generation born in those post-war years were now anywhere from 13-17 years old when the Swing Era started. This was the core of the swing generation. They were coming of age and their musical preferences drove the marketplace. They didn’t want Tin Pan Alley songs or ragtime or melodramatic wartime fare, they wanted to cut loose and vent their pent-up energy on the dance floor. Lunceford and Goodman were there to answer the call and others soon jumped in the fray—the Dorseys, Basie, Gene Krupa, Anita O’Day, Andy Kirk, Mary Lou Williams, Stan Kenton, Harry James, etc. Each had their own brand, their own stamp, on swing music.
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Old 08-20-2013, 05:28 PM   #16 (permalink)
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So we should then outline what constitutes swing. Although there is no clear genesis of the term, swing has as many definitions as it does historians and performers of the music. Some say swing is based on the dividing of a beat into triplets. While this is true, if is FAR from a complete description. That’s like saying the Special Theory of Relativity is about time dilation. Well…yes, but that doesn’t tell us anything particularly useful in understanding Einstein’s theory. Swing is not really definable. It is a feeling. Indeed there is a musical term “swing-feel” which refers to syncopated rhythm. It creates a drive to the music, a “horizontal propulsion.”

But swing-feel cannot be notated on sheet music. Once, I was playing a walking bass piece from sheet music and at a certain bar, I played it exactly as it was written. My instructor shouted, “NO! NO! NO!” He grabbed the bass from me and said, “You have to swing it!” And played the bar the way it was meant to be played which was not as I played it even though I played exactly what was on the sheet music. Swing is a feeling and it is intuitive. If you don’t feel it, you can’t play it. But syncopation is not the only way to swing. You have to play a swing piece in such as way that it “pushes” itself along even without syncopation. When walking a bass, which is generally done in 4/4 time, you put a little accent on beats 2 and 4. The piece will push itself along quite nicely but there is nothing in the notation that tells you to play it that way nor should the 2-and-4 accent be considered syncopation. You just have to swing it.

So how is swing music structured? It wasn’t structured all that differently from earlier jazz except that it was more riff-oriented and had much larger brass and/or reed sections and were streamlined. Riffs are short musical phrases that can be repeated or joined onto other riffs. The riffs can be played in I-IV-V7 or ii-V7 patterns for example. Other riffs can be layered over them. Solos can be built out of various riffs hooked together.

In the tutorial below, we hear various riffs. He plays an end tag riff, for example. A jazz orchestra might learn a way to play that tag and notate it. A band might learn 50 different end tags and the band's arranger will choose the most appropriate one. There are intro riffs, bridge riffs, etc. To improvise a piece, the bandleader or arranger could call out a riff to the drummer who will kick things off with a repeated beat. Then the leader calls out a riff to the sax section and they’ll start playing that riff (he might have a name for it or maybe just a number). When the riff has repeated enough times, he might call out a riff to the trumpets and they’ll start playing a different riff over top the sax section riff. Then he might add in a piano riff to mix in with the rest. Then the bass joins in to set the rhythm in place. Then the clarinetist might stand up and start soloing. At the end of, say, four bars the trombones dash off a short but pointed stab of notes that serves to punctuate what the clarinetist is doing. When the clarinet is done soloing, the leader might nod to the lead trumpet man and he’ll start soloing. And so on. All of them are playing riffs—little musical building blocks by which an entire piece can be constructed on the fly. When the leader feels it is ready, he’ll shout out an end tag and the band will comply. Usually, though, this was all done with charts but the band knew them so well they could improvise without the chart.

Jazz riffs and fun piano bits - YouTube

Jazz is built on riffs as is blues. By extension, rock music uses many of these same riffs. Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing” (written by Louis “Just A Gigolo” Prima for another band) is an excellent example of constructing a piece out of riffs—building blocks. Some riffs are a few notes long, some are several bars but they are all riffs. Most riffs can also be played in different ways (e.g. inverted or played backwards) to make entirely new riffs.


With proper coaching, even amateur music students can play complex sounding swing numbers just by learning the riffs out of which each number is built. Below, a group of Japanese high school girls called the Swing Girls perform “Sing Sing Sing.” None of these girls had been playing more than a year at the time this was taped. All you need is decent musicianship and a good arrangement. I’m grateful for the Swing Girls clips because they demonstrate what I’m explaining quite well. Not too much going on at once so you can hear how the riffs are hooked together:

"Sing Sing Sing" / 19 tracks Swing Girls First&Last Concert Live 2004 - YouTube

Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” is another famous example. Again, the Swing Girls show how convincingly it can be pulled off with a good arrangement and knowing how to play the riffs. To do it this well would still require a great deal of practice but it can be done. Sure, Miller’s band does it better simply because they are far more experienced musicians but even amateurs can pull it off as they do here if they get their riffs down well enough—and this was their ONLY live performance:

In The Mood / ep14 Swing Girls First&Last Concert Live 2004 - YouTube
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Old 08-20-2013, 05:30 PM   #17 (permalink)
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Thanks to people as Art Tatum, ordinary pieces of pop music can be turned into jazz. Now Tatum did it differently—he wasn’t a swing artist—but he showed the swing artists what was possible with jazz. Again, I offer a Swing Girls clip of them doing a swinging version of “Over the Rainbow” as one can hear how the original piece is “sliced” into riffs and then assembled together to form the song. It’s all in the arrangement:

Over the rainbow / 15 tracks Swing Girls First&Last Concert Live 2004 - YouTube

In a similar vein, here is another Japanese group of swing kids—Little Cherries—again, mostly girls. The opening song is a swinging version of Glenn Miller’s “Little Brown Jug.” Notice how the basic riff doubles back on itself so that it can then be repeated with a fluid continuity. That’s an essential feature of swing structure. It uses that loop to propel itself forward the same way a satellite uses a planet’s gravity as a slingshot to propel itself further and further out into space. It’s a complex concept but the execution is literally child’s play if the band is trained right and understands the concept—in this case building a composition out of repeatable riffs. With the right training, kids can do it.

チャリティーコムサート&新茶まだ¤ã‚Šã€€èŠ±ã®æœ¨è¾²å*´ - YouTube
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Old 08-20-2013, 09:11 PM   #18 (permalink)
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Hey man, I'm just commenting to tell you that this thread is great. I just stumbled onto it a few hours ago and your super detailed history is complemented with your writing which really draws you into how people can love this music.

As a lover of jazz music myself with not a huge knowledge of it's history, I can't thank you enough for this.
Been making some new music lately, check it out

My MB Journal-I talk about music and stuff!

add me on Steam!

Originally Posted by mr dave
isn't this one of the main reasons for this entire site?

what's next? a thread made specifically to banter about music?
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Old 08-23-2013, 11:37 AM   #19 (permalink)
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Before going on, let's take a break and learn our jazz lingo and hepcat jive:

-ski, -avous: these are two suffixes (derived from Russian and French, respectively) used in flapper parlance to “dress up” normal words. The suffix could be added to any word. There was only one hard and fast rule: if you responded to a question containing a suffix, you had to use the same part of speech somehow. Example: “Would you like a drink-avous?” “No thanks, I’m on the wagon-avous.” “The sun-ski is so bright!” “Put on a hat-ski.”


ab-so-lute-ly: affirmative
Abe's Cabe: five-dollar bill
ace: one-dollar bill
all wet: incorrect
And how!: I strongly agree!
ankle: to walk, i.e.. "Let's ankle!"
apple sauce: flattery, nonsense, i.e.. "Aw, applesauce!"
Attaboy!: well done!; also, Attagirl!
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.


B collar: A dress shirt invented by jazzman Billy Eckstine (known as Mr. B) with a large but loose high-roll collar that forms a sideways “B” in the front allowing the throats of brass- and sax-players to swell while playing without becoming tight. Miles Davis also took to wearing them causing them to become all the rage.
baby: sweetheart; also denotes something of high value or respect
baby grand: heavily built man
baby vamp: an attractive or popular female; student
balled up: confused, messed up
baloney: nonsense
Bank's closed.: no kissing or making out ie. "Sorry, mac, bank's closed."
barrell house: illegal distillery. 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.
bearcat: a hot-blooded or fiery girl
beat it: scram, get lost
beat one's gums: idle chatter
bee's knee's: terrific; a fad expression. Dozens of "animal anatomy" variations existed: elephant's eyebrows, gnat's whistle, eel's hips, etc.
beef: a complaint or to complain
beeswax: business; student
bell bottom: a sailor
belt: a drink of liquor
bent: drunk
berries: (1) perfect (2) money
big cheese: important person
big six: a strong man; from auto advertising, for the new and powerful six cylinder engines
bimbo: a tough guy
bird: general term for a man or woman, sometimes meaning "odd," i.e. "What a funny old bird."
blind: drunk
blotto (1930 at the latest): drunk, especially to an extreme
blow: (1) a crazy party (2) to leave
bohunk: a derogatory name for an Eastern European immigrant; out of use by 1930, except in certain anti-immigrant circles, like the KKK
bootleg: illegal liquor
breezer (1925): a convertable car
bright young thing: a younger partier with wealth and class
brown: whiskey
brown plaid: Scotch whiskey
bubs: breasts
bug-eyed Betty (1927): an unattractive girl; student
bull: (1) a policeman or law-enforcement official, including FBI. (2) nonesense, bull**** (3) to chat idly, to exaggerate
bump off: to kill
bum's rush, the: ejection by force from an establishment
bunny (1925): a term of endearment applied to the lost, confused, etc; often coupled with "poor little"
bus: any old or worn out car
busthead: homemade liquor
bushwa: a euphemism for "bulls-hit"
Butt me.: I'll take a cigarette
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."

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."


Cack: to nap. It’s hard cackin’ on the road between gigs.
cake-eater: a lady's man
caper: a criminal act or robbery
cat's meow: great, also "cat's pajamas" and "cat's whiskers"
cash: a kiss
Cash or check?: Do we kiss now or later?
cast a kitten/have kittens: to have a fit. Used in both humorous and serious situations. i.e. "Stop tickling me or I'll cast a kitten!"
cat: a person, also a hepcat or cool cat. Supposedly derived from a West African word for person.
celestial: derogatory slang for Chinese or East Asians
chassis (1930): the female body
cheaters: eye glasses
check: kiss me later
chewing gum: double-speak, or ambiguous talk
Chicago typewriter: Thompson submachine gun
choice bit of calico: attractive female; student
chopper: a Thompson Sub-Machine Gun, due to the damage its heavy .45 caliber rounds did to the human body
chunk of lead: an unnattractive female; student
ciggy: cigarette
clam: a dollar
Clams --- Mistakes while playing music. Charlie is really layin' down some "clams" tonight.
coffin varnish: bootleg liquor, often poisonous
copacetic: excellent, all in order
crasher: a person who attends a party uninvited
crush: infatuation
cuddler: one who likes to make out
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.'

Chart --- A piece of sheet music specially modified to allow a musician to play along with it in an improv situation. Example: a bassist can walk the bass using a chart without a single bass note written on it. A chart is usually not more than one face of a page that will be fleshed out by the musicians’ improv abilities.

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."

Clinker --- A bad note or one that is fluffed.
Hey, Charlie, that was some "clinker" that you just hit.

Clip joint --- A store or pawnshop where goods are priced higher than they are worth or the merchandise is defective or incomplete but sold at full price.

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 as opposed to “hot”. 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."

Cut --- To leave or depart. Also to completely outdo another person or group in a battle of the bands.
Hey, man, did you see the way that two-bit band "cut" when Basie "cut" them last night.


daddy: a young woman's boyfriend or lover, especially if he's rich
daddy-o: a term of address; strictly an African-American term
dame: a female; did not gain widespread use until the 1930's
dapper: a Flapper's dad
darb: a great person or thing, i.e. "That movie was darb."
dead soldier: an empty beer bottle
deb: a debutant
dewdropper: a young man who sleeps all day and doesn't have a job
dick: a private investigator; coined around 1900, the term finds major recognition in the 20s
dinge: a derogatory term for an African-American; out of use by 1930
dogs: feet
doll: an attractive woman
dolled up: dressed up
don't know from nothing: doesn't have any information
don't take any wooden nickels: don't do anything stupid
dope: drugs, esp. cocaine or opium.
doublecross: to cheat, stab in the back
dough: money
drugstore cowboy: a well-dressed man who loiters in public areas trying to pick up women
drum: speakeasy
dry up: shut up, get lost
ducky: very good
dumb Dora: an absolute idiot, a dumbbell, especially a woman; flapper
dump: roadhouse
Dad, Daddy-o --- A hipster's way of addressing another guy.
Hey, "daddy-o," what's cookin.'

Dark --- Angry or upset (used in the Midwest).
Joe was in a real "dark" mood after Jaco showed up 30 minutes late for the gig.

Dig --- To know or understand completely.
Hey, dad, I been listenin' to what you been doin' and I "dig" that crazy music.

DeeJay, Disk Jockey --- An announcer of records on radio.
Man, he is one crazy "deejay". He spins some cool disks.

Down by law --- is to have paid dues; that is, to have earned respect for your talent or ability to "get down."
Charlie Parker spent years on the road working a lot of dives to fine-tune his craft. He earned every bit of success and recognition he later received. He was "down by law."

Drag --- As a verb—to depress or bring down a person's spirits or, as a noun—a person or thing which depresses.
Let's get outta here, that guy is a real "drag."


earful: enough
edge: intoxication, a buzz. i.e. "I've got an edge."
egg: a person who lives the big life
Ethel: an effeminate male.
The End --- Superlative that is used interchangeably with "too much" or "crazy."
The way Benny blows the clarinet is "the end."


face stretcher: an old woman trying to look young
f-ag: a cigarette; also, starting around 1920, a homosexual.
Fakebook: an assemblage of music charts put into a binder and used by the band as their repertoire. So named because the charts are not the full sheet music of a song but just a single page with the intro, melody, bridge and ending written on the staff lines while chord changes and other instructions are written over the staff lines. Lyrics will also be written on them as required. The musicians do not need the full sheet music as they will “fake” it.
fella: fellow. as common in its day as "man," "dude," or "guy" is today, i.e. "That John sure is a swell fella."
fire extinguisher: a chaperone
fish: (1) a college freshman (2) a first timer in prison
flat tire: a bore
flivver: a Model T; after 1928, could mean any broken down car
floorflusher: an insatiable dancer
flour lover: a girl with too much face powder
fly boy: a glamorous term for an aviator
For crying out loud!: same usage as today
four-flusher: a person who feigns wealth while mooching off others
fried: drunk
futz: a euphemism for "f-uck" i.e. "Don't futz around."
Finger Zinger --- Someone who plays very fast.
Ignasio the new guitarist is a finger zinger on the guitar. Damn, that boy is incredible!

Flip --- A verb meaning to go crazy or a noun meaning an eccentric.
That dude is really cooking, I think he's going to "flip."

Flip your lid --- Same as "Blow your top."
That cat looks crazy. I think he's gonna "flip his lid."

Fly --- Smooth or slick.
Hey, Eddie, did you see the hat-check girl Bernice? Man, she is "fly.."

Fracture --- To inspire or move someone.
You are the funniest guy I know. When you start to tell a joke, it "fractures" me.

Freak Lip --- A pair of kissers that wear like leather; one who can hit high C's all night and play a concert the next day.
Ol' Satchmo, he had a pair of "freak lips!"

Funky --- Earthy or down-to-earth.
That George Clinton is one "funky" cat.
Or something that smells bad.
“Funky butt, funky butt, take it away!”


gams (1930): legs
gasper: cigarette
gas pipe: a clarinet especially when played in a manner that it makes a bleating sound such as used in Jewish klezmer music.
gatecrasher: see "crasher"
gay: happy or lively; no connection to homosexuality; see "***"
Get Hot! Get Hot!: encouragement for a hot dancer doing his or her thing
get-up (1930): an outfit
get a wiggle on: get a move on, get going
get in a lather: get worked up, angry
giggle water: booze
gigolo: dancing partner
gimp: cripple; one who walks with a limp; gangster Dion O’Bannion was called Gimpy due to his noticeable limp
gin mill: a seller of hard liquor; a cheap speakeasy
glad rags: "going out on the town" clothes
go chase yourself: get lost, scram.
gold-digger (1925): a woman who pursues men for their money
goods, the: (1) the right material, or a person who has it (2) the facts, the truth, i.e. "Make sure the cops don't get the goods on you."
goof: (1) a stupid or bumbling person, (2) a boyfriend; flapper.
goofy: in love
grummy: depressed
grungy: envious
Gas --- As a noun—something that moves you. As a verb—to stir up feelings.
The way that guy beats the skins is a real "gas."

Gate --- Early term for a Jazz musician.
Armstrong is the original Swing Jazz player that's why they call used to call him "Gate."

Get Down --- To play or dance superlatively with abandon.
Jaco can really "get down" on the 4-string.

Gig --- A paying job.
I'm playing a gig in the city tonight.

Gone --- Yet another Jazz superlative.
Lester is a real "gone" cat.

Goof --- Fail to carry out a responsibility or wander in attention.
Hey, Leroy, stop "goofin'" when I'm talkin' to ya.

Got your glasses on --- you are ritzy or snooty, you fail to recognize your friends, you are up-stage.

Groovy --- Used in the fifties to denote music that swings or is funky. For a short while in the sixties, groovy was synonymous with cool. The word has been used little since the seventies.
Hey, Jack, dig that "groovy" beat.

Gutbucket ---Gutbucket refers to something to store liquor in and to the type of music associated with heavy drinking. An early term for lowdown or earthy music.
That cat Satchmo started out playing some real "gutbucket" in the houses down in New Orleans.


hair of the dog (1925): a shot of alcohol
half seas over: drunk; also "half under"
handcuff: engagement ring
hard-boiled: a tough person, i.e: "He sure is hard-boiled!"
harp: an Irishman
hayburner: (1) a gas guzzling car (2) a horse one loses money on
heavy sugar (1929): a lot of money
heebie-jeebies (1926): "the shakes," named after a hit song
heeler: a poor dancer
high hat: a snob
hip to the jive: cool, trendy
hit on all sixes: to perform 100 per cent; as "hitting on all six cylinders;" perhaps a more common variation in these days of four cylinder engines was "hit on all fours;" also see "big six".
hoary-eyed: drunk
hooch: booze
hood (late 20s): hoodlum
hooey: bulls-hit, nonsense; very popular from 1925 to 1930, used somewhat thereafter
hop: (1) opiate or marijuana (2) a teen party or dance
hope chest: pack of cigarettes
hopped up: under the influence of drugs
horse linament: bootleg liquor
Hot dawg!: Great!; also: "Hot socks!"
hot sketch: a card or cut-up
Hand me that skin (later modified to Hand me some skin) --- A big expression for "shake, pal."
Hey, whaddya say Rufus, "hand me some skin."

Head or Head Arrangement --- An arrangement of a song that is not written, but remembered by the band members (the tune and progression to improvise on).
Man, Basie's band uses a lot of "heads," not those written arrangements. That's why his band really cooks.

Heat --- Solo space.
Yo, man, I want some "heat" on 'Giant Steps'!

Hep --- A term once used to describe someone who knows or understands. Replaced by "hip" about the same time that cool replaced hot. Some sources believe that "Hep" was the surname of a Chicago gangster of the 1890's.
Dipper Mouth Armstrong is a "hep" cat.

Hide hitter—drummer.
The hide hitter didn't show, so we had to make it a duo.

Hip --- A term used to describe someone who knows or understands. Originally "hep" until the 40's or 50's.
Yardbird Parker is really "hip."

Hipster --- A follower of the various genres of bop jazz in the 50's. These were the precursors of hippies in the 60's.
Those "hipsters" that hang out at Shelly's Manne-Hole are really diggin' the West Coast sound.

Horn --- Any instrument (not necessarily a brass or reed instrument).
That dude can sure blow his "horn.."

Hot --- A term once used to describe "real" jazz. Replaced as a superlative by "cool" in the late 40's or early 50's.
Satchel Mouth Armstrong played some really "hot" jazz in the 20's.

A Hot Plate --- A hot recording.
Boys, I think we got ourselves a "hot plate."


I'm Booted --- I'm hip or I understand. It's cool, man, I know just what you mean, "I'm booted."
"I have to go see a man about a dog.": "I've got to leave now," often meaning to go buy whiskey
icy mitt: rejection
Indian hop: marijuana
insured: engaged
iron (1925): a motorcycle, among motorcycle enthusiasts
iron one’s shoelaces: to go to the restroom
ish kabibble (1925): a retort meaning "I should care," from the name of a musician in the Kay Kayser Orchestra

In the Mix --- Put it together, make it happen.
Put that cat "in the mix," we need a drummer for our upcoming tour.

In the Pocket --- Refers to the rhythm section being really together as in...
Those guys are really in the pocket, tonight.

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 08-23-2013 at 12:07 PM.
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Old 08-23-2013, 11:38 AM   #20 (permalink)
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jack: money
Jake: great, i.e. "Everything's Jake."
Jalopy: a dumpy old car
Jane: any female
java: coffee
jeepers creepers: "Jesus Christ!"
jerk soda: to dispense soda from a tap; thus, "soda jerk"
jigaboo: a derogatory term for an African-American
jitney: a car employed as a private bus; fare was usually five cents, ergo the alternate nickname of "nickel"
joe: coffee
Joe Brooks: a perfectly dressed person; student
john: a toilet
joint: establishment
jorum of skee: a drink of hard liquor
juice joint: a speakeasy
junk: opium
Jack --- Jazz man's term for another person. Often used in a negative manner.
Please don't dominate the rap, "Jack." Hit the road, "Jack."

Jake --- Okay.
Even though nobody seems to like him, that guy is "jake" with me.

Jam --- To improvise.
The band is "jammin'" inside right now.

Jam Session --- A group of jazz players improvising.
You might want go downstairs, Duke's boys are having a "jam session."

Jazz --- The music which is discussed here. May have come from the French jaser—to chatter. May have come from Jasbo Brown—a dancer.
The 1920's was declared the Age of "Jazz."

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.
Also a term for marijuana. “Man, what is this jive?”

JAMF—Jive Ass Motherf-ucker. 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?

Joint: Prison. “Sid’s in the joint again.”
Or a marijuana cigarette: “Hey, man, pass me that joint!”

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.


kale: money
keen: appealing
kike: a derogatory term for a Jewish person
Kill --- To fracture or delight. You "kill" me, man, the way you're always clowning around.
killjoy: a solemn person
kitten: feminine version of "cat." "She's one fine kitten." Although females can also be referred as "cat."
knock up: to make pregnant
know one's onions: to know one's business or what one is talking about


lay off: cut the crap
left holding the bag: (1) to be cheated out of one's fair share (2) to be blamed for something
let George do it: a work evading phrase
level with me: be honest
limey: a British soldier or citizen; from World War I
line: a false story, as in "to feed one a line"
live wire: a lively person
lollapalooza (1930): a humdinger
lollygagger: (1) a young man who enjoys making out (2) an idle person
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.
A lid is also a bag of marijuana.


M: morphine
manacle: wedding ring
mazuma: money
Mick: a derogatory term for Irishmen
milquetoast (1924): a very timid person; from the comic book character Casper Milquetoast, a hen-pecked male
mind your potatoes: mind your own business
mooch: to leave
moonshine: homemade whiskey
mop: a handkerchief
Mrs. Grundy: a prude or kill-joy
mulligan: Irish cop
munitions: face powder

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!!"


neck: to kiss passionately; what would today be called "French kissing"
necker: a girl who wraps her arms around her boyfriend's neck
nifty: great, excellent
noodle juice: tea
nookie: sex
"Not so good!": "I personally disapprove."
"Now you're on the trolley!": "Now you've got it!".
Noodlin'—To just play notes that have no particular meaning to a tune or solo.
Quit "noodlin" cat, let's start working the tune.


ofay: a commonly used Black expression for Whites
off one's nuts: crazy
"Oh yeah!": "I doubt it!"
old boy: a male term of address, used in conversation with other males as a way to denote acceptance in a social environment; also: "old man" or "old fruit"
Oliver Twist: a skilled dancer
on a toot: a drinking binge
on the lam: fleeing from police
on the level: legitimate, honest
on the up and up: on the level
orchid: an expensive item
ossified: drunk
owl: a person who's out late

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.


palooka: (1) a below-average or average boxer (2) a social outsider; from the comic strip character Joe Palooka, who came from humble ethnic roots
panic: to produce a big reaction from one's audience
panther piss/sweat (1925): homemade whiskey
pen yen: opium
percolate: (1) to boil over (2) as of 1925, to run smoothly; "perk"
pet: like necking (see above), only moreso; making out
petting pantry: movie theater
petting party: one or more couples making out in a room or auto
phonus balonus: nonsense
piffle: baloney
piker: (1) a cheapskate (2) a coward
pill: (1) a teacher (2) an unlikable person (3) cigarette
pinch: to arrest
pinched: to be arrested
pinko: liberal
pipe down: stop talking
prom-trotter: a student who attends all school social functions
pos-i-lute-ly: affirmative, also "pos-i-tive-ly"
pull a Daniel Boone: to vomit
punch the bag: small talk
putting on the ritz: after the Ritz Hotel in Paris (and its namesake Caesar Ritz); doing something in high style; also, "ritzy"

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.


quiff: a slut or cheap prostitute


rag-a-muffin: a dirty or disheveled individual
rain pitchforks: a downpour
razz: to make fun of
Real McCoy: a genuine item
regular: normal, typical, average
Reuben: an unsophisticated country bumpkin; also, "rube"
Rhatz!: "How disappointing!" flapper
Roach: a butt of a marijuana cigarette. “Man, save the roach for me!”
rotgut: bootleg liquor
rub: a student dance party
rubes: money or dollars
rummy: a drunken bum
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.


sap: a fool, an idiot; very common term in the 20s
sawbuck: ten-dollar bill
says you: a reaction of disbelief
scratch: money
screaming meemies: the shakes
screw: get lost, get out, etc.; occasionally, in pre 1930 talkies (such as The Broadway Melody) screw is used to tell a character to leave: one film features the line "Go on, go on--screw!"
screwy: crazy; "You're screwy!"
sheba: one's girlfriend
sheik: one's boyfriend
shine box: a bar or club for black patrons
shiv: a knife
simolean: a dollar
sinker: a doughnut
sitting pretty: in a prime position
skee: Scotch whiskey
skirt: an attractive female
smarty: a cute flapper
smoke-eater: a smoker
smudger: a close dancer
snort: a drink of liquor
sockdollager: an action having a great impact
so's your old man: a reply of irritation
spade: yet another derogatory term for an African-American
speakeasy: a bar selling illeagal liquor
spill: to talk
splifficated: drunk
spoon: to neck, or at least talk of love
static: (1) empty talk (2) conflicting opinion
stilts: legs
strike-me-dead: bootleg liquor
struggle: modern dance
stuck on: in love; student.
sugar daddy: older boyfriend who showers girlfriend with gifts in exchange for sex
swanky: (1) good (2) elegant
swell: (1) good (2) a high class person
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.


take someone for a ride: to take someone to a deserted location and murder them
tasty: appealing
tea: marijuana
teenager: not a common term until 1930; before then, the term was "young adults."
tell it to Sweeney: tell it to someone who'll believe it
three-letter man: homosexual
tight: attractive
Tin Pan Alley: the center of the music industry in New York City, located between 48th and 52nd Streets
tomato: a "ripe" female
torpedo: a hired thug or hitman
trip for biscuits: wild goose chase

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.

Two-feel --- When the bass plays a number or part of a number in root-fifth pattern consisting of two half-notes in 4/4 time.


unreal: special
upchuck: to vomit
upstage: snobby


vamp: (1) a seducer of men, an aggressive flirt (2) to seduce
viper: a pot smoker due to the hissing sound that hitting a joint produces.
voot: money


water-proof: a face that doesn't require make-up
wet blanket: see Killjoy
white lightning: bootleg liquor
wife: dorm roomate; student.
"What's eating you?": "What's wrong?"
whoopee: wild fun
Woof! Woof!: ridicule
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.



"You slay me!": "That's funny!"


zozzled: drunk
Zoot --- Used in the thirties and forties to describe exaggerated clothes, especially a zoot suit. The suit was composed of expensive material, baggy pants with tight cuffs, a drape coat with padded shoulders and wide lapels, a wide-brim hat sometimes with a large feather, expensive dress shoes, a B collar shirt, a fancy tie and a long watch chain. The colors of the zoot suits were very loud and even clashed. A pimp’s ostentatious dress is derived from the zoot suit. Young Mexicans that adopted the look became known as pachucos. During the war, Zooters were seen by other Americans as unpatriotic and attacked on the streets by sailors and marines and later the police resulting in “the zoot suit riots” of 1943.
Look at that cat's "zoot" suit. It's crazy, man.

Last edited by Lord Larehip; 08-23-2013 at 12:04 PM.
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