Ax - An instrument or horn: Charlie Parker’s axe was his alto saxophone. Extended to mean any line of work: Ernest Hemingway’s axe was his typewriter.
Blowing Room - Sufficient improvisational time allowed a musician in which to develop his musical ideas: Each soloist has plenty of blowing room.
Brushes - A pair of thin, wire drumsticks used to give the drums a soft, muted sound: Jo Jones’ brushwork was impeccable.
Burnin' - Used to describe a particularly emotional or technically excellent solo: Hey, man, did you hear that burnin' solo by Lee Morgan?
Cat - Any person, usually male: All Jazz musicians from New Orleans called each other "cats" and still do.
Changes - The harmonic progression of a composition, i.e., the chord changes for whatever melody is being used for improvisation: Jackie McLean has a uniquely ingenious way of making the changes with breathtaking ease and subtlety.
Chops - A musician’s lips, and by extension, the use a musician makes of his embouchure or of his natural equipment, i.e., technique: Charlie Parker’s chops were almost superhuman.
Chorus - One or more thirty-two bar choruses played by an instrumentalist, usually with rhythmic support: John Coltrane played chorus after chorus of intense, mind bending saxophone.
Clam - A clinker or misplayed note: The trumpeter just didn’t sound right, he kept hitting clam after clam.
Comp - Shortened form of accompany, wherein a pianist or guitarist comp while a soloist plays, filling in rhythmic punctuations and syncopation: Most soloists believe John Hicks is one of the best compers in town.
Cook - To play with rhythmic inspiration: Big Nick’s band absolutely cooked.
Cutting Contest - A form of musical competition joined in by bands or individual musicians, in essence a battle of the bands or musicians: Coleman Hawkins was the king of cutting contests; when he walked in, every other tenor player just packed up his horn.
Dig - To understand, often to penetrate a hidden meaning, introduced into Jazz speech by Louis Armstrong: I dig good Jazz when I hear it.
Flagwaver - A spectacular piece of music or part of a musical performance intended to excite listeners and win their applause: The things that people liked about Benny Goodman’s band were Gene Krupa’s drum solos and Harry James' screaming, high note trumpet, the flagwaving.
Fours - A musical chase in which the soloists play four bars or measures of music, each: When Zoot Sims and Al Cohn traded fours, the excitement level always went up a notch or two.
Gig - A job, such as club appearance or concert: He picked up the bass fiddle after a long layoff and began working nightclub gigs.
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):
Count Basie's band uses a lot of heads, not those written arrangements and that's why his band really cooks.
Hip - Wise, knowing: I know all about the blues, I’m hip to it.
In the Pocket - Refers to the rhythm section being really together: Those guys are really in the pocket, tonight.
Jam Session - A gathering in a nightclub or studio in which a group of musicians gather informally and improvise at length on a few numbers. These gatherings are usually held after work hours, with an audience consisting of other musicians and devotees.
Lick - A musical phrase: His licks are original, even though he sounds just like Dizzy Gillespie.
Line – A melody or bit of melodic continuity used in the building of an improvised chorus: Bird’s line on ‘The Song Is You’ is a database of licks still played by musicians striving to be hip.
Mainstream – Of music or a musician, characteristic of or belonging to a school or style of Jazz that has roots in the Swing period: Mainstream Jazz really swings.
Mean – Statement of quality; earthy and primitive: That cat plays some mean tenor sax.
Mellow – Pleasing, excellent: His girlfriend is really mellow.
Moldy Fig -- During the Bop era, fans and players of the new music used this term to describe fans and players of the earlier New Orleans Jazz: The Moldy Figs are certain the best Jazz was played in New Orleans before 1915.
Noodlin' - To just play music in a tentative, exploratory and sometimes desultory manner: Quit noodlin’ and play some real music!
Out to Lunch -- Same as lame: That guy is out to lunch, I can't stand the way he plays the trombone.
Pad - One’s home be it a house, apartment or bed: Why don’t you come by my pad and listen to the new Miles Davis record.
Pots Are On – The music is exciting, thrilling: As soon as I walked in the club, I could hear that the pots were really on.
Pull One’s Coat – To bring to someone’s attention: It was Brother Mark who first pulled my coat to Dexter Gordon.
Quit The Scene – To leave, and by extension, to die: Bird had a troubled life and quit the scene much, much too early.
Release - The third group of four measures in a common form of sixteen-bar chorus, which supplies a bridge between repetitions of the melody; the phrase “B” in themes of the A, A, B, A sequence: Check out the release of Monk’s tune, "‘Round Midnight."
Riff - Short, ostinato melodic figures, sometimes against which one instrument improvises: The repeated phrases which the Basie band’s brass and reed sections threw back and forth became known as riffs.
Scat - Improvised lyrics as nonsense syllables; reportedly originated on the "Hot Five" song "Heebie Jeebies" when Louis Armstrong dropped his lyrics and had to keep singing, so he improvised a wordless vocal: I really dig the way Dizzy sings scat.
Scene - A place or atmosphere; center of activity for musicians: In the late twenties, the real Jazz scene was in Chicago.
Sharp - Fashionable: He loved to dress sharp.
Smokin' - Playing with great skill and intensity: Last night at the Village Vanguard, Coltrane was absolutely smokin’.
Solid - A swing-era superlative which is little used today: Little Jazz can blow up a storm, he's really "solid."
Square - An un-hip person: When it came to his choice in music, Richard Nixon was really square.
Stretch Out – To play music over a period of time sufficiently long enough to permit a thorough exploration of one’s theme: Some of these tunes are so short that nobody has a chance to stretch out and blow on it.
Stroll – To refrain from playing: No piano on that song because the pianist decided to stroll.
Tag - Used to end the tune, repeating the last phrase three times: Check out the tag that Dizzy put on "‘Round Midnight.”
Take five - A way of telling someone to take a five minute break: After we finish this tune, let’s all take five.
Take it out – Move into the final chorus, conclude the piece: After soloists, the vocalist will take it out.
Tell a story – To communicate significantly, i.e. what one most profoundly feels: Lots of other cats can play the trumpet but when Lee Morgan picks up the horn, he always tells a story.
Too much – Very good: When she sings, it’s just too much.
Wail - To play a tune extremely well; burn, cook: Basie's band can really "wail."
Walking bass or walking rhythm - an energetic four-beat rhythm pattern: I really dig the way Errol Garner plays, working the melody with his left hand and a "walking bass" with his right.
Woodshed (or Shed) - To practice: Duke was up all night shedin' that untouchable lick.