USC Digital Folklore Archives / Posts Tagged ‘jazz’
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
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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Musical

The Lick

This folk melody was performed by my friend while we ate dinner at a dining hall. He is a jazz major. The Lick is a short melody, popular in jazz improvisations, and is often treated as a joke when performed during a song. Short jazz melodies are often called licks, so this one’s name of ‘the Lick’ implies that it is somehow a more important lick than the others.

 

The friend sang this melody, using the scat-style lyrics:

“Babadooba ya boo da”

The melody follows this solfege:

Do re me fa re   te do

 

After he performed the Lick, I asked where he thought it came from.

“These are like, Charlie Parker licks, a lot of the time. Uh, there’s other famous ones, like: [vocalizes a different jazz lick]. Uh, [vocalizes The Lick] is probably Charlie Parker.”

I then asked when it evolved into the joke it often is now.

“It became a joke when it just kept happening. I still hear people play that. Unironically, yeah. Like I hear very legit people play that. And it’s like, it’s still cool if you mean it. But if you’re just playing it…that’s, that’s where the joke came from, is like, people would just play it. Like, you were like, ‘insert Lick here.’”

He added:

“There’s so many instances of that happening, so it’s like, it’s not a joke in its existence. But it’s more of, like, a comment on, like, people trying to turn jazz into math. Where it’s like, you play this, then you play a two-five-one [vocalizes another jazz lick].”

Two-five-one is a popular jazz chord progression that finishes a section or phrase.

Here is a popular mash-up of different uses of the Lick throughout the years: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKL2It6XzHA

 

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