Jazz vocab

Jazz Vocabulary


Adapted from Chop-Monster Jr. by Margaret Fitzgerald, Kimberly McCord, and Shelly Berg (Alfred Publication ISBN 978-0-7390-3084-4). Posted by permission from Alfred Publishing Co., Inc.

Call-And-Response: A leader plays or sings a musical phrase (call) and a responder sings or plays an echo (response) or something different.

Cat: Other jazz musicians (slang).

Changes: A harmonic progression of chords,often called chord changes. The changes for a song often appear at the top of the melody on printed sheet music. A jazz rhythm section "comps" the changes when a musician plays a song melody or improvises. "Making the changes" means that a soloist improvises well, using notes that sound good with the changes.

Chops: The ability to play an instrument with great musical skill and technique.

Chorus: One time through the complete song form. Jazz musicians will often agree beforehand, or indicate while playing, how many choruses they will improvise to.

Comp: To accompany (slang). A jazz rhythm section comps chord changes behind melodies and improvised solos. Comping is an improvised art. For example pianists will use a song's chord progression as a basic guide and then add notes to the chords, play chords in different inversions or substitute with other complimentary chords.

Groove: Rhythms fitting together in a good-sounding pattern.

Hip: A word that describes someone who knows or understands. Originally "hep" until the 40's-50's.

Improviser: A person who improvises a jazz solo.

Improvisation: Extemporaneous creation of melody, within a given language, to the structure of a song.

Inflection: Changing the sound of your voice. Using different pitches with different words.

Jam Session: A group of jazz musicians who get together informally to play and improvise over tunes for fun.

Jazz: An American music coming out of West African and European influences. Improvisation is a key element of jazz. There are many styles of jazz including traditional, stride piano, swing, boogie-woogie, bebop, cool, hard bop, free and fusion.

Measure (or Bar): The area between two bar lines.

Monster: An exceptionally talented jazz musician. (slang.)

Riff: Short, repeated musical phrase used as a background for a soloist, or as an improvised idea.

Scat: Vocal technique that uses horn-like syllables to improvise solos.

Solo: Improvised melody played or sung by one person.

Swing: The basic rhythmic feel of jazz in which the rhythm section is responsible for providing a feeling of being propelled forward. Swing is a defining characteristic of jazz. It is also a style of jazz that first appeared in the 1930s featuring big bands playing arrangements for dancing.

Swing Eighth Notes: A performance practice in which the first of two eighth notes receives approximately 2/3 of the value of that beat, while the second of the two is more often accented or articulated.

Trade Fours: Alternating 4-measure improvised solos with one or more musicians.

Triplet Feel: The underlying doo-dle dah feel in swing.

Walking Bass: A steady bass line, often at a walking tempo, characterized by stepwise passing tones that connect chord roots and chord tones.