Jazz / Words

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Jazz has its slang, and its own corpus of formal and informal concepts, sub-genres and styles denominations, etc... This page is a modest attempt at listing these jazzy terms and stuff, givin' some (subjective) explanations about them, and of course link to MusicBrainz artists entries, releases and tracks.



... is a country which happened to give birth to both baseball and jazz music.

While baseball is possibly best forgotten, jazz had a deep influence on all music genres all over the world.

Jazz history is intimately mixed with America's history. Its struggles, its mafias, its racial tensions, World War II, its complicated relations with the ol' Europe...

Some editors even think America will be remembered only for Jazz as the only decent thing it produced (but such an opinion is highly controversial of course).

America of course has a lot of jazzy mythical places that some species of completists relentlessly seek, though that doesn't make these places enjoyable for anybody sane, neither it does redeem America for inventing baseball in the first place.


People who really want to learn something about The United States of America should better read the WikiPedia article


Atonal music does not use the hierarchy of tonal centers as its core organization.

While there are quite old examples of atonal compositions, Arnold Schoenberg was probably the first musician to use it extensively.

There are a few examples of jazz atonal music (by freejazz artists), though there is some controversy whether this is still jazz (even avant-guarde jazz), and/or if it is (and what exactly is) atonal music.

WikiPedia has a decent article about it, although they don't mention jazz.


While WikiPedia is absolutely clueless about what avant-guarde jazz is, the difference with Free jazz is clear as crystal water: Avant-guarde jazz is to Free jazz what a Beaujolais Nouveau is to a Chateau Lafitte 1992 - with the former you will get drunk and almost certainly inherit an horrible headache (although you'll think you just heard the very latest shit), while the later will give you that comfortable feeling of being utterly anarchist (and possibly utterly drunk) while you will indeed hear something that has a pretty good chance to enter history and will almost certainly (someday) switch from revolutionary stuff to academic stuff (once, and only once, the men who brewed it will be dead of course).

Now, to be sure to completely understand the difference, you should better go listen to The Avant-Guarde (Don Cherry & John Coltrane) which of course is way more free jazz than avant-guarde jazz, or to Free Jazz (Ornette Coleman Double Quartet), which of course is way more avant-guarde jazz than free jazz.


Bebop or bop came to light during the early 40s. Its main characteristics (when opposed to, say, Dixieland) included a faster tempo and an emphasis on variations based on melodic structure.

Chords changes are an important technical point of bop (to some extent, contrafaction and up-tempo allowed labels to avoid paying copyright fees for tunes). It's also a fact bebop introduced more technicality in jazz.

Possibly the most emblematic bop genius is Charlie Parker, probably the most influential saxophonist ever.

Bebop was to give birth in the 50s to hardbop and modal jazz.

Bebop (also spelled rebop) possibly originates from the "onomatopoetic imitation of a characteristic quick two-note phrase that was played together by the lead instruments to introduce a solo or end a song" (WikiPedia).

The WikiPedia Bebop article is your best read for a decent introduction to one of the most vivid and interesting form of jazz.

Black Panthers


Blue Note(s)




TODO: contrafaction/chords changes/chords progression




East coast


Fine Jazz

"Fine jazz is when a tenorman lifts his foot in the air."


Free Jazz

Good Jazz

"Good jazz is when the leader jumps on the piano, waves his arms, and yells."

Great Jazz

"Great jazz is when a tenorman heaves a piercing note for 32 bars and collapses on his hands and knees."

Hard bop





  • Jazz is a musical art originating from New Orleans, at the dawn of the 20th century. Mostly played and developed by African Americans, it's supposed to take its roots into Western music (both classical music [1] and military band music [2]) and possibly African traditional music [3] (although this last point is somewhat contested). The word jazz itself probably originates from New Orleans slang (meaning "sexual intercourse", apparently initially spelled jass), and may be related to the fact the first jazzmen were hired in brothels. It then evolved into a variety of acceptations, and depending on the context, jazz may mean: * stuff:
    • "What's that jazz you were talkin' about on the style mailing list?"
    * thingy: 
    • "Hey Nikki, you know... jazz!"
    * remarkable stuff (or remarkable thingy): 
    • "Wooo! The new server release is just jazz!"
    * crap: 
    • "Hey! Quit talkin' jazz to newbies on irc, would you?"


  • The first truly jazz music (roughly what was played in New Orleans during the first 20 years of the last century), is referred to as Dixieland. During the 20s and 30s, jazz spread all over America, disseminated notably by Pullman porters, King Oliver, Sidney Bechett. Concurrently the size of the bands grew up. Key figures emerged (Louis Armstrong, Dizzy Gillespie) and the singing style moved to scat, with the legendaries Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. The 40s saw the emergence of a new revolutionary style (bebop), with a new breed of geniuses: Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Dizzy Gillespie, and to some extent Thelonious Monk [4]. Bebop would then give birth to hardbop (all the rage in the 50s-60s), then to modal jazz. The next major revolution came in the early 50s, with the advent of free jazz, a new rich and complex music form deriving from hardbop. Pioneering geniuses in this new field of experiment included Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor... and later during the 60s, Albert Ayler, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers, Don Cherry, Anthony Braxton and many others. The 60s decade also saw the emergence of crossover new genres (latin jazz, fusion), while of course hardbop and free jazz were at their highest. Some editors at MusicBrainz think this is the best jazz decade ever. Early 70 saw jazz disseminating all over the world, and spreading in a lot of different directions. To some extent, it's also the end of jazz as a somewhat unique entity (both from a sociological and musical point of vue). Consequently, the community shrank, and interest for jazz somewhat faded out (most historical labels went dormant and/or bankrupt), although many exceptional records were published until the dusk of the 70s. The last part of the century saw both the deep influence of jazz on music in general (be it on funk, rock, acid jazz, pop music, hip-hop, electronic...), a revived interest for the old labels (thanks to the sampling efforts of the hip-hop community [5]), and a new interest for the "traditional" jazz-es, with both old veterans re-emerging, and a bunch of new young cats doing quite decent efforts (although the most grumpy hardbop fans may think they miss the soul and guts of the old days). Ultimately, there's no real definition of what jazz is. Some think It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing, while others drew their pleasure from atonality and breaking fixed chord changes. Some think it's a very intellectual form of expression, others want it to be primal, a Love Cry from soul to soul. Certainly, jazz is just all that.


Not jazz

"I don't know what he's playing, but it's not jazz." (Dizzy Gillespie about Ornette Coleman)

Stating that something is not jazz is possibly the most insulting comment one can make about a jazz musician's work.

It has been used each and every time jazz suddenly evolved in an unexpected direction.

Strangely enough, these who used it to disregard one of these new evolutions were in their time pioneers, and suffered themselves from such disdain :).


Qualifies a thingy whose substance has some of the characteristics expected from jazz by people generally clueless about what indeed jazz music is.

If applied to some music it may means that it swings and/or that one of the musicians is able to blow out more than two notes from his instrument.

If applied to something that is not music, it may mean it's warm and has the right mood.


While the use of drugs of course is not specific to jazz, booze and heroin made a number of victims among the most fragile and talented musicians of the century.

If artists from other music genres may have implied that heroin/LSD/booze was hip and/or helped inspiration, jazz musicians were globally less hypocrits about this, and the distress of people leading a hard-life and suffering from bad social conditions is certainly the one and only reason they had to destroy themselves.

It's also a fact that you can't play jazz trumpet properly without teeth (and you can't decently play anything being high), while these minor inconveniences of course don't prevent you from entering the pop charts.


  • It's rumored that Charlie Parker sank its heroin addiction into large quantities of scotch...
  • The reason for which Jackie McLean recorded so much studio albums is that he was verboten to play in clubs (consequence of a judgment for drug possession). He eventually drop his addiction thanks to a gigantic kick in the butt given by his friend Charles Mingus
  • Prestige was nicknamed the "Junkies Label", although this may have applied also to all the other labels, given at that time drug consumption was really widespread
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk, later during the 70s, was known (you can verify that on video tapes) to share his stuff with its public, and asked, as a last will, to be cremated and smoked by beautiful people in the hope they will get something out of it
  • It has been rumored that the mysterious death of Albert Ayler was linked to his brother drug problems
  • Gene Ammons served a nine years long prison time for drug possession, an extremely severe sentence to "make an example"
  • "Fats" Navarro wasn't fat anymore at the time of his tragic death, at 26 years old
  • No one knows what stuff exactly Sun Ra absorbed, but it must have came from space


The most known jazz label is certainly Blue Note, while of course Prestige, Riverside, Atlantic, Columbia, Verve and Savoy were also very important during the 40s-60s period.

A number of new labels emerged during the late free jazz period, among which ESP and Actuel, while most if not all traditional bop labels went bankrupt at that time.

Today, there remains mainly the "four big ones" and "the little one", which during the 70s-80s bought all dormant catalogs and (at least partly) reissued them.

For more detailed information, consult our labels pages.





New Orleans



Post bop

Pure Genius of Jazz

"A pure genius of jazz is manifested when the leader and the rest of the orchestra runaround the room while the rhythm section grimaces and dances around their instruments"

Racial tensions





Stride piano

Stride is a special piano technic relying on the use of the left hand as a rhythmic "instrument". It has probably been introduced at the dawn of the 20th century.

Technically, the left hand should play a four-beat sequence alternating two bass notes and two chords, while the right hand plays the melodic lines.

It is a quite difficult technic.

You may read the extensive Wikipedia article about it.


Village Vanguard

West coast

White jazz


World War II