Jazz Glossary from the Teacher of Practical Music Terminology – The Syncopated Times

The worlds of jazz and classical music are often mysterious to both parties, and sometimes jazz musicians can be overwhelmed with an understanding of the classical tradition. This may become evident with the age-old European musical terminology, still employed in today’s jazz notation.

So, as a public service, I undertook the task of “translating” some of the most useful classical terms in the world of jazz, for the benefit of the working jazz musician today. So here we go with the Jazz Glossary from the Teacher of Practical Music Terminology.

Let’s start with dynamic. There are dozens of European terms to indicate subtle degrees of loudness for the performer to interpret. Things are not so subtle for jazz bands. In jazz, we can summarize a few notable dynamic levels:

strong: the group plays

fortissimo: the group is packed

mezzo-piano: the group must read the music

piano: bass solo

pianissimo: the group is paused

And now, let’s continue with our general glossary:

a cappella: when the singer calls a tune that the group does not know

accelerate: when the drummer is excited

allegro: How? ‘Or’ What moderato ends when you have a bad drummer

slow down: when the drummer is tired

accidental: the false notes that the trumpeter plays because he had a root canal treatment the day before the concert

atonality: the tuning of most pianos in New York bars

basso continuo: when the bass player doesn’t realize the song is over

OK: what a pianist plays

broken deal: what a pianist plays on most pianos in New York

counterpoint: two jazz guitarists reading the same painting

quarter tone: two jazz clarinettists reading the same card

chromatic: the scale that a traditional musician uses when playing modern jazz

descending: when the manager of the club tells you to lower your voice

crescendo: when the manager leaves the room

double strings: when the bassist is late for the concert because the metro was running locally

bis: what the group does when they realize that there are still five minutes left in the set

slide: how trombone players play a series of rapid notes

note of grace: when you are not sure if this melodic note was an E or an Eb, so you quickly play both to be sure

intonation: something you hide with tremolo

key: something a singer spends five minutes on stage figuring out before the song starts

deplore: your way of playing when you regret having said yes to the concert

slow: an Easter concert

modulation: what the band does when the singer starts the song in the wrong key

locomotive: what your parents thought you were when you told them you wanted to play jazz for a living

ostinato: what the rhythm section does at the beginning of the piece until the trumpeter remembers the melody

presto: that magical feeling you get when the conductor produces your drink ticket

prestissimo: the speed at which the group goes to the bar when they collect their drink tickets

relative minor: when the guys in the band flirt with the bassist’s little sister

ritardando: get to the part of the piece you haven’t practiced

chain: (this one has several meanings):

1. When the band can’t remember the end of the song, they skip to another one

2. The way the trombone player gets to the gig straight out of his cop job in the mall

connection: how does the spectator speak when he approaches the group after a few drinks to tell you that he is a very good singer

suddenly: the rate at which the band wants to be paid at the end of the concert

stamp: which clarinets would be best used as

transition: when your banjo player Paul now wants to be called Paulenne

tremolo: the sound of a band with a nervous bassist

transposition: when the stage is too small and the drummer has to sit on the floor

virtuoso: how each New York jazz musician describes themselves in their biography

Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his New York-based Old School Jazz Band. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine reader’s poll as the best alto saxophonist in New York City. His most recent album is Duologue, released on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit it on the World Wide Web: www.adriancunningham.com.