The Great Scores Guide to Jazz Terms

A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M - N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z


The (Big) Apple - New York City


Bad - Good

Blowing - Soloing

Boogie Woogie - An early piano blues form, with distinctive and repetitive left hand patterns

Burnin - Something extremely good, e.g. a burning solo


Cans - Headphones

Cats - Jazz musicians

Call (to call a tune) - To decide which tune to play next, often preceded
by pointless discussions and much shoulder shrugging on the bandstand

Changes - Chord progression

Character - An interesting, quirky person

Chops - The level of playing ability reached, also one's form on the day,
especially with brass players if their lips get tired, they refer to having no chops

Chorus - One rendition of the tune. For example George Gershwin's
I got rhythm is 32 bars long, so one chorus is 32 bars. If you solo over the
tune 4 times, that means you have done four choruses.

Clinker - A bad note

Combo - Group of musicians that varies in size from 3 to less than the size of a big band

Comping - The rhythmic/melodic accompaniment of a soloist by a guitar or pianist

Cookin - Hot, great, fantastic

Cool - Extremely good, sophisticated

Crazy - Very good, excellent


Dig - To appreciate, enjoy

Drag - Something depressing


Flip your lid - Blow your tops


Gig - A concert, performance

Gone - If someone is playing a great solo, they are sometimes referred to as being gone

Groovy - Cool, hip


Head - The Actual melody of the piece. You will usually play this
at the beginning, and then to finish at the end of the performance.
Hence the saying back to the head, after the last soloist has finished his
last chorus. You sometimes see performers point to their head,
to indicate to the rest of the band to go back to the melody
once the soloist has finished the chorus he is just playing.

Hip - A term used to describe someone who knows or understands

Horn - Any instrument

Hot - Again, excellent or any other superlative

Hot Licks - Used especially by guitarists with over-blown egos,
who think they have the ultimate phrase to impress everyone with.


In the Pocket - Refers to the rhythm section being really together


Jam - To improvise or play

Jam Session - A get-together of jazz players


Lame - Something that doesn't quite cut it

Licks, Hot Licks or Formulas - These are generally pre-conceived and well practiced
phrases that will work over a specific chord sequence.
This style of improvising is used during formulaic improvisation.


My Chops is beat - When a brass player's lips (the embouchure) have given up


Noodlin' - To play a meandering, meaningless solo


On the head, On the nose - Generally means that rhythmically everything is really
together and grooving properly. The way to tell is that the
audience is really going for it with heads bopping up and down.


Scat - When vocalists improvise using nonsense syllables.
Rumoured to have originated on the Hot Five song
Heebie Jeebies when Louis Armstrong forgot his lyrics.

Scene - A place, or self-contained microcosm of jazz players in a town or city

Smokin' - Playing really well

Split - To leave

Swing - A way of rhythmic subdivision close to that of quaver
triplets which originated, and is mostly only found
in jazz. Also a style of music.


Tag - Used to end the tune, repeating the last phrase three times

Trading twos/fours/eights, etc. - This is a technique where you exchange two/four/eight bar
sections of a chorus with another or several other soloists.
So you play four bars of the blues, and then your soloing partner(s),
and then you again, and so forth. Mostly the trading
is done between two players, but you can come up with your own variations.

Train Wreck - Everyone is in a different part of the tune, and general
confusion reigns. You walk off the bandstand embarrassed,
hoping that no-one has noticed, and once in a while someone will
come up to you and say: Wow, that was amazing, what was that tune called? ;-)

Tubs - Drum kit

Turnaround/Turnback - Mostly a two bar section at the very end of the tune,
which can be repeated in itself, thus avoiding going back to
the tonic of the piece. In common practice this is often used
on the very last head before the final chord. It is a way of
extending the ending of a tune, and maybe others start
soloing again, and gradually build the tension to the final ending.

Two beat - Four-four time with a steady two beat found in New Orleans Jazz


Walking bass or walking rhythm - a rhythmic pattern, usually played by the bass, either
playing two notes a bar (walking in two), or four notes a bar (walking in four).

Wax a disc - To make a record

Wild - Astonishing, amazing

Woodshed (or Shed) - To practice, or a place to practice your chops