The Ultimate Jazz Glossary

The Ultimate Jazz Glossary: A Comprehensive Guide

Welcome to The Ultimate Jazz Glossary on Nextbop.com, your definitive guide through the vibrant vocabulary of jazz music.

This glossary unravels the intricate web of jazz terminology, the legendary figures who’ve defined its sound, and the pivotal concepts that have propelled the genre forward.

From the complex beauty of Coltrane‘s changes to the dynamic intensity behind “sheets of sound,” our glossary is your key to unlocking the wonders and depth of jazz.

Embark with us on an explorative odyssey into jazz’s unique vernacular, enhancing your understanding and appreciation of this mesmerizing art form.


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Jazz Glossary – A


A Section

The A Section is the initial part of a musical form or composition, often serving as the main theme or melody. In jazz, it sets the tone and establishes the harmonic foundation for improvisations. It’s typically repeated and contrasted with other sections (like the B section) in various song forms, including the popular AABA structure.

AABA

AABA refers to a musical form consisting of four sections, with the first, second, and fourth sections (A sections) being musically identical, and the third section (B section) providing a contrasting melody or theme. This structure is common in jazz standards and popular music, allowing for thematic development and improvisation within a familiar framework.

Absolute Pitch

Absolute Pitch, also known as perfect pitch, is the rare ability to identify or recreate a musical note without any reference pitch. In jazz, musicians with absolute pitch can immediately recognize and play chords, intervals, and melodies accurately. This skill enhances improvisation and the ability to play by ear, contributing to a musician’s versatility and expressiveness.

Accent

In music, an accent marks a note as emphasized or stronger than those around it. Accents add rhythmical interest and expression to performances, highlighting specific notes or beats. In jazz, accents are crucial for creating swing, syncopation, and dynamics, contributing to the genre’s distinctive rhythmic complexity and expressiveness.

Acid Jazz

Acid Jazz combines elements of jazz, funk, soul, and hip-hop. Emerging in the late 1980s and early 1990s, it’s characterized by its groove-based compositions, extensive use of samples, and incorporation of live instrumentation. Acid Jazz provided a revitalizing twist to traditional jazz, appealing to younger audiences and influencing contemporary electronic music.

Ad Lib

Ad lib, short for “ad libitum,” means to perform freely or improvise. In jazz, ad lib sections are moments where musicians can spontaneously create melodies, rhythms, or solos, not strictly adhering to the written composition. This freedom is a cornerstone of jazz, showcasing the performer’s creativity, technical skill, and emotional expression.

Afro-Cuban Jazz

Afro-Cuban Jazz is a fusion of jazz improvisation and rhythms from Cuba and Africa, characterized by its use of Afro-Cuban percussion instruments such as congas, bongos, and timbales. This genre combines the harmonic complexity of jazz with the rich rhythmic structures of Afro-Cuban music, producing a vibrant, danceable sound. Dizzy Gillespie and Mario Bauzá are among its pioneers.

Afro-Cuban Rhythms

Afro-Cuban rhythms are a blend of African and Cuban musical traditions, characterized by complex, syncopated patterns and polyrhythms. These rhythms are foundational to Latin jazz and salsa, bringing energetic beats and danceable grooves. Instruments like congas, bongos, and timbales play pivotal roles in producing these captivating sounds.

Air Check

An air check is a recording of a radio broadcast. In the jazz world, air checks have historically preserved live performances, interviews, and special moments that were not otherwise recorded. These recordings offer invaluable insights into the evolution of jazz, capturing the spontaneity and energy of live radio sessions.

All-In

All-In refers to a musical situation where every participant plays together, often culminating in a powerful ensemble sound. In jazz, “all-in” moments can occur during big band performances or jam sessions where the full ensemble joins in after solos, creating a rich tapestry of sound that showcases the collective energy and creativity of the musicians.

Altered Chord

An altered chord is a chord that has had one or more of its notes changed from its original diatonic form, usually through chromatic alteration. In jazz, altered chords are used to add tension, dissonance, and color to chord progressions, leading to more expressive and complex harmonic landscapes. These alterations can include sharp or flat fifth, ninth, or eleventh intervals.

Altered Scale

The altered scale, also known as the super locrian scale, is derived from the melodic minor scale and is used over dominant 7th chords with altered extensions (b9, #9, #11, b13). It’s a tool for jazz improvisation that allows musicians to play over complex chord changes with a coherent set of notes, providing tension and resolution within solo lines.

Alternate Takes

Alternate takes in jazz recordings refer to different versions of the same track recorded during a session. These takes can vary in improvisation, tempo, dynamics, and interpretation, offering insights into the creative process of jazz musicians. Alternate takes are often released alongside the primary take on albums, showcasing the exploratory nature of jazz performance.

Angry Man of Jazz (The): Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus, known as “The Angry Man of Jazz,” was a virtuoso bassist, accomplished pianist, bandleader, and one of the most important composers in jazz history. His passionate and fiery personality was reflected in his innovative compositions and performances, which combined the soulfulness of gospel, the complexity of classical music, and the freedom of jazz improvisation.

Approach Note

An Approach Note is a note played immediately before a target note, typically part of a melody or solo line in jazz. Approach notes can be chromatic or diatonic and are used to embellish the melody, create tension, or smooth transitions between notes. They are a fundamental tool in jazz improvisation, adding nuance and complexity to solos.

Arco

Arco is a technique used by string players where the bow is drawn across the strings to produce sound, as opposed to pizzicato, where the strings are plucked. In jazz, arco playing adds a lyrical, orchestral texture to compositions and improvisations, allowing bassists and violinists to explore a wider range of dynamics and expressions.

Arpeggio

An arpeggio is the playing of the notes of a chord sequentially rather than simultaneously. In jazz, arpeggios are foundational to both improvisation and melody construction, helping musicians navigate chord changes fluidly. Mastery of arpeggios enables jazz players to outline harmony in their solos, creating a direct connection between melody and underlying chord structures.

Arrangement

An arrangement in jazz is a reworking or adaptation of a musical composition that specifies how a piece is to be performed, including instrumentation, harmony, rhythm, and sometimes specific solos. Jazz arrangements can range from small combos to big bands, each bringing a unique interpretation and flavor to the original composition.

Arranger

An arranger in jazz is responsible for creating arrangements of tunes, determining the musical direction and texture of a piece. The arranger decides on aspects like orchestration, voicings, counterpoint, and stylistic nuances, tailoring compositions to suit the ensemble’s strengths. This role is crucial in jazz, where interpretation and personal expression are key.

Arrhythmic

Arrhythmic music lacks a regular beat or rhythm, making it unpredictable and often challenging to follow. In jazz, arrhythmic elements may be used creatively to add tension or to emphasize expressiveness in improvisation. These moments can highlight a musician’s skill in maintaining musicality without relying on a predictable rhythmic structure.

Articulation

Articulation in jazz refers to the method by which notes are executed and connected, affecting the tone, attack, decay, and overall expression of the music. Jazz musicians use a variety of articulations, such as staccato, legato, accents, and ghost notes, to convey emotion, swing, and personal style within their performances.

Atonal

Atonal music rejects the traditional framework of tonality and does not adhere to a key center. In jazz, atonal elements are used to explore new sonic landscapes, creating music that emphasizes texture, timbre, and dynamic expression over harmonic progression. This approach allows musicians to venture beyond conventional harmonic boundaries, offering a realm of limitless possibilities in improvisation and composition.

Attack

In jazz, attack refers to the manner in which a note is initiated. It influences the note’s volume, tone, and articulation, significantly affecting the overall expression of a piece. Jazz musicians meticulously control their attack to convey different emotions, using techniques ranging from soft, breathy entrances to sharp, percussive hits, each choice contributing to the unique voice and style of the performer.

Augmented

An augmented chord is a triad consisting of a root note, a major third, and an augmented fifth (raised by a half step). In jazz, augmented chords are used to add tension and color, often functioning as transitional harmonies or to embellish dominant chords. Their distinctive sound provides a stepping stone to modulations or richer harmonic landscapes within a piece.

Augmented 7th (+7)

The augmented 7th chord, not traditionally recognized in classical theory, can be seen in jazz as a dominant 7th chord with an augmented fifth. It’s a tension-filled chord used for dramatic effect, leading either to the tonic in a resolution or further into complex chord sequences. This chord enriches harmonic progressions with its dissonance, urging resolution and adding depth to jazz compositions.

Augmentation

Augmentation in music refers to the lengthening of note values within a theme or motif, effectively slowing down the melodic material. In jazz, augmentation is used as a compositional and improvisational device, offering a contrast in rhythmic feel and allowing musicians to explore thematic material in a more expansive, expressive manner. It adds a layer of sophistication to solos and arrangements.

Avant-Garde Jazz

Avant-Garde Jazz is a subgenre that pushes the boundaries of traditional jazz through experimental techniques, atonality, and free improvisation. Emerging in the mid-20th century, it challenges conventional jazz norms to explore new textures, forms, and harmonic concepts. Musicians like Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane are pivotal figures, known for their innovative contributions that expanded the language of jazz.

Axe

In jazz slang, “axe” is an affectionate term for a musical instrument. Originally used by jazz musicians in informal contexts, it signifies the close relationship and deep personal connection between the musician and their instrument, be it a saxophone, guitar, piano, or any tool of their trade. The term reflects the camaraderie and vernacular within the jazz community.


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Jazz Glossary – B


B Section

The B Section refers to the middle part of a 32-bar AABA or ABAC song form, commonly found in jazz standards. It contrasts with the A sections by introducing new melodies or chord progressions, providing a compositional contrast that enriches the overall structure of the piece. This section is often referred to as the “bridge.”

Baby Sweets: Walter Perkins

Walter Perkins, affectionately known as “Baby Sweets,” was a renowned jazz drummer known for his delicate touch, nuanced approach, and swinging rhythm. His nickname reflects the sweetness and subtlety of his playing style, which made him a sought-after musician in the jazz scene.

Backbeat

The back beat refers to the emphasis on the second and fourth beats in 4/4 time, a fundamental aspect of rhythm in jazz, as well as in blues and rock ‘n’ roll. This emphasis creates a driving, swing feel that propels the music forward, encouraging movement and contributing to the groove that is essential to jazz’s energetic and dynamic nature.

Backdoor

A Backdoor progression in jazz is a harmonic movement that approaches the tonic chord from a subdominant or related minor chord, rather than the traditional dominant chord. This subtle, unexpected resolution creates a smooth, sophisticated sound in jazz compositions and improvisations, offering an alternative to more predictable harmonic paths.

Bags: Milt Jackson

Milt Jackson, nicknamed “Bags,” was a legendary vibraphonist and a founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. His nickname was derived from the bags under his eyes. Jackson’s playing was characterized by its bluesy lyricism, rich tonal palette, and fluid improvisation, making him one of the most influential vibraphonists in jazz.

Ballad

In jazz, a ballad is a slow, emotive composition that showcases expressive, lyrical improvisation. Ballads often feature themes of love, loss, or reflection, offering musicians the space to explore deep emotional resonance and technical nuance within their performances. The restrained tempo of ballads demands a high level of control and sensitivity, highlighting the intimate connection between the artist and their expression.

Bar

A bar, or measure, is a segment of time in music defined by a given number of beats, organized according to the piece’s time signature. In jazz, the bar is the basic unit of structure in a tune, serving as a framework for harmonic progressions, rhythmic patterns, and improvisational phrases. Understanding and manipulating bars is crucial for timing, phrasing, and interacting within a jazz ensemble.

Baron: Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus, also known as “The Baron,” was a figure of nobility in the world of jazz, not only for his imposing presence but also for his sophisticated compositions and the aristocratic command with which he led his ensembles. His music was ambitious and emotionally charged, pushing the boundaries of jazz composition and performance.

Barrelhouse

Barrelhouse refers to a robust, percussive style of piano playing associated with early jazz and blues music, characterized by its raucous, rhythmic intensity. Originating in the informal drinking establishments of the American South, this style features strong, repetitive left-hand patterns supporting melodic improvisations in the right hand, creating a lively and dynamic sound that lays the foundation for boogie-woogie and later jazz forms.

Bass Drum

In jazz, the bass drum serves as a foundational component of the rhythm section, providing the low-end beat that anchors the ensemble’s timing and groove. Played with a foot pedal, it offers a versatile range of sounds from subtle pulses to emphatic accents. The bass drum’s role can vary from maintaining a steady beat in traditional jazz to more complex, syncopated patterns in modern styles, contributing significantly to the music’s rhythmic complexity and drive.

More on the Bass Drum

Bean: Coleman Hawkins a.k.a. “Hawk”

Coleman Hawkins, known as “Bean” and “Hawk,” was a pioneering tenor saxophonist whose robust, innovative playing established the saxophone as a leading jazz instrument. His nickname “Bean” came from his keen intellect and perhaps from his head shape, while “Hawk” emphasized his sharp, soaring improvisation style.

Beat

The beat is the basic unit of time in music, the pulse that underlies a piece’s rhythm. In jazz, the beat is not just a metronomic tick but a fluid concept, often played around with through syncopation, swinging rhythms, and improvisational flexibility. Jazz musicians might stretch, compress, or play off the beat, creating a sense of swing or groove that is central to the genre’s expressive depth.

Bebop

Bebop is a complex and highly improvisational style of jazz that emerged in the 1940s, characterized by fast tempos, intricate melodies, and advanced harmonies. Pioneered by musicians such as Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, bebop marked a shift from danceable big band music to a more artistically challenging form focused on musical innovation and virtuosity, influencing countless jazz styles that followed.

Behind the Beat

Playing behind the beat is a stylistic nuance in jazz where musicians deliberately delay their notes slightly beyond the expected beat. This technique creates a laid-back, relaxed feel, adding emotional depth and a sense of swing to the performance. It requires a high degree of musical sensitivity and communication within the ensemble to maintain cohesion while employing this expressive timing.

Betty Bebop: Betty Carter

Betty Carter, known as “Betty Bebop,” was a jazz vocalist renowned for her unique musical vision, improvisational skill, and complex bebop-influenced scat singing. Her nickname pays homage to her mastery of the bebop style, making her a pivotal figure in the evolution of jazz vocals.

Big Band

A big band is a large jazz ensemble typically comprising saxophones, trumpets, trombones, and a rhythm section (piano, bass, drums, and sometimes guitar). Popular from the 1920s to the 1940s, big bands were the backbone of the swing era, performing arrangements that highlighted section work, solo improvisations, and the dynamic interplay between brass and reed sections, all driven by powerful rhythmic support.

Bird: Charlie Parker a.k.a. “Yardbird”

Charlie Parker, universally known as “Bird” or “Yardbird,” was an alto saxophonist and a leading figure in the development of bebop. His nickname “Bird” is attributed to his free-spirited approach to life and music, much like a bird in flight. Parker’s innovative techniques and harmonic ideas had a profound impact on the direction of jazz.

Bird Blues

Bird Blues, named after Charlie “Bird” Parker, refers to a specific blues chord progression that incorporates several harmonic substitutions typical of bebop music. This form adds complexity and variety to the traditional 12-bar blues structure, showcasing the innovative harmonic concepts introduced by Parker and other bebop musicians.

Bitonality

Bitonality in jazz refers to the simultaneous use of two different key centers or tonalities, creating a complex, layered harmonic texture. This technique challenges traditional harmonic conventions, introducing dissonance and ambiguity that can enhance the expressive range of a composition. Bitonality requires sophisticated understanding of harmony and is used to evoke a wide array of emotional responses and sonic landscapes.

Bix: Leon Bismarck Beiderbecke

Leon Bismarck “Bix” Beiderbecke was one of the first great white jazz musicians, celebrated for his beautiful tone, lyrical solos, and inventive improvisation on the cornet and piano. Despite his short life, Bix’s contributions to jazz were immense, influencing generations of musicians with his distinctive musical voice.

Block Chords

Block chords involve playing chords in a locked, homophonic manner where melody and harmony move together in parallel motion. In jazz, this technique is often used by pianists to create a rich, full sound by harmonizing each note of the melody with chords underneath. Pioneered by musicians like George Shearing, block chords add depth and texture to arrangements and solo improvisations.

Blow

In jazz slang, to “blow” means to play a wind instrument or to improvise solos regardless of the instrument. The term captures the essence of jazz performance, emphasizing creativity, expression, and the spontaneous creation of music. “Blowing” sessions, where musicians take turns improvising solos, are a fundamental part of jazz culture, fostering skill development and musical dialogue.

Blowing over changes

“Blowing over changes” is a jazz term that describes improvising over the chord progressions of a song. Jazz musicians “blow” (play) solos that creatively navigate and embellish the underlying “changes” (chord progressions), showcasing their technical skill, harmonic knowledge, and expressive capability.

Blue: Richard Allen “Blue” Mitchell

Richard Allen “Blue” Mitchell was a trumpet player known for his warm, lyrical playing style. The nickname “Blue” captures both the emotional depth of his music and the cool, soulful tone of his trumpet sound, making him a beloved figure in the hard bop and soul jazz movements.

Blue Notes

Blue notes are pitches that are sung or played at a slightly lower pitch than that of the major scale for expressive purposes. These notes, typically the third, fifth, and seventh degrees of the scale, are a defining feature of jazz and blues music, contributing to the genres’ distinctive emotional depth and tonal color. The use of blue notes adds a sense of tension and release, sorrow, and longing to the music.

Blues

Blues is a genre of music that originated in the African American communities in the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century. It lays the foundation for jazz and features distinctive use of blue notes, call and response patterns, and specific chord progressions, often the twelve-bar blues. Blues has deeply influenced jazz, giving rise to many styles and contributing to jazz’s emotional depth, expressiveness, and improvisational nature.

Boogaloo

Boogaloo is a genre of Latin music and dance that emerged in the 1960s in New York City, blending R&B and soul with traditional Latin rhythms. In jazz, boogaloo influences led to the creation of lively, danceable tunes that incorporate catchy melodies, a strong backbeat, and elements of Afro-Cuban music. This fusion genre showcases the adaptability of jazz to incorporate diverse musical styles, offering a groovy, accessible sound.

Boogie Woogie

Boogie Woogie is a dynamic style of blues piano playing characterized by its fast tempo, repetitive bass figures, and swinging rhythms. Developed in the early 20th century, this style heavily influenced the development of jazz, particularly swing and early rock and roll. Boogie Woogie is notable for its energetic rhythm, which encourages dancing, and for laying the groundwork for rhythm sections in jazz ensembles.

Book

In jazz, a “book” refers to a collection of musical arrangements or compositions that a band or musician uses. It can include original compositions, standard tunes, and arrangements. Having a “good book” means possessing a diverse and interesting set of pieces that can be performed at gigs. The term reflects the importance of repertoire in jazz, emphasizing the need for versatility and depth in performances.

Book: Booker Ervin

Booker Ervin, known as “Book,” was a tenor saxophonist with a powerful, driving sound and an adventurous approach to improvisation. His nickname likely refers to his scholarly demeanor or the “book” of original compositions he brought to sessions, showcasing his deep musical knowledge and creativity.

Boot It

“Boot It” in jazz slang refers to playing with vigor, intensity, or driving force. It’s often used to encourage musicians to put more energy into their performance, especially during solos or lively passages. This term captures the dynamic spirit of jazz, highlighting the genre’s emphasis on emotion, expression, and the power of live performance to engage and excite audiences.

Bootleg

In the context of jazz, a bootleg recording is an unauthorized or unofficial recording of a performance, often made without the consent of the artist or the venue. These recordings, while illegal, have historically played a significant role in jazz by preserving live performances that might otherwise have been lost. They offer invaluable insights into the evolution of jazz and the live experience of improvisation.

Bop

Bop, also known as Bebop, is a complex, fast-paced style of jazz that emerged in the 1940s. Characterized by intricate melodies, advanced harmonies, and high levels of improvisation, bop marked a shift towards music that was more artistically challenging and less dance-oriented. Pioneered by artists like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, bop is celebrated for its technical virtuosity and for pushing the boundaries of jazz.

Bossa Nova

Bossa Nova is a music genre from Brazil that blends samba rhythms with elements of jazz. Emerging in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it’s known for its smooth, mellow sound and complex harmonies. Artists like Stan Getz and João Gilberto popularized Bossa Nova internationally, leading to its integration into jazz. The genre’s influence is evident in jazz through its relaxed tempo, lyrical melodies, and sophisticated chord progressions.

Bounce

In jazz, “bounce” refers to a rhythmic quality that gives the music a lively, upbeat feel, encouraging movement and dance. It’s associated with a swinging rhythm or a groove that propels the music forward, creating a sense of spontaneity and joy. Bounce is essential in making jazz music feel dynamic and accessible, highlighting the genre’s ability to evoke a wide range of emotions and physical responses.

Bounce: George Mraz

George Mraz, nicknamed “Bounce,” was a bassist celebrated for his exceptional technique, rhythmic precision, and the buoyant energy he brought to his performances. His nickname reflects the lively, elastic quality of his playing, which added a vibrant pulse to any ensemble he was part of.

Box

“Box” is a slang term in jazz referring to the piano. The term reflects the instrument’s central role in jazz ensembles as both a harmonic foundation and a lead instrument for solos. The piano’s versatility allows for a broad range of expressions, from comping behind soloists to driving the rhythm. The “box” is pivotal in shaping the sound and direction of jazz performances, showcasing the pianist’s creativity and skill.

Break

A break in jazz is a moment where the main instrumental or vocal part pauses, allowing a soloist a brief solo improvisation or to introduce a new theme. This technique creates dramatic tension and release, showcasing individual musicianship within the context of a piece. Breaks are a hallmark of jazz’s emphasis on spontaneity and interaction, often leading to some of the most memorable moments in a performance.

Bridge

The bridge in jazz refers to a contrasting section within a song, typically occurring in the middle of a piece following the A sections in an AABA form. It offers a departure in melody, harmony, or rhythm from the main theme, providing variety and contrast before returning to the original material. The bridge is crucial for creating structural complexity and emotional depth within a jazz composition.

Broken Intervals

Broken Intervals in jazz refer to playing the notes of an interval separately rather than simultaneously. This technique adds rhythmic variety and melodic interest to solos and melodies. By breaking up intervals, musicians can create more intricate and engaging lines that move beyond simple chord tones.

Brother: Brother Jack McDuff

Brother Jack McDuff was an organist and bandleader known for his soulful, blues-inflected style and his leadership in the soul jazz genre. His moniker “Brother” signifies the deep sense of camaraderie and spiritual connection he fostered among musicians, bringing a familial warmth to his music.

Brother Ray: Ray Charles

Ray Charles, also known as “Brother Ray” and “The High Priest,” was a pioneering musician whose work transcended genre boundaries, blending jazz, soul, R&B, gospel, and blues. “Brother Ray” emphasizes his role as a musical and spiritual guide, deeply influencing the sound and soul of American music.

Brownie: Clifford Brown

Clifford Brown, affectionately known as “Brownie,” was a trumpet player known for his virtuosity, warm tone, and inventive solos. Despite his tragically short career, Brownie’s joyful spirit and musical genius left an indelible mark on the jazz world, inspiring countless musicians with his integrity and innovation.

Brushes

Brushes are a type of drumstick used by jazz drummers to produce a softer, more textured sound than traditional sticks. They consist of a bundle of metal wires or nylon bristles and are often used for ballads, swing, and other styles requiring a light touch. Brushes allow for nuanced dynamics and are essential for creating the smooth, flowing rhythms characteristic of many jazz genres.

Brute (The), Frog: Ben Webster

Ben Webster, known as “The Brute” and “Frog,” was a tenor saxophonist whose robust, breathy sound and emotional depth made him a key figure in the swing era and beyond. “The Brute” references his powerful playing, while “Frog” hints at his distinctive, gruff timbre.

Bu: Art Blakey

Art Blakey, known as “Bu,” was a drummer and bandleader whose dynamic, explosive style helped define the sound of hard bop. His nickname “Bu,” shortened from “Abdullah” after converting to Islam, reflects his spiritual journey and his pivotal role in mentoring young musicians, earning him the status of a jazz luminary.


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Jazz Glossary – C


Cadence

A Cadence in jazz refers to a sequence of chords that brings a section of music to a close, signaling the end of a phrase or a piece. Cadences can be conclusive, providing a sense of finality, or inconclusive, creating a sense of anticipation. In jazz, cadences are essential for the harmonic structure of compositions, guiding improvisations and transitions between sections.

Cakewalk

The cakewalk was a pre-jazz dance form and musical style that originated among African American slaves, mocking the refined dance movements of their white owners. It evolved into a competitive dance, with the best performers winning cakes as prizes. Its syncopated rhythm and playful spirit influenced early jazz, contributing to the development of ragtime and stride piano styles.

Call and Response

Call and response is a foundational element in jazz, rooted in African musical traditions. It involves a statement by one musician or group (the call) followed by an immediate answer from another musician or group (the response). This interactive dialogue fosters a sense of community and communication within the music, allowing for improvisation and the blending of individual voices into a cohesive whole.

Cannonball: Julian Adderley

Julian “Cannonball” Adderley was an alto saxophonist known for his exuberant playing and pioneering role in the hard bop movement. His nickname, derived from “cannibal” due to his voracious appetite, hints at his robust, powerful approach to saxophone playing, which left a significant mark on jazz history.

Cat

In the jazz vernacular, “Cat” is a term of endearment used to refer to a jazz musician. It implies a sense of camaraderie, respect, and acknowledgment of one’s skills and contributions to the jazz scene. Being called a “cat” is a badge of honor among jazz musicians, signifying acceptance into the community.

Cat (The): Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith, “The Cat,” revolutionized the jazz organ, bringing it to the forefront of jazz with his innovative use of the Hammond B-3. His nickname reflects his cool demeanor and sleek, agile playing style, which combined blues, R&B, and bebop influences into an exciting new sound.

Cell

A Cell in jazz music is a short, recognizable melodic motif or rhythmic pattern used as a building block for composition or improvisation. Cells can be repeated, varied, or combined with other cells to create complex musical structures. This technique allows for thematic development and cohesion within a piece.

Chachacha

The chachacha is a style of Latin music that influenced jazz in the mid-20th century. Characterized by its rhythmic pattern and named after the sound of dancers’ shoes, it contributed to the development of Latin jazz. Jazz musicians incorporated its rhythms and sensibilities, blending them with jazz harmonies and improvisation, enriching the genre’s rhythmic and cultural diversity.

Chairman of the Board: Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra, also known as “Ol’ Blue Eyes” and “The Voice,” earned the title “Chairman of the Board” for his unparalleled influence in the music industry. His impeccable phrasing, emotional depth, and powerful presence made him a defining voice of American popular song and a lasting icon in jazz and beyond.

Changes

In jazz, “changes” refers to the chord progressions that form the harmonic foundation of a composition. Musicians improvise melodies and solos based on these changes, exploring the tonal possibilities they offer. Understanding and navigating changes is a critical skill for jazz musicians, allowing them to communicate and interact creatively within the framework of a song.

Charanga

Charanga is a type of Cuban dance music ensemble that became influential in the development of Latin jazz. Characterized by flute, violin, rhythm section, and sometimes vocals, charangas blend traditional Cuban rhythms with jazz harmonies and improvisation. This fusion introduced new textures and sounds to jazz, highlighting the genre’s capacity for cultural exchange and innovation.

Charleston Rhythm

The Charleston Rhythm is a syncopated musical pattern originating from the Charleston dance of the 1920s. Characterized by its distinctive “long-short” rhythm, it has been adopted and adapted in jazz to add energy and swing to music. This rhythm is a fundamental element in early jazz styles and continues to influence modern jazz compositions.

Chart

In jazz, a chart is a musical arrangement or composition written in a simplified form that includes the melody, chord symbols, and sometimes specific instrumental parts. Charts serve as guides for musicians, allowing for flexibility and improvisation in performance. They are essential tools in jazz, enabling ensembles to quickly learn and perform a wide repertoire of music.

Chase

A chase in jazz is a form of musical dialogue, typically between two soloists who alternate, “chasing” each other with their improvisations. This competitive, playful exchange showcases the virtuosity and creativity of the musicians, building excitement and engagement in the performance. Chases highlight the improvisational nature of jazz and its roots in spontaneous musical conversation.

Chicago Style Jazz

Chicago style jazz emerged in the 1920s, characterized by its emphasis on individual soloists, faster tempos, and a more polished sound than earlier New Orleans jazz. It played a significant role in the development of swing and big band music. This style reflects the urban energy of Chicago, incorporating blues elements and innovative arrangements that influenced the evolution of jazz.

Chops

“Chops” in jazz slang refers to a musician’s technical skill and proficiency on their instrument. Having “good chops” means the ability to execute complex passages effortlessly, maintain solid rhythm, and articulate notes cleanly, showcasing both technical mastery and expressive capability. Chops are essential for jazz musicians, given the genre’s demand for improvisation and intricate harmonies.

Chord

A chord in jazz is a group of notes played simultaneously that provide harmonic support for melodies and solos. Jazz chords are often extended with additional notes for richness and complexity, reflecting the genre’s harmonic sophistication. Understanding chord structures and voicings is crucial for jazz musicians, enabling them to navigate and improvise over complex progressions.

Chord Chart

A Chord Chart in jazz is a form of musical notation that provides the chords of a song without specifying the melody or bass lines. It serves as a roadmap for musicians, outlining the harmonic structure and progression of a piece, allowing for improvisation and interpretation in performance.

Chord Melody

Chord Melody is a jazz guitar technique where the player performs the melody of a song using chords rather than single notes. This approach creates a rich, harmonically dense solo performance, combining melody and harmony in one part. It’s a sophisticated skill that requires a deep understanding of both chord voicings and melody.

Chord Progression

A chord progression in jazz is a sequence of chords played in a particular order, forming the harmonic backbone of a composition. Progressions guide the improvisations of jazz musicians, who creatively explore and embellish the harmonic framework. Mastery of chord progressions is vital for understanding jazz theory and for the spontaneous creation of music within the genre.

Chord Scale

A Chord Scale in jazz theory is a scale that is chosen to accompany a specific chord or chord progression. Each chord scale provides a palette of notes that sound harmonically consonant with the chord, offering a framework for improvisation and composition. Understanding chord scales is crucial for jazz improvisation, as it allows musicians to navigate chord changes fluidly.

Chord Tones

Chord Tones are the notes that make up a chord, typically including the root, third, fifth, and possibly extended notes like the seventh, ninth, etc. In jazz improvisation, emphasizing chord tones within solos ensures that the improvisation is harmonically grounded and coherent with the chord changes of the piece.

Chorus

In jazz, a chorus is one complete cycle through the chord progression of a song. Soloists improvise new melodies over the chords during each chorus, often building in intensity and complexity. The chorus structure allows for extensive improvisation and interaction among musicians, showcasing the dynamic and evolving nature of jazz performances.

Chromatic

In jazz, Chromatic refers to a musical approach or scale that incorporates notes outside the traditional major or minor scales, using all twelve notes of the octave. Chromaticism adds color, tension, and complexity to melodies and harmonies, enabling richer, more nuanced improvisations and compositions.

Circle of Fifths

The Circle of Fifths is a visual representation of the relationships between the twelve tones of the chromatic scale, their corresponding key signatures, and the associated major and minor scales. In jazz, it’s a fundamental tool for understanding and memorizing key signatures, chord progressions, and harmonic relationships.

Civil Rights Acts of 1964

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of U.S. legislation, outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It had a profound impact on American society, including the jazz community, which had long been a space for African American expression and resistance. Jazz musicians played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement, using their music as a form of protest and solidarity.

Clave

The Clave is a rhythmic pattern that serves as the foundational element in Afro-Cuban music, which has significantly influenced jazz. Consisting of two bars, typically in a 3-2 or 2-3 pattern, the clave rhythm is central to Latin jazz and salsa, guiding the arrangement and improvisation of music.

Close Voicing

Close Voicing in jazz refers to a chord voicing where the notes are harmonically close together, often within an octave. This technique creates a dense, rich harmonic sound. Close voicings are contrasted with open voicings, where the notes of the chord are spread out over a wider range.

Coda

A coda in jazz is a concluding section of a piece, often used to bring a sense of closure or finality. It may recapitulate themes from the piece or introduce new material to end the composition. Codas are an important structural element in jazz, providing a definitive ending to the improvisational journey of a performance.

Cognition

Cognition in the context of jazz refers to the mental processes involved in understanding, learning, and performing music. This includes memory, perception, improvisation, and the ability to react spontaneously to other musicians. Cognitive skills are crucial for jazz musicians, who must navigate complex harmonic structures, rhythms, and interactions on the fly.

Cognitive; Cognitively

In jazz, the term “cognitively” relates to the intellectual engagement and mental strategies musicians use during improvisation and performance. This involves analyzing chord progressions, memorizing standards, and making real-time decisions. Jazz improvisation is a highly cognitive act, requiring deep musical knowledge, creativity, and the ability to think ahead while playing.

Collective Improvisation

Collective improvisation in jazz is a technique where multiple musicians improvise simultaneously, creating a dense, interactive musical texture. Originating in New Orleans jazz, this approach emphasizes the communal aspect of music-making, with each musician contributing to the overall sound. It showcases the democratic nature of jazz, where individual voices merge to create a cohesive musical statement.

Coltrane Changes

Coltrane changes, named after John Coltrane, refer to a harmonic progression that substitutes the standard II-V-I chord progression with a pattern based on a series of major thirds, creating a more complex and rich harmonic landscape. This technique is exemplified in Coltrane’s compositions like “Giant Steps” and has become a hallmark of advanced jazz harmony, challenging musicians with rapid key changes and promoting innovative improvisational approaches.

Combo

A combo in jazz refers to a small ensemble typically consisting of a rhythm section and one or more lead instruments. Combos are known for their intimate settings and greater emphasis on individual musicianship and improvisation. The flexible and interactive nature of combos allows for a wide range of musical expression, making them a staple in jazz performances and recordings.

Comp, Comping

Comping, short for “accompanying” or “complementing,” is a technique used by pianists, guitarists, and other chordal instruments in jazz to provide harmonic and rhythmic support for soloists. Through chords, rhythms, and textures, comping musicians interact with the lead players, offering a dynamic foundation that enhances the soloist’s improvisations and the overall group sound.

Conjunto

Conjunto, in the context of Latin jazz, refers to a musical ensemble that blends traditional Latin American rhythms with jazz harmonies and improvisation. Conjuntos often include instruments such as trumpets, guitars, and percussion, creating a vibrant sound that reflects a fusion of cultural influences. This style enriches jazz with complex rhythms and a distinct Latin flair.

Contrafact

A Contrafact in jazz is a musical composition consisting of a new melody overlaid on the chord progression of a pre-existing song. This practice allows musicians to explore new melodic ideas while navigating familiar harmonic landscapes, leading to innovative interpretations and compositions.

Contrapuntal

Contrapuntal music in jazz involves the interweaving of two or more independent melodic lines, a technique derived from classical counterpoint. This approach highlights the textural and harmonic richness of jazz compositions and improvisations, allowing musicians to explore intricate interactions and polyphonic dialogues within the framework of jazz harmony.

Contrary Motion

Contrary Motion in jazz occurs when two voices or lines move in opposite directions, one ascending while the other descends. This technique is used to create harmonic interest, tension, and release, and is a key component in counterpoint and voice-leading practices in jazz arrangements and improvisations.

Cool Jazz

Cool jazz emerged in the late 1940s and 1950s as a response to the intensity of bebop, characterized by a more relaxed tempo, understated approach to improvisation, and smoother tone quality. This style emphasizes lyrical melodies, subtle dynamics, and intricate arrangements, showcasing a sophisticated and refined side of jazz that continues to influence musicians.

Coro

In Latin jazz, a coro refers to the chorus section where a group of singers repeats a phrase or motif, often in a call-and-response format with the lead vocalist. This element brings a communal and interactive aspect to the music, deeply rooted in Afro-Cuban traditions, and adds a layer of vocal harmony and rhythm to the ensemble.

Coro/Pregón

Coro/Pregón in Latin jazz involves a dialogue between the chorus (coro) and a lead singer (pregón), who improvises call-and-response phrases. This tradition, rooted in Afro-Cuban music, adds a dynamic vocal interplay to the performance, enhancing the rhythmic complexity and emotional expression of the music.

Count: Count Basie

Count Basie, a pivotal figure in the swing era, led one of the most enduring big bands in jazz history. His nickname “Count” alludes to his aristocratic bearing and leadership on the bandstand, as well as his innovative approach to piano and orchestration that emphasized swing and simplicity.

Counterpoint

Counterpoint in jazz refers to the compositional and improvisational technique of combining independent melodic lines that harmonically and rhythmically interact with each other. This approach creates a richly textured musical tapestry, allowing for intricate interplay among musicians and highlighting the genre’s capacity for complexity and nuance.

Counting Off

Counting Off in jazz is the action of verbally or physically giving the tempo before starting a piece or a section of music. It ensures that all musicians begin playing at the same time and at the correct tempo, essential for the cohesive performance of jazz ensembles.

Cross-Rhythm

Cross-rhythm in jazz is the simultaneous use of contrasting rhythmic patterns or time signatures, creating a complex, polyrhythmic texture. This technique challenges conventional rhythmic expectations, contributing to jazz’s rhythmic innovation and providing a distinctive, syncopated drive that energizes the music.

Cut/Cutting/Carving

In jazz, “cutting” or “carving” refers to a spirited musical competition or battle, where musicians showcase their skills in an attempt to outplay each other. These encounters, often friendly but fiercely competitive, highlight the improvisational prowess, creativity, and technical virtuosity of the participants, fostering a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect.


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Jazz Glossary – D


Danzon

Danzon is a Cuban dance and musical form that has influenced the development of Latin jazz. Characterized by its elegant and formal structure, danzon incorporates European classical music, African rhythms, and traditional Cuban melodies, offering a rich harmonic and rhythmic foundation for jazz musicians to explore and integrate into their compositions.

Descarga

Descarga, in Latin jazz, refers to an improvised jam session featuring an ensemble of musicians who explore extended solos and collective improvisation within the framework of Cuban rhythms and jazz harmonies. Descargas are known for their spontaneity, virtuosity, and the fusion of Afro-Cuban musical elements with jazz improvisation.

Diatonic

Diatonic refers to music that strictly uses the notes within a given major or minor scale. In jazz, diatonic harmony forms the basis for constructing melodies and chords, emphasizing the natural, seven-note scale of the key the piece is in. It’s fundamental for creating coherent musical structures.

Dig

In jazz vernacular, “dig” means to understand or appreciate deeply. It’s often used to express admiration for a musician’s skill, a particularly compelling performance, or any aspect of jazz that resonates strongly with the listener or fellow musician.

Diminished

A diminished chord or interval involves a minor third and a diminished fifth from the root note. In jazz, diminished chords create tension and dissonance, serving as transitional or leading tones that resolve to more stable chords, adding emotional depth and complexity to the music.

Diminished Scale

The diminished scale alternates between whole and half steps, forming an octatonic scale. It’s particularly useful over diminished chords, adding a sense of tension and release that is crucial for dynamic jazz improvisation and composition.

Diminished Seventh Chord

This chord comprises a diminished triad plus a diminished seventh interval, creating a highly tense and unstable sound. It’s often used in jazz to invoke a sense of dissonance and anticipation, leading intriguingly into resolution.

Diminished Triad

A diminished triad consists of a root note, a minor third, and a diminished fifth. This chord’s unsettled sound is a staple in jazz for creating tension and sophisticated harmonic progressions.

Dippermouth: Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong, known as “Satchmo,” “Pops,” “Satchel Mouth,” and “Dippermouth,” was a foundational figure in jazz. “Dippermouth,” from his early years, highlights his powerful, innovative trumpet playing. Armstrong’s influence on jazz is immeasurable, transforming it through his virtuosic skill and expressive, gravelly voice.

Dirty Tone

Dirty tone in jazz describes a gritty, raw sound produced by brass or reed instruments, often achieved through various techniques such as overblowing, growling, or using mutes. This expressive tone quality adds emotional depth and intensity to the music, embodying the soulful and passionate nature of jazz.

Divine One (The): Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan, “The Divine One,” was celebrated for her extraordinary vocal range, technical mastery, and emotive depth. Her nickname “Sassy” captures her spirited, bold approach to music. Vaughan’s innovative interpretations of jazz standards and bebop compositions cemented her legacy as one of jazz’s most revered vocalists.

Dixieland

Dixieland jazz, also known as traditional jazz or New Orleans jazz, originated in the early 20th century in New Orleans. Characterized by collective improvisation, lively tempos, and a joyful expression, Dixieland combines brass band marches, French quadrilles, ragtime, and blues influences. This style played a foundational role in the development of jazz, celebrating the genre’s rich cultural heritage.

Dizzy, or Diz: John Birks Gillespie

John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was a trumpet virtuoso and bebop pioneer known for his dizzying high notes, complex harmonics, and bent trumpet bell. His nicknames capture both his dynamic playing style and his humorous, larger-than-life personality, which played a crucial role in the development of modern jazz.

Django: Jean Baptiste Reinhardt

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, a virtuoso guitarist, is celebrated for his remarkable technique and inventiveness despite a hand injury. Django, a name meaning “I awake” in Romani, reflects his spirited, pioneering contributions to jazz, blending gypsy and swing elements into a unique, captivating style.

Doctor Miller: Glenn Miller

Glenn Miller, known as “Doctor Miller,” was a trombonist, arranger, composer, and bandleader whose swing tunes became anthems of the WWII era. Though “Doctor” isn’t his most common nickname, it hints at his precision and expertise in crafting a distinctive, smooth big band sound that captivated millions.

Dominant Sound

In jazz, the dominant sound refers to the use of the fifth chord of a scale, which has a strong, resolving tension. Dominant chords often lead back to the tonic or root chord, providing a sense of completion and rest in the music.

Double

In jazz, “double” refers to a musician’s ability to play more than one instrument proficiently. Doubling enhances a musician’s versatility, allowing them to contribute to a wider range of musical textures and contexts within a performance. It’s a valued skill in jazz, where adaptability and diverse musical expression are highly regarded.

Double-Time

Double-time in jazz refers to a performance practice where the perceived tempo of the music is increased to twice its original speed, while the underlying beat remains constant. This technique allows musicians to showcase their technical prowess and agility, adding excitement and intensity to the music. Double-time sections often serve as climactic points in solos or arrangements.

Down-Home

Down-home in jazz terminology evokes a feeling of warmth, authenticity, and simplicity, reminiscent of rural or Southern roots. This expression describes music that is straightforward, deeply soulful, and connected to the earthy origins of jazz. Down-home jazz is often characterized by blues influences, gospel touches, and a relaxed, groove-oriented approach.

Downbeat

The downbeat in jazz is the first beat of a measure and is usually the strongest and most accented beat in a musical phrase. It serves as a key reference point for musicians, providing a foundation for the rhythmic structure of a piece. The downbeat’s emphasis helps define the tempo and groove, guiding both performers and listeners through the music.

Drone

A drone in jazz refers to a sustained note or chord over which the rest of the music unfolds. Originating from traditional music forms, drones create a harmonic backdrop that can add tension, release, or a hypnotic quality to jazz compositions and improvisations. Drones offer a static harmonic space, encouraging creative exploration within a stable sonic environment.

Drop 2 Voicing

Drop 2 voicing is a chord voicing method where the second highest note of a chord is transposed down an octave. This technique is widely used in jazz guitar and piano to create fuller, more resonant chord sounds and facilitate smoother voice leading.

Drop 3 Voicing

Similar to drop 2, drop 3 voicing involves taking the third highest note of a chord and playing it an octave lower. This method allows for a wider range of harmonic textures and is commonly used in jazz arrangement and composition.

Drum Set

The drum set, an essential component of jazz ensembles, consists of a collection of drums and cymbals arranged for a single player. It includes snare drum, bass drum, tom-toms, hi-hat, and various cymbals. The drum set provides rhythmic foundation, dynamics, and texture, allowing for a wide range of expressions from subtle accompaniment to explosive solos.

Dub

In jazz, dub refers to a copy of a recording, often made for the purpose of rehearsal or personal study. While not a technique intrinsic to performance, dubbing recordings allows musicians to analyze, transcribe, and internalize the nuances of jazz masters, aiding in the development of their own style and understanding of the genre.

Duke: Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington, a master composer, pianist, and bandleader, was jazz royalty. His nickname “Duke” suits his elegant, sophisticated demeanor and his influential role in expanding the jazz repertoire with compositions that blended complexity with soulful expression, making him one of the most important figures in jazz history.

Dynamics

Dynamics in jazz music refer to the variations in volume and intensity throughout a performance. From whisper-soft passages to powerful crescendos, dynamics play a crucial role in expressing emotion, building tension, and creating contrast within a piece. Mastering dynamics allows jazz musicians to communicate more effectively with their audience and fellow performers.


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Jazz Glossary – E


EAI

EAI (Electroacoustic Improvisation) combines elements of jazz with electronic music and sound art. Involving live electronics and improvisation, EAI pushes the boundaries of jazz, exploring new textures, timbres, and interactive possibilities between musicians and technology. This genre expands the sonic palette and conceptual framework of traditional jazz.

Ear, Play By

Playing by ear in jazz is the ability to perform music without the aid of written scores, relying instead on listening and aural skills. This skill is fundamental in jazz, where improvisation and spontaneous interaction are paramount. Musicians who play by ear can capture and interpret the essence of a piece, contributing to the dynamic and evolving nature of jazz.

Eight to the Bar

“Eight to the bar” refers to a rhythmic pattern in jazz and boogie-woogie where eight eighth-notes are played evenly within each measure of 4/4 time. This creates a driving, energetic feel, characteristic of up-tempo swing and boogie-woogie piano styles. The phrase embodies the lively and propulsive rhythm fundamental to these genres.

Embellishment

Embellishment in jazz involves adding extra notes or rhythmic elements to a melody to enhance its expressiveness and complexity. Techniques include trills, slides, and grace notes, enriching the original melody without altering its fundamental identity.

Enclosure

Enclosure is a jazz improvisation technique where a target note is approached from above and below, often chromatically or diatonically. This creates a tension-and-release effect, highlighting the target note and adding sophistication to solos.

Enharmonic

Enharmonic refers to two different musical notes or chords that sound the same but are written differently. In jazz, enharmonic equivalents allow musicians to simplify reading and improvising in complex harmonic contexts.

Extended Harmony

Extended harmony in jazz involves the addition of notes beyond the basic triad and seventh chords, incorporating ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths. These extensions enrich chord progressions and provide a broader palette for improvisation, contributing to the harmonic complexity and color that are hallmarks of the jazz sound.

Extensions

Extensions are notes added to a chord beyond the basic triad, including the 7th, 9th, 11th, and 13th. These notes enrich chordal harmony and are fundamental to the complex harmonic language of jazz.


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Jazz Glossary – F


Fake

In jazz, to “fake” means to improvise a part or play a piece of music without having the written music in front of you. Musicians use their knowledge of harmony, melody, and rhythm to create a convincing performance on the spot. Faking is a valuable skill in jazz, reflecting the genre’s emphasis on improvisation and flexibility.

Fake Book

A fake book is a collection of musical lead sheets intended to help jazz musicians perform a wide repertoire of songs. These books provide the melody, basic chords, and sometimes lyrics of jazz standards and popular tunes, but leave room for interpretation and improvisation. Fake books are essential tools for learning and performing jazz.

False Fingering

False fingering in jazz refers to the technique of using alternate fingerings to produce notes on wind instruments. This can affect the timbre, pitch, or articulation of notes, allowing musicians to expressively color their sound. False fingering is used creatively in jazz to achieve unique effects and personal expression.

Fat Boy: Fats Navarro

Fats Navarro, known as “Fat Boy,” was a revolutionary bebop trumpeter whose technique, tone, and innovative improvisations influenced countless musicians. Despite a brief career, his contributions to jazz trumpet remain foundational, showcasing a blend of virtuosity and expressive depth that continues to inspire.

Fat Girl: Fats Navarro

Fats Navarro, sometimes humorously referred to as “Fat Girl,” was a beacon of the bebop movement. This nickname, less commonly used, playfully contrasts with his more prevalent moniker “Fat Boy,” underscoring the affection and reverence with which his peers and fans regarded his groundbreaking work on the trumpet.

Fatha: Earl Hines

Earl “Fatha” Hines was a pioneering jazz pianist whose innovative techniques reshaped the role of piano in jazz. “Fatha,” a term of respect and endearment, reflects his status as a patriarchal figure in jazz, influencing generations with his dynamic style and contributions to the development of the jazz piano.

Fathead: David Newman

David “Fathead” Newman was a saxophonist known for his soulful playing and long association with Ray Charles. His nickname, which he embraced despite its origins as a schoolyard taunt, came to signify his robust, warm tone and his impactful contributions to soul and jazz music.

Fills

Fills in jazz are short musical phrases played by an instrument to fill in gaps or enhance transitions between sections of a piece. Often improvised, fills add variety and interest, supporting the main melody or soloist. Drummers frequently use fills to lead into new sections, while melodic instruments use them to embellish the texture.

First Lady (The): Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald, “The First Lady of Song,” was a vocal virtuoso whose impeccable intonation, dexterity, and scat singing set new standards for jazz and popular vocal performance. Her title reflects her unparalleled influence and enduring legacy as one of the greatest singers in American music history.

Flag Waver

A “flag waver” in jazz is an up-tempo, energetic piece that showcases the technical skill and virtuosity of the musicians. These high-spirited numbers serve to excite the audience and create a vibrant atmosphere, often featuring impressive solos and tight ensemble playing. Flag wavers are a highlight of many jazz performances.

Flatted Fifth

The flatted fifth, or “tritone,” is a dissonant interval that has played a significant role in the harmonic language of jazz. It creates tension within chords and progressions, driving resolutions and adding complexity to the music. The use of the flatted fifth is a distinctive feature of jazz’s adventurous harmonic exploration.

Formulaic Improvisation

Formulaic improvisation in jazz refers to the use of pre-established patterns or licks as building blocks for solos. While allowing for spontaneity, this approach relies on familiar harmonic and rhythmic formulas, providing a foundation upon which musicians can creatively construct their improvisations. It balances structure with the freedom characteristic of jazz.

Four-Beat

Four-beat rhythm in jazz refers to a steady, marching-like tempo where each beat in the measure receives equal emphasis. This was common in early jazz and swing, providing a solid and straightforward rhythmic foundation. The four-beat approach contrasts with later styles that often emphasize syncopation and irregular accents.

Fox (The): Maynard Ferguson

Maynard Ferguson, “The Fox,” was a trumpeter celebrated for his remarkable high-note range and vitality. His nickname captures his cunning musicality and bold, pioneering spirit, which led him to explore new territories in jazz, including incorporating elements of rock, pop, and world music into his vibrant performances.

Free Jazz

Free jazz is an avant-garde approach to jazz improvisation that emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, characterized by the absence of predetermined chord progressions, forms, or tempos. This genre emphasizes collective improvisation, experimental sounds, and the exploration of new musical territories. Free jazz challenges traditional boundaries and encourages limitless expression.

Frog: Ben Webster

Ben Webster, also known as “Frog,” was a tenor saxophonist whose tender, breathy, and vibrant tone made him a standout in the swing and bebop eras. “Frog” amusingly contrasts with the depth and warmth of his playing, underscoring the affectionate regard of his fellow musicians and fans.

Front Line

In jazz, the “front line” refers to the group of lead instruments, typically horns, that play the melody and improvise solos. This contrasts with the rhythm section, which provides the harmonic and rhythmic foundation. The front line is central to jazz’s expressive capability, showcasing individual voices and collective interplay.

Functional Harmony

Functional harmony is the practice of building chord progressions where each chord has a specific role or function, typically in relation to the tonic. In jazz, it underpins the structure of songs, guiding improvisation and composition.

Funk

Funk in jazz incorporates elements of funk music, such as a strong, syncopated rhythm, emphasis on the groove, and a prominent bass line, into jazz compositions and improvisations. This fusion creates a rich, danceable sound that is both complex and accessible, blending jazz’s improvisational nature with funk’s rhythmic intensity.

Fusion

Fusion, or jazz-rock fusion, emerged in the late 1960s and 1970s, blending jazz improvisation with rock music’s energy, electric instruments, and rhythms. Fusion bands often explore extended compositions, complex harmonies, and innovative sounds, pushing the boundaries of traditional jazz and appealing to a broader audience.


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Jazz Glossary – G


Ghost Note

Ghost notes in jazz are notes played very softly or subtly, often barely audible, used primarily in drumming and bass playing to enrich the rhythm and texture. These understated notes add depth and complexity to the groove, contributing to the nuanced interplay between rhythm and melody in jazz.

Glissando

A glissando is a glide from one pitch to another, producing a continuous sound that sweeps through a series of consecutive pitches. In jazz, glissandos add expressive, fluid transitions between notes, often used by pianists, guitarists, and wind instrument players to create a sense of movement and emotion.

God: Art Tatum

Art Tatum, revered as “God” among jazz musicians, set unparalleled standards for virtuosity and creativity on the piano. His astonishing technique, harmonic complexity, and speed were seen as almost divine, making him a central figure in jazz history and an inspiration for countless musicians across genres.

Go Out

“Go out” in jazz jargon means to play in a free, avant-garde style, or to deviate from the traditional harmonic structures of a piece. It reflects a musician’s exploration of new, unconventional sounds and ideas.

Groaner (The): Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby, nicknamed “The Groaner,” was celebrated for his warm baritone voice and smooth singing style that charmed millions. His effortless vocal delivery, which made every note seem like a soft sigh, contributed significantly to the development of popular music and influenced jazz vocalists.

Groove

The groove in jazz refers to the rhythmic feel or swing that propels the music forward, creating a sense of cohesive movement and interaction among the musicians. A good groove is both compelling and infectious, encouraging listeners to tap their feet, and it is essential for the rhythmic vitality of jazz.

Guajeo

Guajeo is a term originating from Cuban music, referring to a repetitive, syncopated rhythmic pattern played by the piano or other instruments in Afro-Cuban jazz. These patterns are foundational to the genre, contributing to its characteristic energy and driving the music’s rhythmic and harmonic momentum.

Guide Tone

Guide tones are the essential notes that define a chord’s quality, usually the third and seventh degrees. In jazz, guide tones are crucial for improvisers and arrangers to outline chord progressions in a minimalistic yet harmonically clear manner.


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Jazz Glossary – H


Half-diminished (Ø)

A half-diminished chord, symbolized as “Ø”, consists of a diminished triad plus a minor seventh. It’s a characteristic sound in jazz, offering a softer alternative to the fully diminished seventh chord, and is often found in minor ii-V-I progressions.

Half-Time

Half-time in jazz is a rhythmic technique where the tempo feels as though it has been halved, even though the beat remains constant. This effect creates a more laid-back feel, providing a contrast to the surrounding music and allowing for a broader range of expressive possibilities within a piece.

Hamp or Mad Lionel: Lionel Hampton

Lionel Hampton, known as “Hamp” or “Mad Lionel,” was a virtuoso vibraphonist, pianist, and bandleader. His energetic performances and innovative approach to the vibraphone made him a key figure in the swing era, earning him a place as one of jazz’s most dynamic and influential personalities.

Hard Bop

Hard bop emerged in the 1950s as a reaction to the complexities of bebop, incorporating influences from blues, gospel, and R&B into jazz. It is characterized by a more soulful, emotional expression, simpler melodies, and a strong, driving rhythm. Hard bop remains a vital and influential jazz style.

Harmonic Clarity

Harmonic clarity in jazz refers to the clear, discernible presentation of chords and harmonic progressions, even amidst complex arrangements or improvisations. Achieving harmonic clarity allows listeners to follow the music’s underlying structure.

Harmonic Rhythm

Harmonic rhythm describes the rate at which chords change in a piece of music. In jazz, varying the harmonic rhythm can dramatically affect the mood and drive of a piece, influencing both improvisation and composition.

Harmony

Harmony in jazz involves the simultaneous combination of notes and chords that provide the musical background for melodies and improvisations. Jazz harmony is rich and varied, including extended and altered chords, and it is fundamental to the genre’s structure, creating a framework for improvisation and interaction.

Hawk: Coleman Hawkins a.k.a. “Bean”

Coleman Hawkins, “The Hawk” or “Bean,” was a foundational figure in the development of the tenor saxophone in jazz. His robust, innovative playing established the saxophone as a lead instrument in jazz, influencing its direction and the style of future generations of saxophonists.

Head Arrangement

A head arrangement in jazz is a musical structure created spontaneously by the band during a performance, rather than being written down. This approach relies on the musicians’ shared knowledge and communication, allowing for flexibility and the incorporation of improvisation as an integral part of the arrangement.

Hi De Ho: Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway, known for his signature phrase “Hi De Ho,” was a charismatic bandleader, singer, and dancer. His flamboyant stage presence and unique vocal style made him a star of the swing era, blending jazz with theatrical entertainment and leaving a lasting mark on the genre.

High Priest, The: Ray Charles

Ray Charles, also “Brother Ray,” dubbed “The High Priest,” blended gospel, R&B, and jazz to create soul music. His emotional depth, innovative use of piano, and groundbreaking contributions to music earned him this reverent title, symbolizing his role in bridging genres and touching hearts.

High Priest of Bop: Thelonious Monk

Thelonious Monk, the “High Priest of Bop,” was a pianist and composer whose idiosyncratic approach to rhythm, harmony, and composition shaped the sound of modern jazz. His work is celebrated for its complexity, wit, and originality, securing his status as a bebop pioneer and jazz icon.

High Priestess of Soul: Nina Simone

Nina Simone, known as the “High Priestess of Soul,” was a singer, pianist, and civil rights activist whose music transcended genre boundaries. Her profound voice and emotive performances, which infused jazz with soul, blues, and classical influences, earned her this powerful title.

Hi-Hat Cymbal

The hi-hat cymbal is a crucial component of the drum set, consisting of two cymbals mounted on a stand and played with a foot pedal. It provides a versatile range of sounds, from crisp, staccato hits to sizzling, sustained washes, and is integral to maintaining the rhythm and feel in jazz.

Hip

In jazz culture, “hip” describes something or someone that’s very cool or in tune with the sophisticated, nuanced aspects of the genre. It implies a deep understanding and appreciation of jazz’s complexities and subtleties.

Hipster

Originally, hipster referred to someone deeply immersed in jazz culture, knowledgeable about its music, lingo, and styles. It denotes an individual who embodies the cool, laid-back ethos of the jazz scene.

Hocket

Hocket is a musical technique where a single melody is shared between two or more instruments or voices, creating an interlocking pattern. In jazz, hocket adds a complex, polyphonic texture to arrangements, showcasing the collaborative and conversational nature of the genre through the division and exchange of melodic lines.

Horn

In jazz, “horn” is a colloquial term for any wind instrument, typically saxophones, trumpets, or trombones. Horn players are central to jazz ensembles, contributing to the genre’s dynamic range and expressive depth.

Homophony

Homophony in jazz refers to a texture where a primary melody is supported by chords or a harmonic accompaniment that moves in the same rhythm. This contrasts with polyphony, where multiple independent melodies are played simultaneously. Homophony is common in jazz, providing a clear melodic focus within the rich harmonic context.

Honk

In jazz, to “honk” refers to a forceful, abrasive sound produced on a saxophone or brass instrument, often used for emphasis or to convey a raw, energetic emotion. This technique is characteristic of blues-influenced styles of jazz, where expressive intensity and a gritty sound are valued.

Hot

“Hot” in jazz refers to a style or performance characterized by high energy, dynamic intensity, and a driving rhythm. Hot jazz often features fast tempos, virtuosic improvisation, and bold, expressive playing that aims to excite the audience. It is associated with the early jazz styles that emerged in New Orleans and Chicago.


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Jazz Glossary – I


ii V I

The ii-V-I progression is the most common chord sequence in jazz, moving from the second (ii) minor chord to the fifth (V) dominant chord, and resolving to the first (I) major chord. This progression forms the harmonic backbone of countless jazz standards, providing a foundation for improvisation.

Improvisation

Improvisation is the heart of jazz, involving spontaneous musical creation within the moment. Jazz musicians draw upon their knowledge of music theory, their instrument, and the language of jazz to invent new melodies, rhythms, and harmonies. Improvisation allows for personal expression and interaction among musicians, making each performance unique.

Inner-voice Movement

Inner-voice movement refers to the melodic motion or progression of notes that are not the highest or lowest in a chord but reside within. In jazz, this technique adds richness and complexity to chord voicings and harmonies, enhancing the overall texture of the piece.

Inserted V7

Inserted V7 involves adding a dominant seventh chord (V7) before its target chord to increase harmonic tension and resolution. In jazz, this can be used to embellish chord progressions, particularly in turnarounds or to precede tonic chords, enriching the harmonic landscape.

Interlude

An interlude in jazz is a musical section that serves as a bridge between two parts of a piece, offering contrast or a moment of reflection. Interludes can vary in style and length, providing a space for solo improvisation or introducing new thematic material, and contribute to the overall structure and flow of the composition.

Interpolations

Interpolations in jazz refer to the insertion of an outside melody, riff, or passage into a solo or arrangement. These borrowed elements, often from popular songs or other jazz compositions, are seamlessly integrated into the music, showcasing the musician’s creativity and the genre’s rich tapestry of influences.

Interval

An interval in music refers to the distance between two pitches. In jazz, the understanding and use of intervals are fundamental for creating melodies, harmonies, and chord voicings. Jazz musicians often explore wide, unusual, or dissonant intervals to achieve the genre’s characteristic sounds and to push the boundaries of traditional harmony.

Intro (Introduction)

An intro in jazz is an opening section that precedes the main body of a piece. It sets the tone, establishes key musical themes, or introduces rhythmic motifs. Intros can range from a few bars to extended compositions, offering musicians creative freedom to set the stage.

Inversion

Inversion in jazz refers to altering the order of a chord’s notes so that a note other than the root is the lowest. This practice varies the chord’s sound without changing its harmonic function, providing more options for voice leading and chord voicing.


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Jazz Glossary – J


Jabali: Billy Hart

Billy Hart, nicknamed “Jabali,” is a masterful jazz drummer known for his versatile style and profound musicality. “Jabali,” meaning “rock” in Swahili, reflects Hart’s solid, unshakeable foundation in jazz rhythm sections, contributing to numerous landmark recordings and ensembles over the decades.

Jam Session

A jam session is an informal gathering of jazz musicians who play improvised music without extensive preparation. These sessions are a vital part of jazz culture, providing a space for musicians to experiment, collaborate, and exchange ideas. Jam sessions can lead to creative breakthroughs and foster a sense of community among participants.

Jaws: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, known as “Jaws,” was a tenor saxophonist famed for his robust, gritty tone and aggressive playing style. His nickname encapsulates his biting attack and formidable presence on the saxophone, making him a standout performer in the jazz world.

Jeep: Johnny Hodges a.k.a. “Rab” (short for “Rabbit”)

Jazz Standard

A jazz standard is a composition that is widely known, performed, and recorded within the jazz tradition. Standards form the core repertoire of jazz musicians, serving as a common language for improvisation, performance, and pedagogy.

Johnny Hodges, “Jeep” or “Rab,” was the alto saxophonist whose lyrical, expressive playing became a defining voice of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His nicknames reflect his agility and smooth style, which made him one of the most admired saxophonists of his era.

Jeepy: Branford Marsalis

Branford Marsalis, known as “Jeepy” or “Steepee”/”Steepy,” is a saxophonist who spans a wide range of musical genres with prowess. His nickname hints at his versatility and depth as a musician, continuing the Marsalis family’s legacy in jazz innovation and education.

Jelly Roll: Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe

Ferdinand Joseph La Menthe, better known as “Jelly Roll Morton,” was a pivotal figure in early jazz as a pianist, composer, and bandleader. His moniker, “Jelly Roll,” synonymous with early jazz, underscores his role in popularizing and formalizing jazz as a distinct musical genre.

Jeru: Gerry Mulligan

Gerry Mulligan, nicknamed “Jeru,” was a baritone saxophonist and arranger known for his cool, melodic approach and contributions to the cool jazz movement. His nickname, derived from his middle name, Jerome, signifies his smooth style and significant influence on jazz’s development.

Jive

Jive in jazz refers to a lively, swing-based style of music and dance popular in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as to the slang language associated with the jazz scene. Jive is characterized by its upbeat tempo, rhythmic bounce, and playful spirit, embodying the social and improvisational aspects of jazz.

Johnny Mac: John McLaughlin

John McLaughlin, “Johnny Mac,” is a guitarist whose innovative fusion of jazz, rock, and world music has made him a pioneering figure in jazz fusion. His virtuosic technique and exploratory compositions have garnered widespread acclaim, influencing guitarists across musical genres.

Judge: Milt Hinton

Milt Hinton, affectionately known as “Judge,” was a revered jazz bassist whose steady, swinging rhythm and remarkable longevity made him a central figure in the jazz world for decades. His nickname reflects the respect and authority he commanded among musicians, both for his musical prowess and his role as a mentor to younger generations.

Jug or Jughead: Gene Ammons

Gene Ammons, known as “Jug” or “Jughead,” was a tenor saxophonist celebrated for his rich tone and soulful improvisations. His nicknames convey the warmth and robustness of his sound, characteristics that made him a leading figure in the soul jazz movement.

Jump

“Jump” in jazz describes a style of music that blends elements of swing, blues, and boogie-woogie, characterized by its upbeat tempo and rhythmically driving sound. Jump jazz was popular in the 1940s and served as a precursor to rhythm and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. It features catchy melodies and a danceable groove.

Jump Band

A jump band is a small to medium-sized musical ensemble that plays jump jazz, a style noted for its upbeat, energetic sound. These bands were especially popular in the 1940s and focused on creating music that was both lively and suitable for dancing, often featuring prominent saxophone and trumpet sections.


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Jazz Glossary – K


Kansas City Style

Kansas City style jazz emerged in the 1930s, characterized by a relaxed tempo, smooth phrasing, and a strong emphasis on improvisation and blues elements. This style is known for its riff-based arrangements and head arrangements, where musicians would create and memorize the music on the spot, rather than reading from written scores.

Key

In music, a key refers to the tonal center or home base around which a piece is organized, defined by a scale or a specific set of pitches. Jazz compositions can shift through multiple keys, and a deep understanding of key changes is crucial for jazz musicians, particularly for improvisation and harmonic development.

Kick It Off

“Kick it off” in jazz slang means to start a piece or a section of music, often with a clear, strong introduction that sets the tempo and feel for what follows. This can involve a solo drum break, a riff from the band, or a cue from the bandleader, signaling the musicians to begin.

Killer-Diller

“Killer-diller” is jazz slang for an outstanding performance, musician, or piece of music that is particularly exciting or impressive. The term reflects the enthusiasm and energy of the jazz culture, celebrating moments of exceptional creativity and skill that captivate and energize the audience.

King of the Clarinet: Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw, crowned the “King of the Clarinet,” was a virtuoso clarinetist and bandleader whose innovative approach and technical mastery brought new heights to jazz clarinet playing. His sophisticated style and musical intelligence established him as one of the foremost clarinetists of his time.

King of Cool: Dean Martin

Dean Martin, dubbed the “King of Cool,” was a singer and actor whose smooth voice and laid-back charisma epitomized the essence of cool. Though more closely associated with pop and the Rat Pack, his effortless style and delivery had a significant influence on jazz vocalists and the cool jazz genre.

King of Jazz: Paul Whiteman

Paul Whiteman, self-styled as the “King of Jazz,” was a bandleader who played a pivotal role in popularizing jazz and orchestral jazz music in the early 20th century. Despite controversy over the title, his influence on the development and acceptance of jazz in mainstream culture is undeniable.

King of the Jazz Guitar: Django Reinhardt

Django Reinhardt, acclaimed as the “King of the Jazz Guitar,” was a pioneering jazz guitarist whose innovative techniques and compositions laid the groundwork for future generations. His remarkable dexterity and creativity, despite a hand injury, made him a legendary figure in jazz guitar history.

King of the Jukebox: Louis Jordan

Louis Jordan, celebrated as the “King of the Jukebox,” was a saxophonist, singer, and bandleader whose catchy, rhythmically driven music was a jukebox staple in the 1940s. His blend of jazz, blues, and early rhythm and blues paved the way for rock and roll.

King of Swing: Benny Goodman

Benny Goodman, also known as “the Patriarch of the Clarinet,” “the Professor,” and “Swing’s Senior Statesman,” earned the title “King of Swing” during the swing era. His clarinet playing and leadership of one of the era’s most popular bands helped bring swing music to widespread popularity.

Klook-Mop or Klook: Kenny Clarke

Kenny Clarke, nicknamed “Klook” or “Klook-Mop,” was a drummer whose innovative approach to rhythm and use of the ride cymbal for timekeeping were foundational in the development of modern jazz drumming. His nickname reflects his distinctive style and contributions to bebop.

Knife (The): Pepper Adams

Pepper Adams, known as “The Knife,” was a baritone saxophonist renowned for his sharp, cutting tone and aggressive playing style. His powerful approach and virtuosity on the baritone sax made him a formidable figure in the jazz world.


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Jazz Glossary – L


Lady (related to Lester Young)

In jazz, “Lady” often refers to Billie Holiday, whom Lester Young famously nicknamed “Lady Day.” This term highlights the deep respect and affection between the two legendary figures, and Holiday’s significant influence on jazz singing and phrasing.

Lady Day: Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday, immortalized as “Lady Day,” was a jazz vocalist whose emotive expression, unique phrasing, and ability to convey deep feeling in her music made her one of the most influential singers in jazz history. Her nickname, given by Lester Young, reflects her elegance and the affection felt by her peers.

Lay Back

To “lay back” in jazz performance means to play slightly behind the beat, creating a relaxed, laid-back feel. This technique adds a sense of groove and swing to the music, allowing the performer to express a more casual, effortless vibe while still maintaining rhythmic integrity.

Lay Out

To “lay out” in jazz means for a musician to stop playing for a certain section of the music, allowing other band members to take the spotlight. This can provide contrast, build dynamics, and create space within a performance, highlighting the contributions of individual musicians or sections.

Lead

In jazz, “lead” refers to the main melody or the principal voice in an ensemble’s arrangement. The lead part is typically carried by a single instrument, such as the saxophone or trumpet, and sets the tune’s thematic material, around which other improvisations and harmonizations are structured.

Lead Sheet

A lead sheet in jazz is a form of musical notation that outlines the essential elements of a song — the melody, lyrics (if any), and chords. It provides a framework for improvisation, allowing musicians to interpret the tune freely while maintaining its core structure. Lead sheets are crucial for jazz musicians, enabling them to perform a wide repertoire with minimal preparation.

Left Hand/Right Hand

In jazz piano playing, the terms “left hand” and “right hand” denote the distinct roles each hand plays. The left hand often provides rhythmic and harmonic support through bass lines or chord voicings, while the right hand typically handles the melody and improvisation. Mastery of both hands allows for a fuller, more expressive performance.

Left Hand Rootless Voicing (LHRV)

Left Hand Rootless Voicing is a piano technique where the pianist plays chords without the root note, often including the 3rd, 7th, and extensions such as the 9th or 13th. This approach frees up the bass player to define the root, allowing for a more interactive and harmonically rich performance.

Legato

Legato, in jazz, refers to a smooth and connected style of playing where each note transitions seamlessly into the next without noticeable breaks. This technique is used to create flowing, lyrical lines that emulate the human voice, adding expressiveness and emotion to instrumental performances.

Licks

In jazz, a “lick” is a short, repeated musical phrase or motif used in solos and improvisations. Licks serve as the building blocks for developing longer solos, allowing musicians to convey their style and vocabulary. Jazz players often accumulate a personal repertoire of licks that they adapt and integrate into their performances.

Lindy Hop

The Lindy Hop is a vibrant and acrobatic dance closely associated with swing music and the jazz era of the late 1920s and 1930s. Characterized by its energetic steps and improvisational nature, the Lindy Hop reflects the dynamic rhythm and spirit of jazz, encouraging dancers and musicians to interact and feed off each other’s energy.

Line

In jazz, a “line” refers to a melodic phrase or sequence of notes played by an instrument. Lines are the melodic contours that soloists create over chord progressions during improvisations, showcasing their musical ideas, stylistic influences, and technical skills. Effective lines contribute significantly to the narrative and emotional depth of a jazz performance.

Lip

“Lip” in jazz slang primarily refers to the embouchure or the way a wind instrument player controls their mouthpiece and lips to produce sound. A good lip enables nuanced tone production, dynamic control, and the execution of advanced techniques, such as bends and vibrato, crucial for expressive jazz playing.

Little Bird: Jimmy Heath

Jimmy Heath, affectionately known as “Little Bird,” was a saxophonist and composer whose skill and creativity earned him a place among jazz’s elite. His nickname nods to Charlie Parker, “Bird,” signifying Heath’s prowess on the saxophone and his contribution to extending the bebop tradition.

Little Giant: Johnny Griffin

Johnny Griffin, dubbed the “Little Giant,” was a tenor saxophonist known for his remarkable speed, technical skill, and the intensity of his improvisations. Despite his diminutive stature, his enormous talent and heart earned him a giant status in the jazz world.

Little Jazz: Roy Eldridge

Roy Eldridge, known as “Little Jazz,” was a trumpeter whose virtuosic skill bridged the gap between swing and bebop. His powerful sound and fearless improvisational style made him a pivotal figure in jazz, influencing generations of musicians.

Locked

In jazz, “locked” can refer to a tight, cohesive rhythm section where the bass and drums synchronize perfectly, creating a solid and unified groove. This locking up is crucial for supporting soloists and maintaining the rhythmic drive of the piece.

Locked Hands

Locked hands is a piano technique popularized by jazz musicians like George Shearing. It involves playing melody notes simultaneously with both hands in parallel, interlocking chords that move in harmony with the melody. This technique creates a rich, harmonically dense sound, characteristic of many jazz ballads and smooth passages.

Lockjaw: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, a tenor saxophonist, was nicknamed for his tenacious, gripping style of play. His robust, gritty tone and aggressive, rhythmic attack made him a standout performer in the jazz and blues scenes.

Long Tall Dexter: Dexter Gordon

Dexter Gordon, celebrated as “Long Tall Dexter,” was a tenor saxophonist whose large stature matched his huge sound and towering presence in the world of jazz. A pioneer of the bebop era, his lengthy, flowing solos and charismatic performances left an indelible mark on jazz.

Loop

A loop in jazz can refer to a repeated section of music, often used as a foundation for improvisation. This concept, borrowed from electronic music, allows musicians to create a continuous harmonic and rhythmic base over which to explore melodic ideas.

Lord: Chauncey “Lord” Westbrook

Chauncey “Lord” Westbrook, a guitarist, earned his regal nickname through his masterful command of the instrument and his role as a respected elder in the jazz community. His sophisticated playing and contributions to jazz education cemented his status as a “lord” among musicians.

Lydian

The Lydian mode is a type of musical scale used in jazz, distinguished by its raised fourth scale degree compared to the major scale. This alteration gives the Lydian mode a brighter, more open sound. Jazz musicians often utilize the Lydian mode for its unique harmonic qualities, particularly in compositions and solos that seek a distinctively modern or “outside” feel.

Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization

Developed by George Russell, the Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization is a theoretical framework that proposes the Lydian scale as the basis for understanding jazz harmony. This concept has influenced many jazz musicians, offering a comprehensive method for navigating chords and scales.

Lydian Dominant

The Lydian Dominant scale is derived from the Lydian mode with a lowered 7th, combining the raised 4th characteristic of the Lydian mode with the dominant 7th. This scale is often used over dominant 7th chords, adding a unique, bright tension to jazz solos and chord progressions.


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Jazz Glossary – M


Mainstream Jazz

Mainstream jazz refers to the predominant style of jazz that evolved from the 1950s onwards, incorporating elements from earlier styles such as swing, bebop, and cool jazz. It emphasizes swing rhythm, blues feeling, and improvisation within traditional jazz harmonies. Mainstream jazz is characterized by its accessibility, balancing complex musicality with broad appeal.

Major Sound

In jazz, a major sound refers to harmony and melodies that are based on the major scale. It evokes a bright, uplifting mood. Jazz musicians often explore the major scale’s modes and extensions to develop complex, engaging compositions and improvisations.

Mambo

Mambo is a Latin jazz genre that originated in Cuba in the 1940s and gained popularity in the United States in the 1950s. Known for its energetic rhythm and big band arrangements, mambo combines Afro-Cuban rhythms with jazz harmonies and instrumentation. It played a significant role in the fusion of Latin and American music cultures.

Matrix Number

A matrix number is a unique identifier etched into the run-out groove of vinyl records, including jazz albums. It provides information about the recording, such as the take number and production details. For jazz collectors, matrix numbers can reveal insights into the pressing history and authenticity of vintage records.

Measure

In jazz, a measure (or bar) is a segment of time defined by a given number of beats, as indicated by the time signature. Measures organize the musical structure and rhythm, serving as the framework within which musicians play, improvise, and interact. Understanding measure structure is fundamental for performing and composing jazz music.

Medium Tempo

Medium tempo in jazz refers to a moderate speed of performance, neither too fast nor too slow. It creates a balanced, grooving feel that is conducive to both melodic exploration and rhythmic interplay among musicians. Medium tempos are often used in jazz standards and ballads to evoke a relaxed yet engaging atmosphere.

Melisma

Melisma in jazz refers to the singing of a single syllable of text while moving between several different notes in succession. This technique is used to add expressiveness and emotional depth to vocal performances. Jazz singers often employ melisma to showcase their vocal agility and to embellish the melody, particularly in ballads and soulful pieces.

Melodic Minor

The melodic minor scale in jazz is a seven-note scale that ascends with a natural 6th and 7th, and descends like the natural minor scale. This scale is frequently used in jazz improvisation because it offers a smooth, less dissonant sound in melodic lines, and it enables interesting harmonic possibilities such as altered dominant chords and modal interchange.

Melodic Statement

A melodic statement in jazz is the presentation of a thematic musical idea or motif that serves as a basis for development and improvisation. It is a defining element of a piece, often memorable and serving as a reference point throughout the performance.

Melody

In jazz, melody refers to the series of notes that are perceived as a single entity, often the most recognizable part of the song. It serves as the main theme around which improvisations and variations are constructed. Jazz musicians reinterpret melodies in innovative ways, infusing them with personal expression, stylistic nuances, and complex rhythms.

Meter

Meter in jazz music refers to the recurring pattern of beats or pulses organized into measures, which determines the rhythmic structure of a piece. Jazz explores various meters, from the common 4/4 time to more complex signatures like 5/4 or 7/8, allowing for rhythmic diversity and complexity in compositions and improvisations.

Methodical

In jazz, being methodical refers to a systematic approach to improvisation, composition, or practice. It implies a deliberate, thoughtful process of exploring musical ideas, techniques, and theory to deepen one’s understanding and expression within the genre.

Metric Modulation

Metric modulation is a compositional and improvisational technique in jazz where the perceived tempo or time signature changes, yet there’s a mathematical relationship between the original and the new tempo. This creates a shifting, dynamic rhythmic landscape, adding complexity and interest to the music.

Microtone

Microtones are musical intervals smaller than a semitone, not typically found in the Western musical scale. In jazz, microtones are used to add color, expression, and a sense of tension or release in improvisations. They allow musicians to explore sounds and emotions that lie between the traditional notes, enriching the harmonic palette.

MIDI

MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) is a technical standard that allows electronic musical instruments, computers, and other equipment to communicate, control, and synchronize with each other. In jazz, MIDI technology is used for composing, arranging, and live performance, enabling intricate sound manipulation, sequencing, and the integration of digital instruments.

Milking

In jazz, “milking” refers to the technique of drawing out or emphasizing a particular note, phrase, or effect for expressive or dramatic impact. It’s a way for musicians to highlight specific elements of their solos or the arrangement, enhancing the emotional depth of the performance.

Minor Sound

In jazz, a minor sound refers to music that uses the minor scale as its foundation, characterized by a darker, more introspective mood compared to major scales. The minor sound is pivotal in jazz for creating depth, emotional nuance, and contrast within compositions and improvisations.

Modal Jazz

Modal jazz is a style that uses musical modes rather than chord progressions as the harmonic framework for compositions and improvisations. Pioneered by musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, modal jazz focuses on exploration within these modes, creating a more fluid and expansive sound that allows for extensive improvisational freedom.

Mode

In jazz, a mode is a type of musical scale derived from a parent scale, with each mode starting on a different note within the scale. Modes provide a framework for melody and improvisation, offering unique emotional qualities and sonic colors. Jazz musicians often utilize modes to create varied harmonic landscapes and to improvise over complex chord changes.

Modulation

Modulation in jazz refers to the change of key within a piece. It is a powerful tool for creating contrast, building intensity, or transitioning between sections of a composition. Jazz musicians skillfully use modulation to navigate through different harmonic territories, enriching their improvisations and maintaining the listener’s interest.

Moldy Fig

Moldy Fig is a term used in jazz to describe someone who prefers traditional jazz styles and is dismissive of more modern jazz developments. It originated during the bebop era as a playful jab at those who resisted the new musical innovations, highlighting the generational divides within the jazz community.

Monk

Thelonious Monk, a pioneering jazz pianist and composer, is known for his distinctive style that combines dissonance, complex rhythms, and unconventional improvisations. Monk’s contributions to jazz are immense, with compositions that have become standards in the jazz repertoire.

Montuno

Montuno refers to a repetitive and rhythmic pattern played in Afro-Cuban music, which has significantly influenced Latin jazz. It involves a syncopated chordal sequence, often played by the piano, that serves as a foundation for improvisation and ensemble interplay, adding vibrancy and drive to the music.

Motivic Improvisation

Motivic improvisation in jazz involves the development and variation of a short musical idea or motif throughout a solo. This approach creates coherence and structure, as the improviser creatively manipulates the motif in different harmonic, rhythmic, and melodic contexts, showcasing their inventiveness and deep understanding of the music.

Movement

In jazz, movement refers to the progression of musical ideas, chords, or motifs throughout a piece. It can also describe the physical motion of performers or the emotional response elicited in listeners, highlighting the dynamic and evolving nature of jazz music.

Moving Inner Voice

Moving inner voice involves the melodic shifting of notes that are not the bass or melody but are sandwiched between, creating a richer harmonic texture. This technique is used in jazz to add complexity and interest to chord voicings and arrangements.

Multi-Instrumentalism

Multi-instrumentalism in jazz is the ability of a musician to proficiently play more than one instrument. This skill enhances versatility and expands creative possibilities, allowing artists to contribute to a wider range of textures and sounds in performances and recordings, and often leading to unique and innovative musical explorations.

Multiphonics

Multiphonics is a technique used by wind instrumentalists to produce more than one note simultaneously, creating a complex and rich sound. In jazz, this technique adds an avant-garde texture to music, allowing musicians to explore new sonic landscapes and push the boundaries of their instruments’ traditional sound.

Mutes, Hats

Mutes in jazz are devices inserted into or placed over the bell of brass instruments to alter their timbre, creating a variety of sounds and effects. Hats, or hi-hat cymbals, are a crucial component of the drum set, providing rhythmic articulation and dynamic contrast. Both mutes and hats are essential for shaping the sonic character of jazz music.


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Jazz Glossary – N


Natural Major

The Natural Major scale, also known as the Ionian mode, is a diatonic scale characterized by its bright, uplifting sound. In jazz, the Natural Major serves as a fundamental building block for melody and harmony, providing a basis for improvisation and composition.

Natural Minor

The Natural Minor scale, also known as the Aeolian mode, is used in jazz to create moods that are introspective, melancholic, or mysterious. Its sound is central to many jazz pieces, offering a contrast to the brightness of major scales and enriching the genre’s emotional palette.

Neo-bop

Neo-bop, or Hard Bop, emerged in the 1950s as a reaction to the cool jazz movement, reintroducing elements of bebop with influences from blues, gospel, and rhythm and blues. It is characterized by its expressive, soulful improvisations and complex harmonies, maintaining a strong rhythmic groove.

Neo-Jazz

Neo-Jazz, often seen as a modern reinterpretation of traditional jazz elements, blends various genres including funk, hip-hop, and electronic music with jazz’s improvisational aspects. It aims to make jazz more accessible to younger audiences, innovating while maintaining respect for traditional jazz’s complexity and emotional depth. Artists like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington are notable figures in this movement.

New Orleans Style

New Orleans Style jazz, often considered the birthplace of jazz, is characterized by its vibrant, soulful, and polyphonic ensemble improvisation. Originating in the early 20th century, this style combines elements of blues, ragtime, and brass band marches, showcasing the rich musical heritage and cultural diversity of New Orleans. Musicians like Louis Armstrong and King Oliver were pivotal in its development, emphasizing collective play and spontaneous interaction.

The New Thing

“The New Thing” refers to the avant-garde jazz movement of the 1960s, characterized by its experimental approach to harmony, rhythm, and form. This movement sought to break away from the conventions of bebop and hard bop, exploring free improvisation, new compositional structures, and a greater emphasis on expression and innovation. Musicians such as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, and Cecil Taylor were leading figures in this transformative period.

Nonet

A nonet in jazz is an ensemble consisting of nine musicians. It offers a rich palette for arrangement and orchestration while maintaining the flexibility and intimacy of smaller jazz combos. Nonets can feature a diverse range of instruments, allowing for varied textures and complex harmonies. This format has been explored by artists like Miles Davis, whose “Birth of the Cool” sessions popularized the nonet setting in jazz.

Non-Functional Harmony

Non-functional harmony in jazz refers to chord progressions that don’t follow traditional harmonic functions of tension and resolution. This approach allows for more abstract, coloristic effects in composition and improvisation, expanding the harmonic language of jazz.

Noodling

Noodling in jazz refers to the practice of aimlessly playing notes without a clear direction or purpose, often while other musicians are performing or during a break in the music. While sometimes seen as a way to warm up or explore one’s instrument, noodling can be distracting in a performance or rehearsal setting, detracting from the overall musical experience.

Nu Jazz

Nu-Jazz is a genre that merges jazz elements with other musical styles, such as funk, electronic music, and world music, incorporating modern production techniques. It represents an innovative fusion that pushes the boundaries of traditional jazz, characterized by its eclectic soundscapes, use of synthesizers and electronic effects, and the blending of acoustic and electronic instruments. Artists like Jazzanova and St Germain are notable contributors to the nu-jazz sound.

Number System

The Number System is a method used in jazz and other genres to denote chord progressions and harmonies based on scale degrees rather than chord names. It facilitates transposition and is a universal language for musicians to communicate chord changes regardless of the key.


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Jazz Glossary – O


Obbligato

Obbligato in jazz refers to an instrumental part that is obligatory or integral to the performance of a piece, providing a counterpoint or harmonic support to the melody. It is often played by a secondary instrument, enhancing the texture and complexity of the music without overshadowing the main melodic line.

Open Voicing

Open voicing in jazz is a chord-voicing technique where the notes of the chord are spread out across a wider range, rather than being closely positioned. This technique allows for richer, more resonant harmonies and is particularly effective on instruments like the piano and guitar. It provides a spacious sound that can add depth and texture to jazz arrangements and improvisations.

Organ Chords

Organ chords refer to the harmonies played on the Hammond organ, a staple instrument in many jazz genres, including soul jazz, hard bop, and fusion. The distinctive sound of the Hammond, especially when paired with the Leslie speaker, adds a warm, rich texture to jazz music. Organists like Jimmy Smith revolutionized the use of organ chords in jazz, utilizing them for both rhythmic comping and intricate soloing.

Ostinato

Ostinato in jazz refers to a repetitive musical pattern or phrase that is persistently repeated in the same musical voice, usually in the bass range. This technique creates a rhythmic foundation over which melodies and improvisations can be layered, adding drive and coherence to the music. Ostinatos are a key feature in modal jazz and Latin jazz, providing a compelling groove that propels the music forward.

Out

Playing “out” in jazz refers to improvising outside the conventional harmonic boundaries of the piece, often using dissonance, atonality, or unusual scales. This technique challenges traditional listening expectations and explores new sonic territories, contributing to the genre’s evolution.

Outer Voice

In jazz, the outer voice refers to the highest and lowest notes in a chord or voicing, providing the framework within which the inner voices move. Managing outer voices effectively is crucial for clear harmonic direction and textural balance in arrangements and improvisations.

Outro

An outro in jazz is the concluding section of a piece, mirroring the intro’s role but serving to gracefully end the performance. It may recap themes, diminish into silence, or offer a final statement, providing closure to the musical journey.

Outside/Inside, Playing

Playing “outside” in jazz refers to improvisation that ventures beyond the established harmonic framework of a piece, often using atonal, chromatic, or otherwise unconventional pitches to create tension. “Inside” playing adheres closely to the chord changes and tonal center. Musicians often navigate between outside and inside playing for dynamic contrast and expressive depth in their solos.

Overblowing

Overblowing in jazz is a technique used by wind instrument players to produce a higher pitch or intensity of sound than normal, often resulting in a distinct, edgy tone. This technique can also access the harmonic series above the fundamental note, adding a layer of complexity and expression to solos. Overblowing is widely used in jazz for its emotional impact and its ability to push the sonic boundaries of an instrument.


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Jazz Glossary – P


Pachanga

Pachanga is a style of music and dance that originated in Cuba in the late 1950s, characterized by its lively tempo and unique rhythm. It influenced Latin jazz bands who incorporated its catchy rhythms and festive spirit into their repertoire, blending it with jazz improvisation and arrangements. Pachanga’s upbeat nature makes it a popular choice for dance-oriented performances within the jazz context.

Pantonal

Pantonal, or pan-tonality, refers to a musical approach that transcends traditional tonal boundaries, embracing all twelve tones without prioritizing a tonal center. In jazz, this concept allows for a highly chromatic and harmonically fluid style of composition and improvisation, expanding the expressive palette of musicians and composers by integrating elements of atonal and serial music.

Paraphrase Improvisation

Paraphrase improvisation in jazz is a technique where a musician takes a familiar melody and alters it through embellishment, modification, or reharmonization, creating a new, personalized rendition. This approach maintains the essence of the original tune while showcasing the improviser’s creativity and individual voice, a hallmark of jazz’s improvisational nature.

Passing Tone

A passing tone in jazz is a non-chord tone used to create a smooth melodic transition between chord tones. It adds chromaticism and melodic interest to lines, enriching the harmonic texture. Passing tones are essential for jazz improvisation, allowing musicians to weave intricate solos that navigate the chord changes with fluidity and expressiveness.

Pedal

A pedal in jazz refers to a sustained note or repeated pattern, usually in the bass, over which changing harmonies are played. This technique creates a harmonic tension and release, adding depth and interest to the music. Pedal points are used to anchor improvisations, offering a steady reference point amidst complex chord changes.

Pentatonic Scale

The Pentatonic Scale, consisting of five notes, is widely used in jazz for its simplicity and versatility in improvisation. It can create soulful melodies, serve as a foundation for solos, and blend seamlessly with various harmonic contexts.

Perfect Fifth

The perfect fifth is a musical interval found in jazz and all musical genres, characterized by its consonant sound and stability. In jazz, the perfect fifth plays a crucial role in chord structures and improvisation, providing a solid harmonic foundation upon which complex chords and melodies can be built. Its ubiquity and pleasing sound make it a fundamental element in jazz harmony.

Perfect Pitch

Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, is the rare ability to identify or reproduce a musical note without any reference tone. In jazz, musicians with perfect pitch can effortlessly navigate complex harmonies and modulations, enhancing their improvisational skills and musicality.

Phrase

In jazz, a phrase is a musical idea or motif that is expressed through a series of notes, akin to a sentence in language. Phrasing is crucial to jazz improvisation and composition, as it shapes the way melodies and solos are articulated and interpreted. Effective phrasing conveys emotion, develops musical ideas, and communicates the unique style of the musician.

Phantom: Joe Henderson

Joe Henderson, “The Phantom,” was a tenor saxophonist whose elusive, complex style and innovative compositions made him one of the most influential jazz musicians of his generation. His nickname reflects the mysterious and profound depth of his musical contributions.

Philly Joe: Joseph Jones

Joseph “Philly Joe” Jones was a drummer known for his intricate, explosive style and his significant contributions to the bebop and hard bop genres. His nickname honors his Philadelphia roots and his status as one of the most dynamic drummers in jazz history.

Pickup Notes

Pickup notes in jazz are introductory notes or a short sequence of notes leading into the main body of a piece or phrase. They help to establish the rhythm and tempo, creating a smooth transition into the first downbeat. Pickup notes add momentum and can set the tone for a piece or solo, enhancing musical expression and flow.

Pizzicato

Pizzicato in jazz involves plucking the strings of an instrument, such as a double bass or violin, with the fingers instead of using a bow. This technique produces a distinct, percussive sound that adds rhythmic clarity and texture to jazz compositions and arrangements. Pizzicato is often used in bass lines and solos to articulate rhythms and melodies with precision.

Planing

Planing in jazz refers to moving chords in parallel motion, maintaining the same intervallic structure. This technique creates a smooth, cohesive sound and is often used for dramatic effect in arrangements and compositions.

Play Outside

Playing outside in jazz involves improvising over chord changes using notes that are not part of the traditional chord or scale. This approach adds tension and interest, pushing the boundaries of harmonic convention.

Pocket

In jazz, being in the “pocket” means playing with a deep sense of groove and timing, perfectly synchronized with the ensemble. It’s essential for creating a compelling rhythmic foundation that propels the music forward and engages listeners.

Polyphony

Polyphony in jazz refers to the texture resulting from the combination of two or more independent melodic lines played simultaneously. This complex texture enriches the harmonic and melodic content of jazz compositions and improvisations, allowing for a richer interplay between musicians. Polyphonic arrangements challenge performers to weave individual lines into a cohesive whole, showcasing the genre’s intricate nature.

Polyrhythm

Polyrhythm, a hallmark of jazz’s rhythmic complexity, involves the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another. This technique creates a rich, textured rhythmic tapestry that can add depth and a sense of spontaneity to jazz performances. Polyrhythms, often drawn from African musical traditions, are essential in jazz for creating engaging and dynamic rhythmic structures.

Polytonality

Polytonality in jazz refers to the simultaneous use of two or more keys. This advanced harmonic technique creates a complex and rich sonic texture, challenging both musicians and listeners with its layered harmonies and contributing to the genre’s innovative edge.

Pops: Sidney Bechet

Sidney Bechet, known as “Pops,” was a pioneering jazz saxophonist and clarinetist, celebrated for his virtuosity and forceful delivery. His innovative use of vibrato and his ability to infuse his music with rich emotion made him a key figure in the early development of jazz.

Pops: Louis Armstrong a.k.a. “Satchel Mouth”, “Satchmo”, “Dipper Mouth”

Louis Armstrong, often called “Pops,” “Satchmo,” or “Satchel Mouth,” was a foundational figure in jazz music. His innovative trumpet playing, distinctive gravelly voice, and charismatic stage presence transformed jazz and had a profound influence on the music’s development.

Popular Song Forms

Popular song forms in jazz, such as the 12-bar blues and the 32-bar AABA form, provide a foundational structure for improvisation and composition. These forms offer a predictable harmonic framework, allowing musicians to explore melodic and harmonic variations with freedom. Mastery of these forms is crucial for jazz musicians, as they form the basis of countless jazz standards and improvisations.

Post-Bop

Post-bop refers to a genre of jazz that emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s, following the era of bebop. It incorporates elements from hard bop, modal jazz, avant-garde, and free jazz, emphasizing complex harmony, intricate melodies, and greater improvisational freedom. Post-bop artists like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter pushed jazz in new, more experimental directions, blending traditional jazz elements with more abstract concepts.

Pres (preferred spelling) or Prez (short for “President”): Lester Young

Lester Young, affectionately known as “Pres” or “Prez,” was a tenor saxophonist whose smooth, relaxed style and inventive use of rhythm changed the course of jazz. His cool tone and laid-back approach made him a counterpoint to the more fiery styles of his contemporaries.

Press Roll

A press roll in jazz drumming is a technique where the drummer uses a continuous, controlled buzz stroke to produce a smooth, sustained sound. This technique requires finesse and control, allowing for dynamic variations and serving as an effective tool for building tension or providing a lush backdrop in ballads and other jazz forms. The press roll adds texture and emotional depth to the music.

Prince of Darkness: Miles Davis

Miles Davis, dubbed the “Prince of Darkness,” was a trumpet player, bandleader, and composer whose innovative approaches to jazz, from bebop through cool jazz, modal jazz, and jazz fusion, reshaped the genre. His introspective and complex personality matched his forward-thinking musical explorations.

Professor, the: Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway, known as “The Professor,” was a charismatic bandleader, singer, and dancer. His energetic performances and inventive use of language, showcased in his famous “Hi De Ho” call, made him a leading figure in the jazz and swing music scenes of the Harlem Renaissance.

Professor (the): Benny Goodman a.k.a. “the Patriarch of the Clarinet”, “Swing’s Senior Statesman”, “the King of Swing”

Benny Goodman, “The Professor,” was a virtuoso clarinetist and bandleader who played a pivotal role in popularizing swing music. His integration of jazz bands and his celebrated 1938 Carnegie Hall concert established him as a key figure in making jazz a respected art form.

Progression

A progression in jazz is a sequence of chords that provides the harmonic framework for a composition or improvisation. Understanding chord progressions is fundamental for jazz musicians, as they guide the melodic and harmonic development of the music.

Progressive Jazz

Progressive jazz, which emerged in the 1940s and 1950s, represents an experimental approach to jazz that incorporates elements from classical music, such as extended compositions and complex arrangements. It challenges traditional jazz boundaries, introducing innovative concepts in harmony, rhythm, and form. Artists like Stan Kenton and Dave Brubeck were pioneers of this style, which sought to elevate jazz to new artistic heights.

Pulse

The pulse in jazz is the underlying beat that provides the tempo and rhythmic foundation for the music. It is the heartbeat of a jazz performance, felt even when not explicitly played, guiding musicians and listeners alike through the rhythmic landscape. The ability to internalize and express the pulse is essential for jazz musicians, enabling tight ensemble playing and coherent improvisation.


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Jazz Glossary – Q


Quadrille

A quadrille, though more commonly associated with European dance music, influenced early jazz forms through its structured dance figures and repetitive melodies. Jazz musicians adapted the quadrille’s rhythmic and harmonic patterns, infusing them with syncopation and blues elements, contributing to the development of ragtime and early jazz styles. This cross-cultural exchange highlights jazz’s eclectic roots.

Quality

In jazz, the term “quality” refers to the characteristic sound of a chord, determined by the intervals between its notes. Quality can describe chords as major, minor, diminished, augmented, and more, each bringing a unique emotional color to the music.

Quartal Harmony

Quartal harmony in jazz builds chords using intervals of fourths rather than the traditional thirds. This approach produces open, modern-sounding harmonies and has been influential in the development of jazz, particularly in modal and free jazz styles.

Quavers

Quavers, or eighth notes, are a rhythmic notation representing half a beat in common time. In jazz, quavers are often swung, creating the distinctive “swing” rhythm that is a hallmark of the genre, adding a lively, syncopated feel to the music.

Queen: Peggy Lee

Peggy Lee, celebrated as “The Queen,” was a jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, and actress known for her alluring voice and emotive delivery. Her sophisticated approach to singing, marked by nuanced phrasing and a deep understanding of the music, made her an iconic figure.

Queen of the Jukeboxes: Dinah Washington

Dinah Washington, the “Queen of the Jukeboxes,” was a singer and pianist who excelled in jazz, blues, and R&B. Her powerful voice and emotional intensity brought her widespread acclaim, and her recordings were jukebox favorites, reflecting her popularity across genres.

Quote

Quoting in jazz involves the deliberate incorporation of recognizable melodies from other songs into a solo or arrangement. This technique showcases a musician’s creativity and sense of humor, creating a connection with the audience through musical references. Quotes can range from fragments of jazz standards to snippets of popular songs, enriching the improvisational dialogue with layers of meaning and intertextuality.


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Jazz Glossary – R


Rabbit: Johnny Hodges a.k.a. “Rab”, “Jeep”

Johnny Hodges, known as “Rabbit,” was a lead alto saxophonist in the Duke Ellington Orchestra. His lyrical, expressive style and mastery of the blues made him one of the most admired saxophonists of his time, influencing generations of musicians.

Race Records

“Race Records” was a term used in the early 20th century to categorize recordings made by African American artists, primarily in the genres of blues, jazz, and gospel. This marketing strategy by record companies both reflected and perpetuated racial segregation in the music industry. Despite its controversial origins, the music on these records played a crucial role in the development and dissemination of jazz.

Ragtime

Ragtime, a precursor to jazz, emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, characterized by its syncopated, or “ragged,” rhythm. While primarily a piano genre, ragtime influenced the rhythmic feel and improvisational style of early jazz. Composers like Scott Joplin popularized ragtime, setting the stage for jazz’s rhythmic complexity and melodic inventiveness.

Refrain

In jazz, the refrain refers to the main section or chorus of a song, where the principal theme or melody is stated. It serves as the foundation for improvisation, with soloists often returning to the refrain for thematic coherence. The refrain’s memorable melody and harmonic structure are central to the identity of a jazz composition.

Register

Register in jazz refers to the range of pitches that an instrument or voice can produce, from low to high. Different registers convey unique tonal qualities and emotional nuances, allowing musicians to express a wide spectrum of feelings and textures. Jazz artists skillfully explore the registers of their instruments, utilizing the full range to enhance the music’s expressive depth.

Relative Pitch

Relative pitch is the ability to identify the pitch of notes relative to other notes. In jazz, musicians with strong relative pitch can improvise more effectively, understanding the harmonic context and creating melodic lines that are coherent and musically engaging.

Repertoire

A jazz musician’s repertoire is the collection of pieces they are prepared to play. Having a broad repertoire is essential in jazz, as it includes standards, original compositions, and arrangements that demonstrate a musician’s versatility and depth of musical knowledge.

Resolution

Resolution in jazz refers to the movement from a dissonant chord or note to a consonant one, creating a sense of harmonic completion and rest. Effective resolution is key to creating tension and release in improvisation and composition, a fundamental aspect of jazz’s dynamic expression.

Rhumba (Rumba)

Rhumba, or rumba, is a genre of Cuban music that has significantly influenced jazz, especially Latin jazz. Characterized by its complex rhythms and percussive elements, rhumba infuses jazz with Afro-Cuban musical traditions, enriching the genre with vibrant rhythms and a deep sense of groove. Jazz musicians often incorporate rhumba patterns into their compositions and improvisations, creating a fusion of styles.

Rhumba Clave

The rhumba clave is a rhythmic pattern fundamental to Afro-Cuban music and influential in Latin jazz. Consisting of two bars with a specific pattern of hits, it serves as the rhythmic foundation, guiding the timing and interaction of musicians within the ensemble.

Rhythm

Rhythm in jazz is the element that organizes music in time, featuring a wide range of patterns and syncopations that give jazz its distinctive swing and groove. Mastery of rhythm is essential for jazz musicians, as it underpins the genre’s dynamic flow and improvisational nature.

Rhythm and Blues

Rhythm and blues (R&B), a genre that emerged in the 1940s, shares many elements with jazz, including its roots in African American musical traditions. R&B’s emphasis on groove, bluesy melodies, and soulful expression has influenced jazz musicians, leading to cross-genre collaborations and the incorporation of R&B elements into jazz, further blurring the lines between these rich musical forms.

Rhythm Changes

Rhythm changes refer to the chord progression derived from George Gershwin’s song “I Got Rhythm.” This progression has become a foundational harmonic sequence in jazz, serving as the basis for countless compositions and improvisations. Mastery of rhythm changes is considered essential for jazz musicians, offering a versatile framework for exploring harmonic and rhythmic variations.

Rhythm Section

The rhythm section is the backbone of a jazz ensemble, typically consisting of piano, bass, drums, and sometimes guitar. This unit provides harmonic support, rhythmic foundation, and dynamic propulsion, enabling soloists to improvise freely. The rhythm section’s cohesive interaction and responsiveness are crucial to the overall sound and feel of a jazz performance.

Ride Cymbal

The ride cymbal is a key component of a jazz drummer’s setup, used to maintain a steady rhythmic pattern, or “ride” rhythm, throughout a performance. Its distinctive, shimmering sound helps to keep the beat and add a subtle layer of rhythmic complexity. The ride cymbal’s variations in articulation and intensity contribute significantly to the dynamic range of jazz drumming.

Riff

A riff in jazz is a short, catchy, and repeated melodic phrase or pattern, often used as a building block for a tune or an improvisation. Riffs provide a rhythmic and harmonic anchor, creating a memorable motif that can be easily recognized and developed. They are fundamental to the structure and evolution of jazz compositions and solos.

Rim Shot

A rim shot in jazz drumming involves striking the drumhead and the rim of the drum simultaneously with a drumstick, producing a sharp, accentuated sound. This technique is used for emphasis within a rhythmic pattern, adding a dramatic effect to the music. Rim shots enhance the dynamic and textural variety of jazz drumming, contributing to the overall excitement of a performance.

Rip

In jazz, a “rip” refers to a rapid, ascending or descending run executed by an instrumentalist, often used as a dramatic flourish or to transition between sections of a piece. This technique showcases the musician’s technical prowess and adds excitement to a performance, creating a moment of high energy and intensity within the musical texture.

Roll

A roll in jazz drumming is a continuous, rapid succession of alternating strokes that produces a sustained sound. Drummers use rolls to build dynamic tension, provide textural variety, or accentuate musical climaxes. Mastery of various roll techniques is essential for jazz drummers, as it contributes to the expressive range and rhythmic complexity of their playing.

Root

The root of a chord is the note upon which the chord is built, serving as its foundational pitch. In jazz, the root plays a crucial role in defining the chord’s identity and its relationship within chord progressions, guiding improvisation and harmonic structure.

Run

A run in jazz is a quick succession of notes moving up or down a scale or arpeggio, often used in solos to showcase technical skill and musical imagination. Runs can add flourish and excitement to improvisations, allowing musicians to explore the full range of their instruments and the harmonic possibilities of a piece.


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Jazz Glossary – S


Salsa

Salsa music, with its roots in Afro-Cuban jazz, is a vibrant and rhythmic genre that has influenced jazz through its complex rhythms, brass arrangements, and emphasis on percussion. Jazz musicians incorporate salsa elements to create energetic, danceable grooves, blending improvisational sophistication with the compelling rhythms of Latin music.

Samba

Samba, a Brazilian musical genre and dance style, has deeply influenced jazz, leading to the fusion genre of samba jazz. Its compelling rhythms and melodies have been integrated into jazz, enriching the genre with its vibrant energy and syncopated beats.

Sampler

In jazz, a sampler is an electronic device or software used to record, manipulate, and play back digital audio samples. Musicians use samplers to integrate diverse sounds, from instrumental solos to ambient noises, into their compositions and performances, expanding the sonic palette of jazz beyond traditional acoustic instruments.

Sassy: Sarah Vaughan a.k.a. “The Divine One”

Sarah Vaughan, affectionately known as “Sassy” and “The Divine One,” was a jazz vocalist known for her extraordinary vocal range, technical skill, and emotive depth. Her performances, marked by innovative phrasing and a rich tone, established her as one of the premier singers in jazz history.

Satchmo: Louis Armstrong a.k.a. “Dipper Mouth”, “Pops”, “Satchel Mouth”

Louis Armstrong, also known as “Satchmo,” was a legendary jazz trumpeter, vocalist, and bandleader. His pioneering approach to playing and singing shaped the sound of jazz and influenced countless musicians. His joyful performances and innovative recordings remain central to the jazz canon.

Scalar

Scalar in jazz refers to the use of scales as the basis for improvisation and composition. Jazz musicians often employ various scales, including major, minor, pentatonic, and modes, to construct solos and melodies that fit the harmonic context of a piece.

Scale

A scale in jazz is a sequence of notes arranged in ascending or descending order, serving as the foundation for melody and improvisation. Jazz scales, including major, minor, modal, and blues, provide a framework for creating solos, developing harmonic ideas, and exploring the tonal possibilities of music.

Scale Degree

Scale degree refers to the position of a note within a scale, indicating its relative pitch. In jazz, understanding scale degrees is vital for improvisation and theory, as it helps musicians identify chord functions, build chords, and create harmonically relevant solos.

Scat

Scat singing in jazz is a vocal improvisation technique using nonsensical syllables instead of words, mimicking the sound and phrasing of instruments. This expressive form allows vocalists to participate in the improvisatory nature of jazz, showcasing their rhythmic inventiveness and melodic creativity.

Second

In jazz, “second” refers to the interval between two adjacent scale degrees. It’s a fundamental harmonic building block, used in creating chords and melodies. The subtle variations between major and minor seconds contribute to the rich harmonic language of jazz, allowing for nuanced expression and complex chordal structures.

Second Line

The “second line” in jazz refers to the participants who follow the main parade or brass band in New Orleans jazz funerals and celebrations, dancing and reacting to the music. This tradition embodies the communal spirit of jazz, emphasizing participation, improvisation, and the celebratory aspects of the music.

Semitone

A semitone in jazz is the smallest interval used in Western music, equivalent to a half step on the piano. Semitones are crucial for creating tension and release in jazz harmonies and melodies, serving as the building blocks for scales, chords, and chromatic movements that characterize the genre’s harmonic richness.

Septeto

A Septeto in jazz, particularly in Latin jazz, refers to a seven-member ensemble commonly featuring instruments such as trumpet, trombone, bass, percussion, and guitar. This format allows for a rich blend of melodic lines, harmonies, and rhythms, showcasing the fusion of jazz with Caribbean and Latin American musical traditions.

Sequencer

In jazz, a sequencer is a digital tool used to record, edit, and playback music by arranging notes and rhythms in a predetermined sequence. It enables musicians to compose complex arrangements, experiment with rhythmic patterns, and layer sounds, thus expanding the creative possibilities within jazz compositions and performances.

Sexteto

A Sexteto in jazz is a six-piece ensemble, offering a compact yet versatile format for exploring a wide range of musical styles within the genre. This setup often includes a rhythm section and a combination of wind or string instruments, facilitating intricate interplay and rich harmonic textures in both traditional and modern jazz compositions.

Shake

In jazz, a “shake” is a technique where a musician rapidly alternates between two notes, usually a semitone or whole tone apart, creating a vibrato-like effect. This expressive device adds intensity and emotional depth to a performance, often used by brass and reed players to emphasize climactic moments.

Shape

Shape in jazz can refer to the contour or overall structure of a melody or solo. Musicians consider the shape to build coherent and dynamic improvisations, ensuring that their solos have a beginning, development, and conclusion, contributing to the narrative quality of jazz music.

Sharp

In music, sharp means raising a note by a semitone. In jazz, sharp notes are used to add tension or dissonance to chords and melodies, enriching the harmonic language of a piece and providing opportunities for creative expression in improvisation.

Shed

“Shedding” in jazz slang refers to practicing or honing one’s musical skills, typically in private or with peers. The term derives from “woodshedding,” implying the solitary, focused effort required to master the complexities of jazz improvisation, technique, and repertoire.

Sheets of Sound

“Sheets of sound” is a term coined by critic Ira Gitler to describe John Coltrane’s innovative improvisation technique, characterized by fast runs of notes played in quick succession, creating a dense, continuous flow of sound. This style marked a significant departure from traditional jazz solos, offering a more intense, complex, and layered textural approach to improvisation. Coltrane’s use of this technique in the late 1950s and early 1960s had a profound influence on the direction of jazz music.

Shell

Shell voicings in jazz are simplified chord structures that include only the essential tones, typically the root, third, and seventh. These voicings provide a harmonic foundation while leaving space for improvisation and additional harmonic textures.

Shout Chorus

The shout chorus is a climactic section in a big band arrangement, characterized by its high energy, full ensemble sound, and often complex harmonization. It serves as a peak moment in a performance, showcasing the power and unity of the band.

Shuffle

The shuffle rhythm in jazz is characterized by a swinging, triplet-based feel, where the first and third triplet notes are emphasized, creating a laid-back, groovy pattern. This rhythm, foundational to swing and blues, adds a distinctive bounce to jazz performances, encouraging movement and engagement.

Side-slipping

Side-slipping in jazz is a technique where a phrase or chord is moved up or down by a semitone, creating a momentary dissonance before resolving back into the original key. This technique adds surprise and tension to solos and arrangements.

Slap-Tongue

Slap-tongue is a technique used by reed players in jazz to produce a percussive, popping sound by pulling the tongue quickly away from the reed. This effect adds a unique textural element to jazz music, emphasizing rhythm and adding an element of surprise within improvisational passages.

Smack: Fletcher Henderson

Fletcher Henderson, nicknamed “Smack,” was a pianist, bandleader, and arranger who played a key role in the development of big band jazz. His arrangements helped define the swing era, and his band served as a training ground for many future jazz legends.

Smear

In jazz, a “smear” is a glissando or slide between notes, often used by brass and wind players to create a smooth, sliding transition. This technique adds expressiveness and a sense of fluidity to solos, embodying the genre’s emphasis on emotional depth and stylistic flexibility.

Smooth Jazz

Smooth jazz is a subgenre characterized by its laid-back, melodic approach, blending jazz improvisation with elements of R&B, pop, and funk. Known for its polished production and accessible appeal, smooth jazz offers a contemporary take on traditional jazz forms, appealing to a broad audience with its smooth, relaxing soundscapes.

Sock Cymbal

The sock cymbal, an early term for the hi-hat, is an essential part of a jazz drummer’s kit, consisting of two cymbals mounted on a stand and played with a foot pedal. It provides rhythmic accents and variations, contributing to the drive and swing feel characteristic of jazz music.

Solo

In jazz, a solo is a segment where an individual musician plays or improvises, often taking the lead over the accompanying rhythm section. Solos are a central aspect of jazz, showcasing a musician’s skill, stylistic expression, and ability to interact creatively with the song’s harmonic and rhythmic structures.

Son

“Son” in the context of Latin jazz refers to a traditional Cuban music genre that combines Spanish musical structures and African rhythmic patterns. It has significantly influenced jazz, introducing complex rhythms and a blend of harmonic and melodic elements that have enriched jazz’s vocabulary and led to the development of styles like salsa and Latin jazz.

Song Form

Song form in jazz typically refers to the structure of a composition, often consisting of repeated sections such as AABA or ABAC. This form serves as a framework for improvisation, allowing musicians to explore and reinterpret the melody and harmony within the compositional structure.

Soul Jazz

Soul jazz is a genre that emerged in the late 1950s and 1960s, blending elements of jazz, R&B, and gospel music. Characterized by its groovy beats, bluesy melodies, and emotional intensity, soul jazz appeals to a wide audience through its accessible rhythms and soulful expressions.

Standard

A jazz standard is a composition that is widely recognized and performed in the jazz repertoire. These pieces often originate from Broadway theatre, musical theatre, and early 20th-century popular music, forming the backbone of jazz performance and improvisation due to their enduring popularity and musical complexity.

Steal and Incorporate

“Steal and incorporate” refers to the jazz practice of borrowing ideas from other musicians’ solos and compositions and integrating them into one’s playing. This tradition is a form of homage and learning, allowing musicians to build upon the vocabulary of jazz.

Steepee (Steepy): Branford Marsalis a.k.a. “Jeepy”

Branford Marsalis, known as “Steepee” or “Steepy,” is a saxophonist who has made significant contributions to jazz, classical music, and pop. His versatile playing style and deep musicality have earned him acclaim in a wide range of musical contexts.

Step-wise

Step-wise motion in jazz refers to melodic movement by adjacent scale degrees, either ascending or descending. This smooth, linear approach contrasts with leaps and creates a sense of continuity and flow in melodies and solos.

Stock Arrangement

A stock arrangement in jazz refers to a pre-written, commercially available musical arrangement of a piece, designed for ensembles of various sizes. These arrangements provide a framework for performance, offering a balance between written parts and opportunities for improvisation, making them useful for bands with limited rehearsal time.

Stop-Time

Stop-time in jazz is a technique where the rhythm section plays a chord or beat at regular intervals, leaving spaces in between for a soloist to improvise freely. This creates a dramatic effect and highlights the soloist’s creativity against a punctuated rhythmic backdrop.

Stork (the): Paul Desmond

Paul Desmond, “The Stork,” was an alto saxophonist best known for his work with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. His cool tone, fluid improvisation, and the composition of “Take Five” made him a key figure in the West Coast jazz scene.

Storyville

Storyville was a historic red-light district in New Orleans, known as the birthplace of jazz. Operating from 1897 to 1917, it provided a venue for early jazz musicians to perform, helping to cultivate the development and spread of jazz music in its formative years.

Straight

In jazz, playing “straight” refers to performing in a direct, unswung rhythm, where notes are played evenly. This contrasts with the swung rhythm that is typical in many jazz styles, offering a different expressive quality and rhythmic feel to the music.

Straight Eights

Straight eights in jazz refer to a rhythmic feel where eighth notes are played evenly, as opposed to the swing feel where the first eighth note of a pair is longer than the second. This approach is common in Latin jazz, rock, and fusion genres, providing a smooth and consistent rhythmic flow.

Stretch Out

To “stretch out” in jazz means to take extended solos, allowing musicians more space and time to explore complex improvisations and develop musical ideas fully. This practice is common in live performances, where the interactive and spontaneous nature of jazz can be fully expressed.

Stride

Stride is a piano style that emerged in the early 20th century, characterized by a rhythmic left-hand pattern that alternates between bass notes and chords, while the right hand plays melodies and improvisations. Stride piano is foundational to jazz, showcasing technical virtuosity and a deep swing feel.

Strings of notes

“Strings of notes” in jazz typically refers to fast, fluid sequences of notes played in a solo. These passages demand technical agility and are used to build intensity, express emotion, or navigate complex chord changes.

Stroll

In jazz, to “stroll” means for a musician, usually a bassist or horn player, to take a solo without accompaniment from the chordal instruments, relying solely on the rhythm section to maintain the harmonic foundation. This highlights the soloist’s melodic inventiveness and rhythmic interaction with the bass and drums.

Subdominant

The subdominant is the fourth scale degree and its corresponding chord in a key. In jazz, the subdominant plays a pivotal role in chord progressions, often leading to the dominant chord, and is essential in creating movement and tension within a piece.

Substitution

Chord substitution is a harmonic technique in jazz where alternate chords are used in place of the original chords in a progression, enriching the harmonic landscape and creating new pathways for improvisation. This can involve using chords that share similar harmonic functions or tonal qualities, adding depth and complexity to the music.

The Sugar Man: Stanley Turrentine aka “Mr. T”

Stanley Turrentine, “The Sugar Man,” was a tenor saxophonist known for his thick, warm tone and soulful playing style. His ability to blend jazz with R&B and soul music made him a pioneer of the soul jazz genre.

Swee’ Pea: Billy Strayhorn

Billy Strayhorn, “Swee’ Pea,” was a composer, pianist, and arranger closely associated with Duke Ellington. His sophisticated compositions, including “Take the ‘A’ Train,” and contributions to the Ellington orchestra were integral to the ensemble’s success and the evolution of jazz.

Sweets: Harry Edison

Harry “Sweets” Edison was a trumpeter known for his work with the Count Basie Orchestra and for his collaborations with many jazz greats. His distinctive, muted trumpet sound and inventive solos made him a beloved figure in the jazz world.

Swing

Swing in jazz refers to a rhythmic feel characterized by a driving momentum and a sense of forward motion, typically achieved through a syncopated emphasis on the off-beats. It is the foundational rhythm of jazz, creating a distinctive “groove” that encourages improvisation and musical interaction among players.

Swing Jazz

Swing Jazz, a dominant jazz style from the 1930s to the 1940s, emphasized a strong rhythmic groove and a forward propulsion known as “swing.” Bands led by Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Benny Goodman used elaborate arrangements and emphasized improvisation. Swing jazz made jazz a major component of popular music and was characterized by its danceable rhythms, leading to the swing dance craze.

Swing’s Senior Statesman: Benny Goodman a.k.a. “the Patriarch of the Clarinet”, “the Professor”, “the King of Swing”

Benny Goodman, “Swing’s Senior Statesman,” was a clarinetist and bandleader who played a pivotal role in the swing era. His groundbreaking performances, including the famous 1938 Carnegie Hall jazz concert, established him as a leading figure in jazz.

Syncopation

Syncopation in jazz refers to the accentuation of beats or parts of beats not normally emphasized in traditional Western music. This rhythmic complexity is a hallmark of jazz, creating a sense of surprise and engaging listeners by shifting the expected metric balance, adding vitality and swing to the music.


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Jazz Glossary – T


Tag

A tag in jazz is a short, repeated musical phrase or extension at the end of a composition used to provide a conclusive feel to the piece. Often improvisational in nature, tags can vary in length and complexity, offering musicians a final opportunity to embellish the song’s ending.

Tailgate

Tailgate trombone style is characterized by its robust, sliding notes that mimic the sound of early jazz and New Orleans brass bands. Originating from trombonists playing on the back of wagons or “tailgates,” this style emphasizes glissandos, growls, and spirited, rhythmic patterns, contributing to the lively atmosphere of traditional jazz.

Tail-Note

A tail-note in jazz is the last note of a phrase, often landing on a weak beat or used to lead into the next phrase. Its placement and choice can significantly impact the phrasing’s feel and the solo’s overall expression.

Tain: Jeff “Tain” Watts

Jeff “Tain” Watts is a drummer known for his work with Branford and Wynton Marsalis, as well as his innovative solo projects. His dynamic playing style, characterized by complex rhythms and powerful energy, has made him one of the most influential drummers in modern jazz.

Take it to the bridge

“Take it to the bridge” refers to moving to the bridge section of a song, which is typically a contrasting part in the middle of a composition. In jazz, the bridge offers a change in harmony or mood, providing a fresh backdrop for improvisation.

Talk

In jazz, “talk” often refers to the way musicians’ play communicates or “speaks” to the audience and each other. Jazz is seen as a conversational art form where solos, phrasing, and interactions between band members convey emotions and stories, much like a spoken dialogue.

Tango

Tango, a dance and music genre originating from the Rio de la Plata region of Argentina and Uruguay, has influenced jazz with its distinctive rhythm and passionate expression. Jazz musicians have incorporated tango’s complex rhythms and dramatic mood into their compositions, creating a fusion that enriches both genres.

Tape Loop

Tape loop technology, involving the repetition of a piece of magnetic tape to create a continuous loop, has been used in jazz for experimental effects, including delay, echo, and layering sounds. This technique allows for the exploration of time, texture, and space within a jazz context, pushing the boundaries of traditional performance.

Target Note

A target note in jazz is a specific note that a musician aims to hit within a solo or melody, often emphasizing the note due to its harmonic or melodic importance. Target notes guide the direction of improvisation and lend coherence to solos.

Tempo

Tempo in jazz refers to the speed or pace of a given piece, measured in beats per minute (BPM). Jazz tempos can range from very slow (ballads) to extremely fast (bebop), with tempo changes often employed within compositions to convey different emotions or highlight technical prowess.

Tension and Release

Tension and release is a fundamental concept in jazz, involving the creation of musical tension through dissonance, rhythm, or dynamics, followed by its resolution. This interplay is crucial for emotional impact and keeps listeners engaged through the piece.

Tetrachord

A tetrachord is a group of four notes spanning an interval of a perfect fourth. In jazz, tetrachords can be used to construct scales or modes, providing a framework for improvisation and composition by dividing the octave into manageable segments.

Tertiary Harmony

Tertiary harmony in jazz is built on thirds, forming the traditional chord structures common in the genre. This approach creates rich, layered harmonies by stacking thirds on top of each other, from triads to extended chords.

Third Stream Jazz

Third Stream Jazz is a genre that merges classical music’s compositional techniques with jazz’s improvisation and swing. Coined by composer Gunther Schuller in the late 1950s, it represents a synthesis aiming to create a new form of music that is neither purely classical nor purely jazz but a creative hybrid.

Through-Composed

Through-composed pieces in jazz are written to progress from beginning to end without repeating sections, unlike forms with repeated choruses or verses. This structure allows for a continuous, evolving narrative in the music.

Tight

In jazz, “tight” describes a group playing in precise synchronization, with a cohesive sound and impeccable timing. Tightness is essential for the complex arrangements and rhythmic interplay characteristic of jazz ensembles.

Timbre

Timbre, or tone color, in jazz refers to the quality of sound that distinguishes different instruments or voices, even when they are playing the same note. The unique timbre of instruments and the way jazz musicians manipulate it through techniques and expressive playing contribute significantly to the genre’s rich sonic palette.

Time

In jazz, “time” often refers to the rhythmic feel or groove established by the rhythm section. Keeping good time means maintaining a consistent tempo and providing a solid foundation over which the rest of the ensemble can improvise. Mastery of time is essential for the swing feel that defines jazz.

Time feel

Time feel in jazz refers to a musician’s sense of rhythm and timing, especially their ability to play within the groove in a way that feels natural and expressive. A good time feel is crucial for swing and groove, foundational elements of jazz.

Tipico

“Tipico” in jazz refers to music that strongly reflects the traditional rhythms, melodies, and harmonies of a particular culture or region, especially in Latin jazz. It embodies the authentic sounds and styles native to specific areas, offering a rich, cultural depth to jazz compositions and performances.

Tonality

Tonality in jazz refers to the organization of music around a central note, or tonic, and the scale built on that tonic. Jazz explores both traditional tonalities and more complex harmonic landscapes, including modal jazz and atonal experiments, showcasing the genre’s vast expressive range.

Tone

Tone in jazz refers to the sound quality or character produced by an instrument or voice. Jazz musicians are often recognized by their unique tones, which they develop through technique, articulation, and emotional expression. A rich, expressive tone is crucial for conveying the nuances of jazz music.

Tone Cluster

A tone cluster is a musical chord comprising at least three adjacent notes in a scale. In jazz, tone clusters are used for their dissonant, harmonically dense sound, adding color and tension to compositions. They are often played on the piano by striking several adjacent keys with the palm or forearm.

Tonic

The tonic in jazz is the home base or fundamental pitch of a song’s key, providing a resolution point for the music’s harmonic progression. Jazz compositions often explore departures from and returns to the tonic, creating dynamic tension and release that drives the musical narrative.

Tootie: Albert “Tootie” Heath

Albert “Tootie” Heath is a drummer who has performed with a who’s who of jazz, from John Coltrane to J.J. Johnson. His versatile style and deep swing feel have made him a revered figure in the jazz drumming community.

Top

In jazz, “top” refers to the beginning of a piece or the start of a new chorus within a composition. It marks the point where musicians return to the main theme or head after completing improvisational solos or exploring various sections of the tune, ensuring cohesion and structure in performance.

Trad

Trad, short for “traditional,” pertains to early styles of jazz that originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in New Orleans. This form emphasizes collective improvisation, a front line of trumpet, clarinet, and trombone, and a rhythm section that includes banjo or guitar, double bass, and drums.

Trading 4s (or 8s, 2s)

Trading 4s (or 8s, 2s) involves musicians alternately improvising for four (or eight, two) measures each, creating a conversational exchange. This practice highlights the improvisational skill and interactive listening between band members.

Trane: John Coltrane

John Coltrane, known as “Trane,” was a revolutionary saxophonist and composer whose work expanded the boundaries of jazz. His explorations of modal jazz, his pioneering use of the soprano saxophone, and his spiritual compositions have left an indelible mark on the genre.

Transcribe

To transcribe in jazz means to write down or learn by ear the notes of a solo, melody, or chord progression from a recording. Transcribing is a key method for students of jazz to internalize the language and style of the music.

Transcription

Transcription in jazz involves writing down the notes of a recorded improvisation or composition by ear. This practice helps musicians analyze and learn from the solos of master jazz artists, gaining insight into their harmonic choices, rhythmic patterns, and phrasing, thereby aiding in the development of their own improvisational language.

Transpose

To transpose in jazz is to shift a piece of music or segment to a different key. This skill is vital for jazz musicians to adapt music to suit different instruments or vocal ranges, or to match the ensemble’s needs.

Tritone Substitution

Tritone substitution involves replacing a dominant chord with another dominant chord a tritone away. This creates a chromatic alteration in harmony, adding tension and color to chord progressions, and is a hallmark of sophisticated jazz harmony.

Tumbao

Tumbao is a rhythmic pattern fundamental to Afro-Cuban music and Latin jazz, typically played on the conga drums. It provides a driving, syncopated pulse that underpins the music, contributing to its vibrant, danceable quality. Tumbao’s influence is evident in the rhythmic complexity of Latin jazz arrangements and performances.

Turnaround

A turnaround is a harmonic progression that brings a section of music to its conclusion and leads back to the beginning of the repetition or to another section. In jazz, turnarounds are crucial for creating seamless transitions between solos and themes, allowing for continuous flow and development within a piece.

Turning the Beat Around

Turning the beat around refers to the practice of playing against the grain of the established rhythm, creating a sense of syncopation or rhythmic tension. This technique challenges traditional rhythmic patterns, offering a fresh perspective and invigorating the music with unexpected accents and shifts in tempo.

Two-Beat

Two-beat in jazz refers to a rhythm where the emphasis is placed on the first and third beats of a four-beat measure, giving the music a bouncy, marching band-like feel. This style is often associated with traditional jazz and early swing, providing a lively and straightforward rhythmic foundation.

Two-feel

In jazz, a “two-feel” refers to the rhythmic feel where the bass plays on the first and third beats of each measure, giving the music a more spacious and laid-back feel. This is often used in ballads and medium-tempo swing tunes, contrasting with the busier “walking bass” style. The two-feel creates a light, bouncy rhythm that emphasizes the 1st and 3rd beats of the bar.


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Jazz Glossary – U


Up Tempo

Up tempo in jazz describes a fast pace or speed of a composition, often used to showcase technical skill and energetic playing. Up-tempo pieces require precise articulation and stamina from musicians, offering audiences exhilarating performances characterized by rapid chord changes and swift improvisational exchanges.

Up-Beat

The up-beat, or anacrusis, in jazz is the note or notes that occur just before the first downbeat of a measure, leading into the main rhythmic pattern. It sets the stage for the rhythm and tempo of the piece, creating anticipation and momentum from the outset.

Upper Structure

Upper structure refers to the use of extended chords in jazz that are built above the basic triad or seventh chord, often incorporating ninths, elevenths, and thirteenths. These structures enrich the harmonic texture, providing a sophisticated sound characteristic of modern jazz harmony.


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Jazz Glossary – V


Vamp

A vamp in jazz is a repetitive musical phrase or chord progression used as a background for solos or to extend sections of a tune. Vamps provide a groove or mood upon which musicians can improvise, offering flexibility in the structure and duration of the performance.

Velvet Fog (The): Mel Tormé

Mel Tormé, “The Velvet Fog,” was a singer, drummer, and songwriter known for his smooth voice and jazz-inflected vocal style. His ability to convey emotion and his sophisticated approach to phrasing made him one of the most admired vocalists of his era.

Verse

In jazz, a verse refers to an introductory section that precedes the main body (or chorus) of a song. Verses typically set up the narrative or thematic context of a piece, often with a different melody or chord progression, and are usually performed at a slower pace than the chorus.

Vibrato

Vibrato in jazz is a technique where musicians vary the pitch of a note to enrich its tone and add expressiveness. Achieved by oscillating the pitch slightly above and below the central note, vibrato enhances the emotional impact of a performance, making it a vital element in conveying feeling and depth.

Vocalese

Vocalese is a jazz style where singers set lyrics to previously recorded instrumental solos and perform them with the same articulation and phrasing as the original instruments. This challenging technique bridges the gap between vocal and instrumental jazz, offering a lyrical interpretation of instrumental improvisations.

V of V

“V of V” denotes the secondary dominant chord that leads to the dominant (V) chord in a key. This progression creates a temporary tension that resolves to the dominant, enhancing the movement and harmonic interest in jazz compositions and improvisations.

Voice

In jazz, “voice” can refer to the distinctive sound or style of a musician, as well as the literal singing voice. It embodies the unique expression and approach a jazz artist brings to their instrument or vocals, contributing to the rich tapestry of individuality and creativity that defines the genre.

Voice (The): Frank Sinatra a.k.a. “Ol’ Blue Eyes”

Frank Sinatra, “The Voice,” was a singer and actor whose phrasing, timing, and emotional depth transformed popular song into an art form. His interpretations of jazz standards and the American songbook left a lasting legacy in both pop and jazz music.

Voice-leading

Voice-leading in jazz is the smooth, logical progression of individual melodic lines or voices within a chord progression. Good voice-leading facilitates coherent transitions between chords, contributing to the fluidity and expressiveness of jazz harmonies.

Voicing

Voicing in jazz refers to the specific arrangement of notes within a chord, determining how it is played or sung. Jazz musicians often experiment with different voicings to create unique textures and harmonies, enriching the chordal backdrop against which improvisations unfold. Mastery of voicing is crucial for pianists and guitarists, enabling them to support the ensemble with both rhythmic foundation and harmonic complexity.

Vonski: Von Freeman

Von Freeman, known as “Vonski,” was a tenor saxophonist celebrated for his robust tone and adventurous improvisations. His contributions to the Chicago jazz scene and his mentorship of younger musicians cemented his status as a jazz elder statesman.


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Jazz Glossary – W


Wah Wah Mute/Pedal

The wah wah mute for brass instruments, and the wah wah pedal for electric guitars, are tools that produce a distinctive sound effect resembling the human voice saying “wah-wah.” In jazz, these devices allow musicians to alter the timbre and resonance of their instrument dynamically, adding expressiveness and a wide range of tonal colors to their performances.

Walk

To walk in jazz, particularly for bass players, means to play a steady rhythm of quarter notes, creating a continuous and swinging foundation over which other musicians can improvise. Walking bass lines progress smoothly through chord changes, providing both harmonic grounding and rhythmic drive that propels the music forward.

Waltz

In jazz, a waltz is performed in a 3/4 time signature, offering a distinct rhythmic feel from the more common 4/4 swing or bebop styles. Jazz waltzes blend the traditional European dance form with improvisation and jazz phrasing, creating a unique and lyrical genre variation.

West Coast Jazz

West Coast Jazz refers to a style of jazz that emerged in California in the 1950s, characterized by its relaxed, smooth sound and intricate arrangements. Often contrasted with the more intense bebop style of the East Coast, West Coast Jazz features lighter textures, moderate tempos, and a preference for compositional complexity over aggressive improvisation.

Whole Tone

The whole tone scale, consisting entirely of whole step intervals, creates a dreamy, ambiguous sound devoid of traditional harmonic tension and resolution. In jazz, whole tone scales are used to convey a sense of openness and fluidity, often employed in improvisations and compositions to achieve a distinctive, otherworldly atmosphere.

Woodshed

“Woodshedding” in jazz slang means to practice intensively and in seclusion. Musicians “go to the woodshed” to refine their technique, work on new material, or overcome technical challenges. This term underscores the dedication to craftsmanship and continual improvement that is a hallmark of jazz musicianship.


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Jazz Glossary – X


X (Time)

In jazz notation, “X (Time)” is not a commonly used term and might be confused with “cut time” (or “alla breve”), which signifies a tempo that is faster than indicated by the time signature, essentially cutting the value of the written note in half. It emphasizes efficiency in counting and can add a brisk pace to the performance.


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Jazz Glossary – Y


Yardbird: Charlie Parker a.k.a. “Bird”

Charlie Parker, also known as “Yardbird” or “Bird,” was an alto saxophonist who was a leading figure in the development of bebop. His innovative approaches to harmony, rhythm, and improvisation revolutionized jazz music and influenced generations of musicians.

You’ll Hear It

“You’ll hear it” is a phrase often used in jazz circles to suggest that understanding and appreciation of certain jazz nuances come with listening experience. It encourages immersive and attentive listening as a way to grasp the complexities of jazz music.

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