Jazz Slang – Band Leader Terminology

Main Piece:

CS (mid-twenties, white male, music degree background, LA resident) and I had a conversation about musicians.

Me: “So can you like explain that phrase, ‘take it to the top?'”

CS: “Take it to the top means to go back to the beginning of the song.”

Me: “That’s it?”

CS: “Well, like, there’s also usually a hand motion too.”

He mimes spinning his hand in a circle in the air.

CS: “When we used to play at bars in New York, I’d have to swing my hand around all wild and scream it out just to get people to hear me. It’s usually energetic like that, ya know? Like when you want to keep the jam [song] going, you take it back to the top.”


Phrases like this seem to be universal to musicians and are passed on homogeneously by other musicians and music teachers. The emphasis of this saying is returning to the “top,” which references the top of a music sheet where the notes would begin. The only real time that this phrase would appear would be during a live performance or amidst a practice with a band that plays the sort of songs that don’t have a clear run time.


Jazz definitely serves itself to folk expression because of the collaborative nature of the music. Call outs like this connect the band into a collective consciousness that allows them to move as a uniform organism. The call out to loop the song also greatly relies on reading the audience for when the energy in the room wants the song to continue, versus wanting it to end.