Tag Archives: band

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.

Kicking the Lightpost – USC Band Tradition

“So the band has a tradition of, every time we march to the football stadium–the Coliseum–for games, everyone has to kick the bottom of the light pole as we are leaving campus for good luck. Then, we also kick it on our way back on [campus] after the game.

If we win the football game, we always play ‘Conquest’ at Tommy Trojan as, like, a celebration.”

Context: The informant, EK, is a member of the USC Trojan Marching Band (also called Spirit of Troy), and specifically part of the drum line of the band. We were having a discussion about some of the strange and somewhat rituals that the band does on game days (football) and how they affect the outcome of the games. EK feels an obligation to participate in this ritual as she is a member of the band, and fears the consequences of not participating in the tradition as it is a highly ingrained belief in the student group. The band, according to EK, relies heavily on many superstitions and traditions in order to ensure the success of the USC football team.

Analysis: For the informant, this ritual is extremely important for the band and to ensure a good outcome for the football game that they will be performing in. In this manner, this ritual is a demonstration of folk belief and superstition and how it supposedly affects the outcome of events that can be seemingly out of our hands. With this superstition, this group of performers can have a level of control over an unpredictable event.

There is also a participatory context for this superstition. If you do not participate in this ritual and kick the light pole, then if the football team loses, the band can blame the person who didn’t kick the pole. In a way, knowing and participating in the superstitions of the marching band is a way to figure out who is a member, and who is an outsider. Due to this, if you choose not to participate, or merely forget, your band members will see you as someone who is not really a member of that group anymore, and only after you resume your participation in that ritual can one resume their membership. This is mirrored in many other societal groups, from firefighters to physicians to USC students. Particular superstitions and customs are defining components of culture, and the groups that perform them claim them as a piece of their identity.

Long Island High School Band Customs

A – “There are a couple things we always did, every day we had class, once we got to class back in high school.  There’s this thing at Schreiber [our High School] where, every musician with their instrument ready would blow out some really poor-sounding tone, and then there would be a response from the other side of the room.  It didn’t really matter who responded, so sometimes there was more than one, but, you know, as long as there was a response.  And yeah, just a really poor tone coming from any instrument.  So this would happen every class, so twice a week, before our teacher/conductor got there, we were all getting ready.  This is kinda just our way of maintaining our individuality from the other students at school, I think we were all rather proud of being in the band.”

How were you Introduced to this tradition?

A – “So the first time I got into the band my sophomore year, I noticed people doing it, but no one actually said anything about it.  It took me a couple weeks before I realized that it was, like, an actual thing that we always did.  Taking part in that was kinda like a rite of passage, once you did it, you were a real member of the band.”

A – “I definitely won’t forget that we did that, I think just because it brings me back to my time in the band, where I had a lot of fun and spent time with people I liked.”


I was actually in the band with A, and I got there a year before he did.  So it was fun for me, who had gone through the same sort of vetting process with this one tone call and response, to watch him as he learned of it’s existence, and soon became proficient in it.  I definitely agree with his idea that this was a sort of rite-of-passage situation; I’d also add that it was almost a weird way of hazing new members, getting them to think that we sound awful, getting them to wonder why they’re even there if that’s the case.  Then we start playing.

TMB Band Name: Cumquat

While interviewing my informant, Audrey, I decided to document her Band Name. She got her Band Name from the upperclassmen of her section in the Trojan Marching Band (TMB). Audrey is a member of the Mellophone section. I asked her to perform her band name to me as if she were asked to “introduce herself” by another member of the band:


Killian, who was sitting near Audrey during the interview, chimed in to start her off just as he would when asking another band member to introduce themself: “Who are you!?”


Audrey: “Once upon a time my name is Cumquat.”


Killian: “Why?”


Audrey “Because I Cum Quat-ly.”


My informant would usually perform this Band Name/Joke ritual in a social setting with other members of the TMB. Sometimes she is asked by alumni of the band who are interested in hearing the new Band Names their section has come up with. Members of the band also frequently ask each other because they are often humorous or come with humorous jokes attached. It is also used to test the band Freshmen to see if their jokes are up to par with the standard set by current band members.


According to my informant, everyone in the band has a Band Name that they have been dubbed by their older section members. The Band Names are different in each section. Some sections give their members short names that function as traditional nicknames (example: “Egg”). My informant was mostly able to give me knowledge of how the Mellophone section names its members.


My informant’s section gave her a strange because they have to figure out how it applies to them/ what the other section members know about them. My informant is not entirely sure why she is dubbed ‘Cumquat.’ She knows that it’s a reference to the movie xXx: Return of Xander Cage. Other than that, she is unsure why the older section members decided to call her that.



I have seen my informant introduce herself on many occasions with a few different Name Jokes. The particular joke she gave me is about average compared to the usual raunchy, outrageous jokes the section normally uses, although it requires a little more thought to understand. I think this is a good representation of how Mellophone Name Jokes usually are. I personally enjoy this social band tradition. Everyone has a name, so it’s fun to get to know all the members of the band just to hear them. The tradition of Band Names also further unties the band as one entity.


Joke: How To Get A Drummer Off Your Porch

For our discussion section, we were required to meet up with a fellow student and collect folklore from each other. LA is the person I collected from, PH is myself. Our conversation is as follows:

LA: I have jokes, if you want those.
PH: Oh, yeah.
LA: My childhood friend’s dad is this older Jewish punk dude and he had a lot of good jokes.


Alright, so I have two drummer jokes which are frequently passed around for people in bands because we love to make jokes about drummers.

Number one: told to me a long time ago by a family friend who was in a punk band in the ‘90s.

What do you do to get a drummer off your porch?

PH: What?

LA: Offer to pay for the pizza.

The second joke collected is documented in its own post.