JJ 09/82: a jazz glossary

Forty years ago Barry McRae offered a helping hand to the jazz beginner. First published in Jazz Journal September 1982

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Blues Boy - good time Rolls. Photo of BB King in Sydney in 1974, by Harry Monty

We must never forget that there are always newcomers to the world of jazz. This listing is designed to help the more serious minded to understand our esoteric music.

The Blues The origins of the music. Created by blind singers, they tell of Michigan water, empty beds, yellow dogs and stones in your passway. Poverty still surrounds the idiom and leading pro­tagonists B B King and Muddy Waters can only afford 1981 Rolls Royces.

Boogie Woogie A piano style in which players invent fictitious names like Maceo Merryweather, Jimmy Yancey and Joshua Altheimer, because no real person has ever mastered the style.

Ragtime Invented by a Scot called McJoplin, the form was first heard in George Roy Hill’s classic film ‘The Sting’. It is at its best performed on an upright piano treated with vinegar and dead leaves.

New Orleans A city in Louisiana with posh railings. Also a musical style in which all members of the band play a different tune at the same time. Only about a dozen tunes are acceptable, and four of these are Bourbon Street Parade.

Storyville New Orleans’ version of Disneyland at the turn of the century. The jazz was hot, the ladies friendly and it would have frightened the shit out of Walt.

Trad Imitation New Orleans jazz. To reach the pinnacle of authenticity, a trad man must take as his models not the highly pro­ficient heroes who moved to Chicago, but the bumbling incompetents who remained in their native city. Since such jazz is re­garded as totally butch, playing in difficult keys is regarded as an effeminate excess.

Banjo The instrument is almost sacred to trad jazz and, since the pioneers played it badly, today’s musicians see little point in changing the tradition.

Vibrato The shakes.

Washboard A utensil used by old-world sud busters but more suitable for skiffle than an Electrolux.

Rent Party A shindig thrown by Harlem residents who had squandered all of their rent money on a piano.

Satchmo Jazz’s greatest figure at whom it is fashionable to sneer. It took time but he finally broke off his family ties with Uncle Tom.

Arrangement A situation in which jazzmen are persuaded to play the same tune, in the same key, at the same time. In many ways a prostitution of the true spirit.

Arranger/Conductor The cat with the least threadbare tuxedo.

Swing Music designed for the feet, pre­ferably clad in bobby socks, or other outmoded garb.

Mainstream Jazz too modern to be called authentic and too old to keep you awake. Especially designed for middle-brow, middle-aged collectors with expensive hi fi.

V-Discs Records that were issued during World War II, offering two fingers to the record ban then in operation.

Pres Tenor saxophone giant and anti-hero. He brought a new dimension to bad soldiering and had precious little to do with the allied victory in the last big fracas.

Jazz At The Philharmonic A series of con­certs designed to pander to the latent snob in all jazz followers. The more vulgar musi­cal elements remained, the audience emulated a bear garden but the musos wore tuxedos.

Stuff Smith A gifted and violent violinist found in Onyx clubs and hard-blowing company. It was rumoured that he avoided the Cool School for fear of being asked to form the Getz/Stuff Quartet.

Lady Sings The Blues A film in which Diana Ross made ‘being on the game’ a fun thing, drug addiction jolly, and history a monkey.

Vibraphone A series of metal strips struck with mallets, invented by Gary Burton and faithfully recorded by German record companies.

Xylophone A vibraphone in a power cut.

Block Chords A style of piano playing favoured by prison bands. Can be played with or without handcuffs.

Counterpoint Background music in a strip club.

Real Jazz All jazz made up to the point at which each individual fanatic decides to get off.

Modern Jazz Jazz played just before that point.

Bop Known to ageing experts as ju-jitsu music, it is jazz that takes a perfectly good chord sequence and builds a hideous new tune onto it.

Chord Sequence See Oxford Dictionary.

Cool Jazz Bop watered down for Holly­wood. Usually played as the good guy walks into the bar to meet his chick (old-fashioned word for lady) or as they sail off together into the sunset.

Melodious Thunk Mrs Monk’s name for her late husband.

Charlie Parker ‘Bird’ to the hip, ‘Yard’ to the more hip and justifiably a central figure in all jazz history books.

Miles A trumpeter who has shed his sur­name and become rich. He is not terribly fond of audiences, Ornette Coleman, day­light, younger musicians or most other things you can think of.

Hard Bop Ordinary bop that is difficult to understand.

Harmon A mute that makes it sound as if the trumpeter’s trousers are too tight.

Middle Eight A mediocre ‘head of the river’ boat crew.

Trane ‘In’ figure John Coltrane, quoted by experts and party bores alike.

Invitation To Blow Has three meanings. One is the news that a jam session is about to take place, another is an unfriendly re­quest to leave, and the third one isn’t.

Free A gig where the musicians are not paid.

Free Form A gig where musicians work from an opening theme, develop a series of unbearably jumbled variations inspired by it – and are not paid.

New Thing A description used by critics be­wildered by the cacophony of free jazz and looking for some decent terminology. When the pop world nicked the term, it was the final insult.

Jazz Centre Society A warehouse development company.

Art Ensemble Of Chicago Facial war paint and surgeon’s jackets are the regalia of this amazing group. Snoots are cocked, the stage cluttered with instruments and tradi­tional jazz techniques adjusted. Marcel Duchamp lives!

Brotherhood Of Breath A group of South African origin, who were not invited to re­present Great Britain in the Commonwealth Games.

Fusion The mixture of good rock and good jazz to give lousy music.

Funk/Jazz Music by a group with a drum­mer so insensitive that he has failed to reach the standard required to be called a fusion man.

Salsa Spick and Span music shipped out of Puerto Rico as a kindness to the inhabitants.

Ronnie Scott’s A London school for comics, Air India hostesses, sound engineers, provincial landladies and dead Greeks.

100 Club A London club named after its geriatric clientele.

Too Much An observation regarding this glossary.