USC Digital Folklore Archives / Musical
Folk speech
Musical

Shed: Jazz lingo

Context:

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Yo, have you shed for your jury yet?”

“I’m gonna be hitting the shed all weekend, I haven’t even started learning my transcription.”

“Have you shed this Herbie Hancock album, The New Standard?”

Me (after class): In our conversation earlier, I heard the word “shed” come up a lot. What does that mean in this context?

AB: Umm, shed just means, like to practice something or check something out. Like if I say, “shed my scales,” it means “practice my scales,” or if I say “I’ve been shedding this album,” it means I’ve been listening to that album a lot.

Me: Do you know where this slang comes from?

AB: There’s a story that… ah fuck who is it…? I think Charlie Parker…? locked himself in a woodshed for months to practice after folding hard at a jam session. So some people say “hit the woodshed,” but most people just say, “hit the shed,” or just, “shed.”

 

Analysis:

As a jazz major myself, I know that the idea of holing up and practicing for hours, or even days, is highly romanticized. People often brag about how much they’ve been “shedding,” and there are a lot of legends and stories about the countless hours that the most famous jazz giants spent practicing without any social contact. Slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

Folk speech
Musical

Vibe: Jazz slang

Context:

 

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following excerpts/quotes are from a conversation with AB and some other jazz majors during the break of a music industry class. After class, I asked him to explain some of the jazz lingo that took place during the prior conversation. The conversation from which the quotes were taken was the most natural context possible, as the students – all jazz musicians – were simply having a conversation, and I was taking note of their use of lingo. Asking AB to explain the lingo after, he knew he was explaining to the readers of the collection and not to me, since he knows that I myself am a jazz major and am familiar with the slang.

 

Piece:

AB/Other students: “Peter vibed me soo hard in my lesson the other day for not having my transcription written out.”

“Man, Aaron is super killing but he’s such a vibe.”

“I was at the mint jam session last night… It was hosted by the Monk Institute cats… I basically got vibed off the stage haha… it was dark.”

“The red vest over a t-shirt… that could be a vibe!”

Me (after class): I keep hearing the word “vibe” pop up in jazz conversation. Could you explain what that means?

AB: Sure. It’s kinda hard to explain. It pretty much means to condescend someone at a jam session, but it’s used pretty loosely now, like it doesn’t need to be exclusively in a musical context. Or if someone “is a vibe,” that means that they’re kind of a dick.

Me: That’s interesting, since most people say vibe to mean, like, positive vibes.

AB: Yeah, and it could mean that too. Like saying that something is a vibe could also mean that it’s hip. It depends on the context I guess.

 

Analysis:

As a jazz musician myself, I know from experience that “vibing” at jam sessions is a pretty big part of jazz culture. Jazz culture is very elitist, and jazz musicians like to maintain the somewhat cutthroat environment that you hear about in old jazz stories. Condescending people at jam sessions and letting people know that you know you’re better than them is one of the primary ways that this dynamic is maintained. Further, slang within any clique is a way of creating an exclusionary environment. Knowing and using jazz lingo that non-jazz musicians don’t understand creates a feeling of unity and cohesiveness within the community, as does the slang of any social group.

 

Folk speech
Legends
Musical

Jo Jones Cymbal Story

Context:

The informant – N – is a 20-year-old white male, born and raised in Los Angeles. He is currently a sophomore at the USC Thornton School of Music studying jazz drum set. He is my roommate and one of my closest friends. Because N has studied jazz for a long time and currently studies under jazz legend, Peter Erskine, I asked him if there were any legends or stories that he’s heard that could be considered jazz folklore.

Piece:

N: Well, I think the most classic jazz legend is the story of when Jo Jones threw a cymbal at Charlie Parker’s head during a jam session. The story goes, a sixteen-year-old Charlie Parker shows up to a jam session where Jo Jones is part of the house band. Charlie Parker’s been shedding a bunch of “groundbreaking” hip harmony shit (said sarcastically), but when he goes up to the band stand, he folds on the changes and loses the form. Then, apparently, Jo Jones stopped playing in the middle of the tune and threw a cymbal at Parker’s head. Parker left the jam session, swearing that he’d be back. And apparently that’s what motivated him to lock himself in the woodshed for a year, and that’s why he’s such a legend now.

Me: Do you think that story really happened?

N: Well the movie Whiplash made that version of the story famous, but I’ve heard versions where he just threw the cymbal at his feet, or where he threw his stick bag at him, and the whole audience laughed. I’m sure some version of the story probably happened, but I doubt it’s as dramatic as everyone says.

Me: Why do you think the story has gained so much popularity?

N: I think probably because of Whiplash mainly. And since it’s so dramatic, people always love the stories that make the old cats seem badass.

Analysis:

In addition to its inclusion in Whiplash, I think this legend is likely so popular because it provides lore to the elitist and cutthroat atmosphere of jazz culture. I think it’s a legend that band directors will tell students to ensure that they practice sufficiently before going to jam sessions. Also, it’s a nice story of someone letting an embarrassing situation motivate them, acting as a catalyst for them becoming a legend. I also think it’s interesting that N sarcastically referred to young Charlie Parker as groundbreaking, seemingly implying that the music has come so far since then that it’s humorous to think of Parker’s bebop playing as groundbreaking.

Humor
Musical

The Lick

Context:

The informant – AB – is a 20-year-old white male and is a sophomore at the USC Thornton School studying Jazz Guitar. The following conversation took place after a music class we had just finished, in which I asked him about any folklore/traditions/inside jokes in jazz culture. Knowing that I am a jazz major and am likely familiar with any traditions he may mention, I record AB explaining these traditions as if he were explaining to an outsider.

Piece:

AB: I mean, probably the biggest meme in jazz is the lick, which is this, well, lick that people play as a joke.

(AB sings “the lick,” which goes, in terms of musical scale degrees, 1 2 b3 4 2 b7 1).

When jamming, people will sneak in the lick as a joke, and everyone else playing with them will, I don’t know, probably roll their eyes at them. It’s definitely a stale meme by now.

Me: Why is this lick such a joke among jazz musicians?

AB: If you listen to old jazz recordings, you’ll notice the lick being played everywhere. It’s just a super common phrase that soloists will play. And then, a few years ago, someone made a video on YouTube called “the lick,” and it was like a montage of a ton of different famous musicians using the lick, and it’s just been like a huge meme since then.

Here is a link to the video referenced: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krDxhnaKD7Q

 

Analysis:

The lick seems like a way for jazz musicians to prove that they’re in the know with jazz culture to the musicians that they’re playing with, or simply a way for musicians to make each other laugh during a jam session. Quoting other songs (like other jazz standards, timeless songs like “pop goes the weasel,” or simply pop songs) at a jam session has always been a part of jazz culture and is a way for jazz musicians to crack subtle jokes at each other while playing. But, the lick is special, since it’s so steeped in jazz culture and is so exclusive to jazz musicians: quoting a pop song, for instance, might make a non-musician audience member laugh, but quoting the lick goes over non-musician’s heads. Inside jokes like this help to maintain a level of unity and exclusivity within different social groups. The lick, in the jazz world, – a social group that is particularly elitist and exclusionary – is a way of separating the outsiders from the insiders, filtering the young musicians who “don’t take the music seriously” from the insiders who are familiar with the phrase.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Customs
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Virgin Sacrifice

The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Virgin Sacrifice

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from California, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at the University of Southern California. They have been a part of the weekly cast of Los Angeles’ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tradition for at least a year. Here, they are describing a weekly tradition they subject the audience to; they will be identified as I.

I: At “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” the one in Santa Monica at the Nuart, we’re called Sins of the Flesh, and we do this thing, there’s a pre-show, an MC introducing the whole thing, and what the MC will do is ask if there’s anyone who has never seen “The Rocky Horror” show live, with the shadow-cast and everything, before. And of all the people that are left, who have never seen the show before, they get 6 people up there, and ask them to perform some kind of weird antics.

And there’s a couple different games that they’ll play, a popular one is “Who’s Your Daddy?” They ask someone the actual name of their actual father, and they have to do an impersonation of their mother screaming their father’s name in bed, you know? Things like that that are lude, and inappropriate, and just fun to see.

There’s another game that they play, called “Scavenger Hunt,” where they basically ask for ridiculous things from the audience, like a pair of panties, or like, a Universal Studios annual pass, or like a condom, just some ridiculous topical things. Once the game is finished, they pick two winners, usually one boy and one girl, but sometimes it’s not that — and what they used to do is a very inappropriate thing where they’d get them into a, kind of, lude position, and then lift them up and down in that position, and it was a lot, and I think it was a liability.

So now, what they do, is they make it so the winners are part of the show, they have small roles at the beginning. There are some callouts where, if you’re going to lie, don’t say you’ve seen it 50 or 100 times, because we would have recognized you by now.

Context

The informant is my roommate, and I am friends with this individual. This bit was told to me in our room. They have been a part of the cast of the Santa Monica weekly performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for at least a year, but have attended the performance for a longer period of time.

My Thoughts

I attended the show once last year — it was fascinating. The seemingly countless callouts, memorized musical numbers, and objects thrown around were a spectacle. It was interesting hearing someone behind such a performance describe the tradition of inducting new members of the community.

It is truly a matter of identity and initiating those who are not yet members of the “in crowd” with harmless yet deprecating jokes that they are not fully aware of, so that they may subject their friends who might eventually attend the performance with the same jokes.

 

Customs
Folk speech
general
Initiations
Musical
Rituals, festivals, holidays

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

“The Rocky Horror Picture Show” Swearing-In

The following informant is a 21 year-old student from California, currently residing in Los Angeles and studying at the University of Southern California. They have been a part of the weekly cast of Los Angeles’ “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” tradition for at least a year. Here, they are describing a the swearing-in of new members of the community; they will be identified as Z.

Z: At the beginning, it’s like “Raise your right hand, or the hand you masturbate with,” and then people would raise both their hands, “and repeat after me,” and everyone says “after me! after me! after me!”

And then the chant is, “I state your name, pledge allegiance to the lips of ‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show.’ And to the decadence, for which they stand, one nation, under Richard O’Brien, on top of Patricia Quinn, with sensual daydreams, erotic nightmares, and sins of the flesh for them all.” That’s like the induction speech, or whatever. It’s a lot.

Context

The informant is my roommate, and I am friends with this individual. This bit was told to me in our room. They have been a part of the cast of the Santa Monica weekly performance of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for at least a year, but have attended the performance for a longer period of time.

My Thoughts

There are layers to this tradition. First off, it is lampooning the swearing in process that is typically held in judicial or political office. While this jokingly places the “induction ceremony” in a substantially more serious light than it rightfully deserves, there is no doubt that this film has become a sort of folklore, and acts as a canon for this community of “followers,” who have clearly come up with their own traditions, jokes, and beliefs as they relate to the film (genres of meta-folklore).

They are also, in ways, playing with the long-used term of “cult following” regarding “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” almost reclaiming the idea of a cult. In my opinion, it is a means of waving goodbye to the already-there establishment, and creating their own “legitimized” community — this is consonant with the overall tone of the film itself.

To read more on this topic, feel free to read:

Tyson, Christy, et al. “Our Readers Write: What Is the Significance of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Why Do Kids Keep Going to It?” The English Journal, vol. 69, no. 7, 1980, pp.60–62. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/817417.

 

Childhood
Musical

Lakdi Ki Kathi

Text: RB: Okay, so it goes like this. It’s in Hindi by the way. Okay, so it goes,

“lakadi ki kaathi kaathi pe ghoda

ghode ki dum pe jo maara hathauda

dauda dauda dauda ghoda dum utha ke dauda”

AT: What does that translate to?

RB: So what it means is that there’s a cart made of sticks, yeah, the cart is made of sticks. The cart is attached to a horse and someone hits the horse’s behind. And the horse runs. And he just runs with a lot of might. Like very fast, that’s it.

AT: Okay, is that supposed to have a special meaning or something? Who taught it to you?

RB: (laughing) I don’t know. I don’t think so, I think it’s a children’s rhyme literally just because everything rhymes.

Context: RB is an Indian-American who lived in India during her pre-school years. She practices Jainism, one of the lesser-known religions of India. She frequently visits returns to India to visit relatives and continues to practice her faith and India’s festivals with other Indian-Americans in Texas. She learned the children’s rhyme above from her parents, and it frequently gets stuck in her head. This interaction took place in a living room while we were both home for spring break.

Interpretation: This children’s rhyme, according to RB, has little in terms of a moral lesson. Other than teaching cause and effect, the rhyme doesn’t seem to go beyond the surface level of singing about a horse riding around and around and around. However, RB bright up the fact that everything happens to rhyme perfectly in this song, suggesting that the song may be the way that it is simply because of its rhyming characteristics. This is not unlike some rhymes in english whose structure and word choice are what makes it beneficial to children, not it’s storyline. For example, “Sally sells seashells by the sea shore” isn’t meant to teach people about the dedication of small businesses. Rather, it exists to help children navigate the difficult world of language, achieving a level of mastery with the help of a friendly rhyme.

Most folklore specifically associated with children has to do with teaching some sort of lesson. In this way, the rhyming function is used to help engage children in confusing syntax and diction to help them better understand their language, still teaching them something, just not a message of morality derived from a tale.

Folk speech
Musical

Moonlit Lakes and the Lies Men Tell: Indonesian Folk Song

Text:

SL: “So another like, poem, I guess you could call it, that my grandma taught me was this one – it’s um –

Terang bulan, terang di kali
Buaya timbul disangkalah mati
Jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki
Berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati”

SL: “So it starts off like really poetic – the moon is really bright in the ocean, or the lake, the crocodiles are sleeping and they’re like so still that you think that they’re dead essentially, um, and it goes into the actual like part of the poem – it says “jangan percaya mulutnya lelakilaki”so “don’t listen to things that guys tell you” (laughter) because “berani sumpah ‘tapi takut mati” so they’re willing to tell you all these things but they’re not like – they’re really scared of just dying (laughter). So my grandma told me this because she’s like you need to not like focus on guys, you need to like focus on your studies and not get distracted. Um, but she’s also told a lot of my cousins this. And I guess it’s actually a pretty famous poem but um, she presented it to me as if she came up with it so I don’t know.”

MS: “What age were you when you first heard this?”

SL: “I think it was like – probably as a sophomore or junior in high school?”

 

Context:

The informant is an Indonesian-Chinese-American college student, who has lived in California her whole life. This conversation took place in my apartment while the informant and I, among a group of other people, were discussing our very diverse childhoods growing up in different parts of the world.

 

Interpretation:

This poem seems to be an instructional note from an older generation to a younger generation. Based on preliminary googling the informant was actually referring to an adapted folk song from the French “La Rosalie” which was popular in 1920s and 1930s Malaysia. This seems to indicate that the song is a means for the informant’s grandmother, and more generally the older generation, to recount the past and communicate culture as they knew it. The song the informant mentioned was also modified from the version I was able to find online, which means it was probably adapted specifically to become instructional to a teenager as opposed to the original meaning which seems to not be about the lies that men tell women but that people tell each other in general.

 

Annotations:

The article The Politics of Heritage by Marshall Clark (2013, Indonesia and the Malay World 41:121, 396-417), talks more about contestation about the roots of this melody, and its relevance for the Indonesian and Malay cultures.

Childhood
Musical
Myths
Narrative

Arky Arky

This is a song that was taught to L.D. as a child in Catholic school. It teaches the biblical story of Noah’s ark and the flooded Earth that lasted 40 days and nights.

Lyrics:

The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
The Lord told Noah
There’s gonna be a floody, floody
Get those children out of the muddy, muddy, children of the Lord
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
The Lord told Noah to build him an arky, arky
Build it out of gopher barky, barky, children of the Lord.
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies twosies
The animals, they came, they came in by twosies, twosies
Elephants and kangaroosie, roosies, children of the Lord
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
It rained and poured for forty daysies, daysies
Almost drove those animals crazy, crazy, children of the Lord
And so on for a few more verses L.D. forgot. They even taught basic choreography for the kids to perform with the song, such as two fingers held up peace sign-style for the “twosies, twosies” line.
The existence of this method of teaching a “kiddie” version of a myth (especially one so apocalyptic) shows the given church’s priorities in making sure children grasp and retain these tales from an early age. The song is also usually performed after a few rehearsals by the kids for the adults, making it a task for the kids to remember it and turn them into the storytellers. It all helps the myth pass on to the next generation basically.
Customs
Folk speech
Humor
Musical

Airforce Ranger

An off-the-books traditional AZA (Jewish teen youth group) call and response chant, with one person shouting each line before the entire group repeats it back. Sometimes different leaders will switch off and alternate rhymes, especially the more taboo stuff towards the end.

Lyrics: I want to be an airforce ranger

I want to live a life of danger

I want to drive an ocean liner

I want to pull a sixty-niner

And here’s to the woman that I love best

The many times I sucked her breast

F***** her standing, f***** her lying

If she had wings I’d f*** her flying

Now she’s gone but not forgotten

I’ll dig her up and f*** her rotten

Though she’s gone, I’ll surely miss her

I’ll call her up and f*** her sister

 

This song is an exercise in playing with taboo concepts and language in a childlike way that’s reminiscent of what Jay Mechling called obscene play. It’s usually performed in a relatively isolated setting, either inside the meeting room (usually some side room in a synagogue) or elsewhere separated from the adult advisors that represent the org legally. (That’s what separates the group from just loitering teens I guess.) It’s performed in this isolated, just teens setting alongside other similarly sexual vulgar songs in a kind of group catharsis act. The lyrics employ lots of shock humor that comes from all this extremely explicit material being unabashedly used in a public group in a public setting, especially one that is ostensibly a religious group. It basically signals to new members “We’re not prudes.”

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