GLOSSARY OF COMMON MUSICAL TERMS
As you read the BigBands Database, some expressions may be
unfamiliar. Hopefully, you can find their meaning here.
ALLIGATOR: Musician's used to refer to each other as 'Alligators'.
Today, the word has been shortened to just 'Gator'.
Louis Armstrong is often referred to as 'Gate Mouth',
- from the same source.
BACK LINE: Musical slang for 'rhythm section'. Any combo of drums, bass piano, banjo, guitar. (Early bands would also use a Jug (glass/clay, gallon size) and washboard.) The expression stems from the early Jazz bands which often were just 5 - 7 pieces. The Melody instruments would stand out in the 'front' line while the Rhythm - piano, drums, banjo, and tuba/bass fiddle - would be the 'back line'. See also, "Front Line" below.
BEBOP: Another word for 'Bop'. See 'Bop" below.
BLUE NOTES: The lowered 3rd, 5th and 7th tones of a major scale. Often referred to as the 'flatted 5th', etc., by jazzmen.
BLUES: 1) A sad ballad type of song, often sung by a female moaning about a lost/uncaring/mean/etc lover. 2) A sad song sung mainly by black singers, - male and female. The traditional structure is 12 bars divided into 3 four bar measures. The "song form" (see below) is almost always AAB. (See "Jazz Overview" Link on the Main Page for more information.)
BARRELHOUSE: (Also called "Fast Western".) A style of piano playing popular west of the Mississippi before the 1900's and into the 'teens. So named because the piano players were usually working in the crude cabarets that served whiskey directly out of the barrel.
BOOGIE WOOGIE: An "Eight beats to the Bar" Ostinato. The left hand plays a repetitive riff throughout the song.
BOP: Originally, a style of music that used the changes (chords) of a well known song, but with a wild (sometimes recognizable and sometimes not) improvisation on the original melody. The expression has racial overtones. Dizzy Gilespie said that blacks developed Bop to "exclude "lesser" (meaning - white) musicians".
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SWING ERA AND MODERN COLLOQUIALISMS
"Swing", like most fields of endeavor, also has it's own
special lexicon. Once used mostly by the musician's
themselves, the slang has now become a part of the greater
society. And, what is even more remarkable, is the way the
language has prospered. It is still widely used today, AND
18 Karat "Pure Gold"
Ex: "He's 18 karat."
Ace One dollar; Dollar's worth, one, first rate Ex: "He's 'Ace' with me. Ex: "Slip me an Ace, Gate." (Let me have a dollar.)
Air-check An actual radio or television performance caught on tape; as opposed to a work done in a recording studio
Alligator Originally, a slang term for "Musician". Very early in Jazz history, musicians referred to themselves as "alligators". Now it simply refers to any Swing Devotee (abbrev. 'Gator or Gate) Note: Louis Armstrong is often called 'Gate Mouth', from the same source. Ex: Cat 1: See ya later, alligator. Cat 2: After while, crocodile.
Axe ANY musical instrument. Ex: Man, - what do you think of my new Axe?
Ball To enjoy Ex: We had a 'Ball' when Tommy Dorsey played.
Big Apple New York City. Ex: He's working at Roseland Ballroom in the Apple.
Baby A term of endearment. (for either sex.) Ex: Say, "baby," I got us some bread, let's "move" downtown.
Bad Good Ex: That dude does some "bad" ass playing.
Bag One's own special interest. Ex: Man, - Tommy Dorsey's "Well Git It" is my "Bag".
Balloon lungs A Brass player with good breath control. That cat has "balloon lungs," he held that note for one complete minute!
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