Meet Johnny Costa, the Pianist Who Introduced Millions of Mister Rogers Fans to Jazz

Jazz pianist and com­pos­er Charles Cor­nell is not alone in his con­tempt for the sort of dumb­ed down musi­cal fare typ­i­cal of children’s pro­gram­ming.

The late John­ny Cos­ta, Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hoods long-time musi­cal direc­tor and a self-described “real jazzer,” was of like mind:

Chil­dren have ears, and they’re peo­ple, and they can hear good music as well as any­body else. So I start­ed right from the begin­ning play­ing for them as I would for any adults.

The show not only hooked many young view­ers on jazz, it may have plant­ed a sub­lim­i­nal pref­er­ence for live jazz.

None of the show’s music was pre­re­cord­ed.

Instead, Cos­ta attend­ed every tap­ing, pro­vid­ing live accom­pa­ni­ment just off cam­era with per­cus­sion­ist Bob­by Raw­sthorne and bassist Carl McVick­er. They were such an inte­gral part of the show’s vibe that in 1985, Mr. Rogers broke the fourth wall to show his “tele­vi­sion neigh­bors” their set up.

As Cor­nell notes, above, host Fred Rogers, an accom­plished pianist him­self, wrote the program’s sig­na­ture tunes, includ­ing its famous open­ing theme, but left it to Cos­ta to impro­vise as he saw fit.

As a result the open­ing num­ber varies a bit from episode to episode, with hints of Oscar Peter­son, Art Tatum, Thelo­nius Monk and oth­er jazz world greats.

Cor­nell con­sid­ers Cos­ta their “crim­i­nal­ly unno­ticed” equal, but observes that his quar­ter cen­tu­ry of involve­ment on Mis­ter Rogers Neigh­bor­hood means his music has like­ly reached a far larg­er audi­ence.

Cos­ta had carte blanche to noo­dle as he saw fit under the onscreen pro­ceed­ings, includ­ing the many dis­cus­sions of feel­ings. This musi­cal under­scor­ing helped Rogers demon­strate the wide range of human emo­tions he sought to acknowl­edge and nor­mal­ize with­out con­de­scend­ing to his preschool audi­ence.

The show’s web­site prais­es Cos­ta for simul­ta­ne­ous­ly know­ing “when to stop play­ing and let the silence take over, as there were times when Fred Rogers didn’t want any­thing, even music, to dis­tract the chil­dren from con­cen­trat­ing on what he was say­ing or show­ing.”

As Cos­ta revealed:

I watch Fred, and there must be some kind of telepa­thy that we’re not aware of, because some­how I get the mes­sage to play or not to play.  I’m sure that some of it has to do with work­ing togeth­er all these years, but a lot of it is unex­plain­able.

The show afford­ed him the oppor­tu­ni­ty to play with renowned neigh­bor­hood vis­i­tors like trum­peter Wyn­ton Marsalis and croon­er Tony Ben­nett, as well as the Land of Make Believe’s pup­pets inhab­i­tants.

Which is not to say he nev­er ven­tured out­side of the neigh­bor­hood. Behold Cos­ta and “Handy­man” Joe Negri per­form­ing on 67 Melody Lane, a show geared toward adult view­ers.

Stream more of John­ny Costa’s music for Mis­ter Rogers’ Neigh­bor­hood below.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Mis­ter Rogers Makes a List of His 10 Favorite Books

Mr. Rogers’ Nine Rules for Speak­ing to Chil­dren (1977)

The Col­ors of Mis­ter Rogers’ Hand-Knit Sweaters from 1979 to 2001: A Visu­al Graph Cre­at­ed with Data Sci­ence

Via Laugh­ing Squid

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Nina Simone’s Flawless Tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach on The Ed Sullivan Show (1960)

Some 80 years ago, in a small North Car­oli­na town, Eunice Way­mon, a musi­cal­ly gift­ed, nine-year-old black girl, began tak­ing piano lessons in the home of an exact­ing Eng­lish­woman named Muriel Maz­zanovich.

At first, young Eunice — the giv­en name of jazz super­star Nina Simone — felt intim­i­dat­ed, recall­ing in her auto­bi­og­ra­phy, I Put a Spell on You, that they “only played Bach and he seemed so com­pli­cat­ed and dif­fer­ent:”

In those first lessons, it seemed like the only thing she said was, “You must do it this way, Eunice. Bach would like it this way. Do it again.” And so I would.

As time went on I under­stood why Mrs. Maz­zanovich only allowed me to prac­tice Bach and soon I loved him as much as she did. He is tech­ni­cal­ly per­fect… Once I under­stood Bach’s music I nev­er want­ed to be any­thing oth­er than a con­cert pianist. Bach made me ded­i­cate my life to music.

Her tal­ent, com­mit­ment, and progress were such that oth­er cit­i­zens of Try­on, North Car­oli­na pitched in to help her afford a sum­mer ses­sion at New York City’s famed Juil­liard School, pri­or to audi­tion­ing for Philadelphia’s Cur­tis Insti­tute of Music.

“I knew I was good enough, but (the Cur­tis Insti­tute) turned me down,” she says in the doc­u­men­tary, What Hap­pened, Miss Simone? “And it took me about six months to real­ize it was because I was Black. I nev­er real­ly got over that jolt of racism at the time.”

And yet, she per­se­vered, becom­ing active in the Civ­il Rights move­ment and using the pro­ceeds from her debut album, Lit­tle Girl Blue, to fur­ther her clas­si­cal train­ing.

On Sep­tem­ber 11, 1960, Simone, who had scored a Top 20 hit the pre­vi­ous year with a cov­er of “I Loves You, Por­gy” from George Gershwin’s Por­gy and Bess, made her nation­al tele­vi­sion debut on The Ed Sul­li­van Show.

Per­form­ing before an all-white stu­dio audi­ence, she paid trib­ute to both her ear­ly train­ing and the genre that would make her a star, imbu­ing the 1928 jazz stan­dard “Love Me Or Leave Me,” above, with a coun­ter­point solo in the style of Bach’s Inven­tions.

It was a skill she had devel­oped dur­ing a stand­ing piano gig at Atlantic City’s Mid­town Bar and Grill. Its own­er demand­ed that she sing as well as play, and she agreed out of neces­si­ty, impro­vis­ing, exper­i­ment­ing, and occa­sion­al­ly allow­ing her­self flights of clas­si­cal fan­cy that did not go unno­ticed by local music afi­ciona­dos.

She prid­ed her­self on bring­ing a clas­si­cal musi­cian’s absolute con­cen­tra­tion to these per­for­mances, and expect­ed the audi­ence to abide by a sim­i­lar code, tak­ing her hands off the keys if a row­dy drunk talked over her, not­ing that “if they don’t want to lis­ten, I don’t want to play:”

When you play Bach’s music, you have to under­stand that he’s a math­e­mati­cian and all the notes you play add up to some­thing — they make sense. They always add up to cli­max­es, like ocean waves get­ting big­ger and big­ger until after a while so many waves have gath­ered you have a great storm. Each note you play is con­nect­ed to the next note, and every note has to be exe­cut­ed per­fect­ly or the whole effect is lost.

Through­out her sto­ried career, she found ways to weave Bach-like fugues and oth­er clas­si­cal ref­er­ences into her work. Wit­ness her 1987 per­for­mance of “My Baby Just Cares For Me” at the Mon­treux Jazz Fes­ti­val, below.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

How Nina Simone Became Hip Hop’s “Secret Weapon”: From Lau­ryn Hill to Jay Z and Kanye West

Nina Simone Writes an Admir­ing Let­ter to Langston Hugh­es: “Broth­er, You’ve Got a Fan Now!” (1966)

Nina Simone’s Live Per­for­mances of Her Poignant Civ­il Rights Protest Songs

Nina Simone Song “Col­or Is a Beau­ti­ful Thing” Ani­mat­ed in a Gor­geous Video

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch the Original Schoolhouse Rock Composers Sing “Conjunction Junction” and “I’m Just a Bill” Live in Concert

At first blush, School­house Rock!, the inter­sti­tial ani­ma­tions air­ing between ABC’s Sat­ur­day morn­ing car­toon line up from 1973 to 1984, may seem like a catchy, edu­ca­tion­al equiv­a­lent of sneak­ing spinach into pan­cakes (and a major Gen X touch­stone.)

Not so fast! It’s also jazz, baby!

Jazz pianist Bob Dor­ough recalled how an ad exec at a New York ad agency pitched the idea:

My lit­tle boys can’t mem­o­rize their times tables, but they sing along with Jimi Hen­drix and the Rolling Stones, so why don’t you put it to rock music and we’ll call it Mul­ti­pli­ca­tion Rock?

Dor­ough, whose com­po­si­tion­al pref­er­ences ran to “extrav­a­gant love songs” and vocal chal­leng­ing num­bers, real­ized that his first order of busi­ness would be to write a good song:

I hit upon the idea, let’s pick a num­ber. Three! That’s a good num­ber. And I sat down at the piano and start­ed fool­ing around. It took me 2 weeks.

In his hands, three became a mag­ic num­ber, an ear worm to bring even the most reluc­tant ele­men­tary math­e­mati­cians up to speed in no time.

Even­tu­al­ly, Dor­ough was able to bring many of his jazz world friends into the fold, includ­ing, most famous­ly, trum­peter and Merv Grif­fin Show side­kick Jack Shel­don, whose one-of-a-kind deliv­ery is the hands down high­light of “Con­junc­tion Junc­tion.”

(Many School­house Rock! fans, view­ing the excerpt of the duo’s mid-90’s live appear­ance on the KTLA Morn­ing Show, above, pro­fessed dis­be­lief that Sheldon’s soul was of the blue-eyed vari­ety, even though the ani­mat­ed engi­neer who serves as his avatar in that three minute episode is white.)

In an inter­view with the direc­tor of the Fil­lius Jazz Archive at Hamil­ton Col­lege, Shel­don agreed that the series owed a major debt to jazz:

When we made Con­junc­tion Junc­tion, it was me and Ted­dy Edwards and Nick Ceroli and Leroy Vine­gar and Bob Dor­ough played the piano. That’s a jazz band…it was real­ly noth­ing to do with rock. It was always jazz, but we said rock and roll, so every­body loved it for rock and roll.

Anoth­er mem­o­rable col­lab­o­ra­tion between Shel­don and Dor­ough is the much par­o­died “I’m Just a Bill,” in which a weary scroll loi­ters on the steps of the Cap­i­tal Build­ing, explain­ing to a wide eyed young­ster (voiced by his son) the process by which a bill becomes law.

Dor­oughs’ School­house Rock! con­tri­bu­tions include the haunt­ing Fig­ure Eight, the folky Lucky Sev­en Samp­son, whose sen­ti­ments Dor­ough iden­ti­fied with most close­ly, and Naughty Num­ber Nine, which his pro­tégé, singer-song­writer Nel­lie McK­ay sin­gled out for spe­cial praise, “cause it was kind of weird and sub­ver­sive:”

(It) made me want to gam­ble and win. I got hooked when I heard Bob’s jazzy rasp of a voice break­ing the rules even as he explained them… this guy had a wild mind, which I fig­ured out lat­er equaled cre­ativ­i­ty.

She also paid the per­pet­u­al­ly sun­ny Dor­ough, whom she first encoun­tered “glow(ing) with health and good cheer, spread­ing sun­shine wher­ev­er he went on the cam­pus of East Strouds­burg Uni­ver­si­ty, the supreme com­pli­ment:

Lou Reed’s idea of hell would be to sit in heav­en with Bob Dor­ough.

via Laugh­ing Squid

Relat­ed Con­tent 

School­house Rock: Revis­it a Col­lec­tion of Nos­tal­gia-Induc­ing Edu­ca­tion­al Videos

I’m Just a Pill: A School­house Rock Clas­sic Gets Reimag­ined to Defend Repro­duc­tive Rights in 2017

Con­spir­a­cy The­o­ry Rock: The School­house Rock Par­o­dy Sat­ur­day Night Live May Have Cen­sored

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Watch Cab Calloway Actually Perform “Mr. Hepster’s Dictionary,” His Famous Dictionary of Jazz Slang (1944)

Who’s up for a good dic­tio­nary on film?

Col­in Brown­ing, assis­tant edi­tor of The Bluff, a Loy­ola Mary­mount Uni­ver­si­ty stu­dent news­pa­per, has some kopaset­ic cast­ing sug­ges­tions for a hypo­thet­i­cal fea­ture adap­ta­tion of the “Mer­ri­am-Web­ster clas­sic.”

He’s just mug­gin’, of course. Still, he seems like a young man who’s got his boots on.



In that case, you’d best acquaint your­self with the only cin­e­mat­ic dic­tio­nary adap­ta­tion we’re aware of, the Mr. Hep­cat’s Dic­tio­nary num­ber from Sen­sa­tions of 1945, above.

Musi­cal team Al Sher­man & Har­ry Tobias drew direct­ly from Cab Calloway’s Cat-ologue: a Hepster’s Dic­tio­nary, a lex­i­con of Harlem jazz musi­cians’ slang orig­i­nal­ly pub­lished in 1938 ’ when choos­ing terms for Cal­loway to define for a young pro­tégée, eager to be schooled in “the lin­go all the jit­ter­bugs use today.”

In between, Cal­loway, lays some iron in white tie and tails.

By the time the film came out, Cal­loway’s Hep­ster Dic­tio­nary was in its sev­enth edi­tion, and had earned its place as the offi­cial jive lan­guage ref­er­ence book of the New York Pub­lic Library.

As Cal­loway wrote in the fore­word to the sixth edi­tion:

“Jive talk” is now an every­day part of the Eng­lish lan­guage. Its usage is now accept­ed in the movies, on the stage, and in the song prod­ucts of Tin Pan Alley. It is rea­son­able to assume that jive will find new avenues in such hith­er­to remote places as Aus­tralia, the South Pacif­ic, North Africa, Chi­na, Italy, France, Sici­ly, and inevitably Ger­many and wher­ev­er our Armed Forces may serve.

I don’t want to lend the impres­sion here that the many words con­tained in this edi­tion are the fig­ments of my imag­i­na­tion. They were gath­ered from every con­ceiv­able source. Many first saw the light of printer’s ink in Bil­ly Rowe’s wide­ly read col­umn “The Note­book,” in the Pitts­burgh Couri­er.

And now to enrich our vocab­u­lar­ies…



  • A hum­mer (n.): excep­tion­al­ly good. Ex., “Man, that boy is a hum­mer.”
  • Ain’t com­ing on that tab (v.): won’t accept the propo­si­tion. Usu­al­ly abbr. to “I ain’t com­ing.”
  • Alli­ga­tor (n.): jit­ter­bug.
  • Apple (n.): the big town, the main stem, Harlem.
  • Arm­strongs (n.): musi­cal notes in the upper reg­is­ter, high trum­pet notes.


  • Bar­be­cue (n.): the girl friend, a beau­ty.
  • Bar­rel­house (adj.): free and easy.
  • Bat­tle (n.): a very home­ly girl, a crone.
  • Beat (adj.): (1) tired, exhaust­ed. Ex., “You look beat” or “I feel beat.” (2) lack­ing any­thing. Ex, “I am beat for my cash”, “I am beat to my socks” (lack­ing every­thing).
  • Beat it out (v.): play it hot, empha­size the rhythm.
  • Beat up (adj.): sad, uncom­pli­men­ta­ry, tired.
  • Beat up the chops (or the gums) (v.): to talk, con­verse, be loqua­cious.
  • Beef (v.): to say, to state. Ex., “He beefed to me that, etc.”
  • Bible (n.): the gospel truth. Ex., “It’s the bible!”
  • Black (n.): night.
  • Black and tan (n.): dark and light col­ored folks. Not col­ored and white folks as erro­neous­ly assumed.
  • Blew their wigs (adj.): excit­ed with enthu­si­asm, gone crazy.
  • Blip (n.): some­thing very good. Ex., “That’s a blip”; “She’s a blip.”
  • Blow the top (v.): to be over­come with emo­tion (delight). Ex., “You’ll blow your top when you hear this one.”
  • Boo­gie-woo­gie (n.): har­mo­ny with accent­ed bass.
  • Boot (v.): to give. Ex., “Boot me that glove.”
  • Break it up (v.): to win applause, to stop the show.
  • Bree (n.): girl.
  • Bright (n.): day.
  • Bright­nin’ (n.): day­break.
  • Bring down ((1) n. (2) v.): (1) some­thing depress­ing. Ex., “That’s a bring down.” (2) Ex., “That brings me down.”
  • Bud­dy ghee (n.): fel­low.
  • Bust your conk (v.): apply your­self dili­gent­ly, break your neck.


  • Canary (n.): girl vocal­ist.
  • Capped (v.): out­done, sur­passed.
  • Cat (n.): musi­cian in swing band.
  • Chick (n.): girl.
  • Chime (n.): hour. Ex., “I got in at six chimes.”
  • Clam­bake (n.): ad lib ses­sion, every man for him­self, a jam ses­sion not in the groove.
  • Chirp (n.): female singer.
  • Cogs (n.): sun glass­es.
  • Col­lar (v.): to get, to obtain, to com­pre­hend. Ex., “I got­ta col­lar me some food”; “Do you col­lar this jive?”
  • Come again (v.): try it over, do bet­ter than you are doing, I don’t under­stand you.
  • Comes on like gang­busters (or like test pilot) (v.): plays, sings, or dances in a ter­rif­ic man­ner, par excel­lence in any depart­ment. Some­times abbr. to “That singer real­ly comes on!”
  • Cop (v.): to get, to obtain (see col­lar; knock).
  • Corny (adj.): old-fash­ioned, stale.
  • Creeps out like the shad­ow (v.): “comes on,” but in smooth, suave, sophis­ti­cat­ed man­ner.
  • Crumb crush­ers (n.): teeth.
  • Cub­by (n.): room, flat, home.
  • Cups (n.): sleep. Ex., “I got­ta catch some cups.”
  • Cut out (v.): to leave, to depart. Ex., “It’s time to cut out”; “I cut out from the joint in ear­ly bright.”
  • Cut rate (n.): a low, cheap per­son. Ex., “Don’t play me cut rate, Jack!”


  • Dic­ty (adj.): high-class, nifty, smart.
  • Dig (v.): (1) meet. Ex., “I’ll plant you now and dig you lat­er.” (2) look, see. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left duke.” (3) com­pre­hend, under­stand. Ex., “Do you dig this jive?”
  • Dim (n.): evening.
  • Dime note (n.): ten-dol­lar bill.
  • Dog­house (n.): bass fid­dle.
  • Domi (n.): ordi­nary place to live in. Ex., “I live in a right­eous domi.”
  • Doss (n.): sleep. Ex., “I’m a lit­tle beat for my doss.”
  • Down with it (adj.): through with it.
  • Drape (n.): suit of clothes, dress, cos­tume.
  • Dream­ers (n.): bed cov­ers, blan­kets.
  • Dry-goods (n.): same as drape.
  • Duke (n.): hand, mitt.
  • Dutchess (n.): girl.


  • Ear­ly black (n.): evening
  • Ear­ly bright (n.): morn­ing.
  • Evil (adj.): in ill humor, in a nasty tem­per.


  • Fall out (v.): to be over­come with emo­tion. Ex., “The cats fell out when he took that solo.”
  • Fews and two (n.): mon­ey or cash in small quan­ti­ty.
  • Final (v.): to leave, to go home. Ex., “I finaled to my pad” (went to bed); “We copped a final” (went home).
  • Fine din­ner (n.): a good-look­ing girl.
  • Focus (v.): to look, to see.
  • Foxy (v.): shrewd.
  • Frame (n.): the body.
  • Fraughty issue (n.): a very sad mes­sage, a deplorable state of affairs.
  • Free­by (n.): no charge, gratis. Ex., “The meal was a free­by.”
  • Frisk­ing the whiskers (v.): what the cats do when they are warm­ing up for a swing ses­sion.
  • Frol­ic pad (n.): place of enter­tain­ment, the­ater, night­club.
  • From­by (adj.): a frompy queen is a bat­tle or faust.
  • Front (n.): a suit of clothes.
  • Fruit­ing (v.): fick­le, fool­ing around with no par­tic­u­lar object.
  • Fry (v.): to go to get hair straight­ened.


  • Gabriels (n.): trum­pet play­ers.
  • Gam­min’ (adj.): show­ing off, flir­ta­tious.
  • Gasser (n, adj.): sen­sa­tion­al. Ex., “When it comes to danc­ing, she’s a gasser.”
  • Gate (n.): a male per­son (a salu­ta­tion), abbr. for “gate-mouth.”
  • Get in there (excla­ma­tion.): go to work, get busy, make it hot, give all you’ve got.
  • Gimme some skin (v.): shake hands.
  • Glims (n.): the eyes.
  • Got your boots on: you know what it is all about, you are a hep cat, you are wise.
  • Got your glass­es on: you are ritzy or snooty, you fail to rec­og­nize your friends, you are up-stage.
  • Gravy (n.): prof­its.
  • Grease (v.): to eat.
  • Groovy (adj.): fine. Ex., “I feel groovy.”
  • Ground grip­pers (n.): new shoes.
  • Growl (n.): vibrant notes from a trum­pet.
  • Gut-buck­et (adj.): low-down music.
  • Guz­zlin’ foam (v.): drink­ing beer.


  • Hard (adj.): fine, good. Ex., “That’s a hard tie you’re wear­ing.”
  • Hard spiel (n.): inter­est­ing line of talk.
  • Have a ball (v.): to enjoy your­self, stage a cel­e­bra­tion. Ex., “I had myself a ball last night.”
  • Hep cat (n.): a guy who knows all the answers, under­stands jive.
  • Hide-beat­er (n.): a drum­mer (see skin-beat­er).
  • Hinc­ty (adj.): con­ceit­ed, snooty.
  • Hip (adj.): wise, sophis­ti­cat­ed, any­one with boots on. Ex., “She’s a hip chick.”
  • Home-cook­ing (n.): some­thing very din­ner (see fine din­ner).
  • Hot (adj.): musi­cal­ly tor­rid; before swing, tunes were hot or bands were hot.
  • Hype (n, v.): build up for a loan, woo­ing a girl, per­sua­sive talk.


  • Icky (n.): one who is not hip, a stu­pid per­son, can’t col­lar the jive.
  • Igg (v.): to ignore some­one. Ex., “Don’t igg me!)
  • In the groove (adj.): per­fect, no devi­a­tion, down the alley.


  • Jack (n.): name for all male friends (see gate; pops).
  • Jam ((1)n, (2)v.): (1) impro­vised swing music. Ex., “That’s swell jam.” (2) to play such music. Ex., “That cat sure­ly can jam.”
  • Jeff (n.): a pest, a bore, an icky.
  • Jel­ly (n.): any­thing free, on the house.
  • Jit­ter­bug (n.): a swing fan.
  • Jive (n.): Harlemese speech.
  • Joint is jump­ing: the place is live­ly, the club is leap­ing with fun.
  • Jumped in port (v.): arrived in town.


  • Kick (n.): a pock­et. Ex., “I’ve got five bucks in my kick.”
  • Kill me (v.): show me a good time, send me.
  • Killer-diller (n.): a great thrill.
  • Knock (v.): give. Ex., “Knock me a kiss.”
  • Kopaset­ic (adj.): absolute­ly okay, the tops.


  • Lamp (v.): to see, to look at.
  • Land o’darkness (n.): Harlem.
  • Lane (n.): a male, usu­al­ly a non­pro­fes­sion­al.
  • Latch on (v.): grab, take hold, get wise to.
  • Lay some iron (v.): to tap dance. Ex., “Jack, you real­ly laid some iron that last show!”
  • Lay your rack­et (v.): to jive, to sell an idea, to pro­mote a propo­si­tion.
  • Lead sheet (n.): a top­coat.
  • Left raise (n.): left side. Ex., “Dig the chick on your left raise.”
  • Lick­ing the chops (v.): see frisk­ing the whiskers.
  • Licks (n.): hot musi­cal phras­es.
  • Lily whites (n.): bed sheets.
  • Line (n.): cost, price, mon­ey. Ex., “What is the line on this drape” (how much does this suit cost)? “Have you got the line in the mouse” (do you have the cash in your pock­et)? Also, in reply­ing, all fig­ures are dou­bled. Ex., “This drape is line forty” (this suit costs twen­ty dol­lars).
  • Lock up: to acquire some­thing exclu­sive­ly. Ex., “He’s got that chick locked up”; “I’m gonna lock up that deal.”


  • Main kick (n.): the stage.
  • Main on the hitch (n.): hus­band.
  • Main queen (n.): favorite girl friend, sweet­heart.
  • Man in gray (n.): the post­man.
  • Mash me a fin (com­mand.): Give me $5.
  • Mel­low (adj.): all right, fine. Ex., “That’s mel­low, Jack.”
  • Melt­ed out (adj.): broke.
  • Mess (n.): some­thing good. Ex., “That last drink was a mess.”
  • Meter (n.): quar­ter, twen­ty-five cents.
  • Mezz (n.): any­thing supreme, gen­uine. Ex., “this is real­ly the mezz.”
  • Mitt pound­ing (n.): applause.
  • Moo juice (n.): milk.
  • Mouse (n.): pock­et. Ex., “I’ve got a meter in the mouse.”
  • Mug­gin’ (v.): mak­ing ’em laugh, putting on the jive. “Mug­gin’ light­ly,” light stac­ca­to swing; “mug­gin’ heavy,” heavy stac­ca­to swing.
  • Mur­der (n.): some­thing excel­lent or ter­rif­ic. Ex., “That’s sol­id mur­der, gate!”


  • Neigho, pops: Noth­ing doing, pal.
  • Nick­lette (n.): auto­mat­ic phono­graph, music box.
  • Nick­el note (n.): five-dol­lar bill.
  • Nix out (v.): to elim­i­nate, get rid of. Ex., “I nixed that chick out last week”; “I nixed my gar­ments” (undressed).
  • Nod (n.): sleep. Ex., “I think I’l cop a nod.”


  • Ofay (n.): white per­son.
  • Off the cob (adj.): corny, out of date.
  • Off-time jive (n.): a sor­ry excuse, say­ing the wrong thing.
  • Orches­tra­tion (n.): an over­coat.
  • Out of the world (adj.): per­fect ren­di­tion. Ex., “That sax cho­rus was out of the world.”
  • Ow!: an excla­ma­tion with var­ied mean­ing. When a beau­ti­ful chick pass­es by, it’s “Ow!”; and when some­one pulls an awful pun, it’s also “Ow!”


  • Pad (n.): bed.
  • Peck­ing (n.): a dance intro­duced at the Cot­ton Club in 1937.
  • Peo­la (n.): a light per­son, almost white.
  • Pigeon (n.): a young girl.
  • Pops (n.): salu­ta­tion for all males (see gate; Jack).
  • Pounders (n.): police­men.


  • Queen (n.): a beau­ti­ful girl.


  • Rank (v.): to low­er.
  • Ready (adj.): 100 per cent in every way. Ex., “That fried chick­en was ready.”
  • Ride (v.): to swing, to keep per­fect tem­po in play­ing or singing.
  • Riff (n.): hot lick, musi­cal phrase.
  • Right­eous (adj.): splen­did, okay. Ex., “That was a right­eous queen I dug you with last black.”
  • Rock me (v.): send me, kill me, move me with rhythm.
  • Ruff (n.): quar­ter, twen­ty-five cents.
  • Rug cut­ter (n.): a very good dancer, an active jit­ter­bug.


  • Sad (adj.): very bad. Ex., “That was the sad­dest meal I ever col­lared.”
  • Sad­der than a map (adj.): ter­ri­ble. Ex., “That man is sad­der than a map.”
  • Salty (adj.): angry, ill-tem­pered.
  • Sam got you: you’ve been draft­ed into the army.
  • Send (v.): to arouse the emo­tions. (joy­ful). Ex., “That sends me!”
  • Set of sev­en brights (n.): one week.
  • Sharp (adj.): neat, smart, tricky. Ex., “That hat is sharp as a tack.”
  • Sig­ni­fy (v.): to declare your­self, to brag, to boast.
  • Skins (n.): drums.
  • Skin-beat­er (n.): drum­mer (see hide-beat­er).
  • Sky piece (n.): hat.
  • Slave (v.): to work, whether ardu­ous labor or not.
  • Slide your jib (v.): to talk freely.
  • Snatch­er (n.): detec­tive.
  • So help me: it’s the truth, that’s a fact.
  • Sol­id (adj.): great, swell, okay.
  • Sound­ed off (v.): began a pro­gram or con­ver­sa­tion.
  • Spoutin’ (v.): talk­ing too much.
  • Square (n.): an unhep per­son (see icky; Jeff).
  • Stache (v.): to file, to hide away, to secrete.
  • Stand one up (v.): to play one cheap, to assume one is a cut-rate.
  • To be stashed (v.): to stand or remain.
  • Susie‑Q (n.): a dance intro­duced at the Cot­ton Club in 1936.


  • Take it slow (v.): be care­ful.
  • Take off (v.): play a solo.
  • The man (n.): the law.
  • Threads (n.): suit, dress or cos­tume (see drape; dry-goods).
  • Tick (n.): minute, moment. Ex., “I’ll dig you in a few ticks.” Also, ticks are dou­bled in account­ing time, just as mon­ey is dou­bled in giv­ing “line.” Ex., “I finaled to the pad this ear­ly bright at tick twen­ty” (I got to bed this morn­ing at ten o’clock).
  • Tim­ber (n.): tooth­pick.
  • To drib­ble (v.): to stut­ter. Ex., “He talked in drib­bles.”
  • Togged to the bricks: dressed to kill, from head to toe.
  • Too much (adj.): term of high­est praise. Ex., “You are too much!”
  • Trick­er­a­tion (n.): strut­tin’ your stuff, mug­gin’ light­ly and polite­ly.
  • Tril­ly (v.): to leave, to depart. Ex., “Well, I guess I’ll tril­ly.”
  • Truck (v.): to go some­where. Ex., “I think I’ll truck on down to the gin­mill (bar).”
  • Truck­ing (n.): a dance intro­duced at the Cot­ton Club in 1933.
  • Twister to the slam­mer (n.): the key to the door.
  • Two cents (n.): two dol­lars.


  • Unhep (adj.): not wise to the jive, said of an icky, a Jeff, a square.


  • Vine (n.): a suit of clothes.
  • V‑8 (n.): a chick who spurns com­pa­ny, is inde­pen­dent, is not amenable.


  • What’s your sto­ry?: What do you want? What have you got to say for your­self? How are tricks? What excuse can you offer? Ex., “I don’t know what his sto­ry is.”
  • Whipped up (adj.): worn out, exhaust­ed, beat for your every­thing.
  • Wren (n.): a chick, a queen.
  • Wrong riff: the wrong thing said or done. Ex., “You’re com­ing up on the wrong riff.”


  • Yard­dog (n.): uncouth, bad­ly attired, unat­trac­tive male or female.
  • Yeah, man: an excla­ma­tion of assent.


  • Zoot (adj.): exag­ger­at­ed
  • Zoot suit (n.): the ulti­mate in clothes. The only total­ly and tru­ly Amer­i­can civil­ian suit.

That’s sol­id mur­der, gate!

If you’re not too beat, Jazz Night In Amer­i­ca builds on Calloway’s dic­tio­nary with some addi­tion­al vocab­u­lary in the video below. Watch it for the mean­ings of stank, ictus, swoop, and scoop, defined col­lec­tive­ly by drum­mer Ali Jack­son as the sort of col­lo­qui­alisms you use when you “don’t want every­one to know what you’re say­ing, but you want to express a point.”

Lis­ten to poet Lemn Sis­say’s BBC his­to­ry of Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dic­tio­nary here.

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Cab Calloway’s “Hep­ster Dic­tio­nary,” a 1939 Glos­sary of the Lin­go (the “Jive”) of the Harlem Renais­sance

One of the Great­est Dances Sequences Ever Cap­tured on Film Gets Restored in Col­or by AI: Watch the Clas­sic Scene from Stormy Weath­er

Cab Cal­loway Stars in “Min­nie the Moocher,” a Trip­py Bet­ty Boop Car­toon That’s Ranked as the 20th Great­est Car­toon of All Time (1932)

Watch a Sur­re­al 1933 Ani­ma­tion of Snow White, Fea­tur­ing Cab Cal­loway & Bet­ty Boop: It’s Ranked as the 19th Great­est Car­toon of All Time

– Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo and Cre­ative, Not Famous Activ­i­ty Book. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Great Mixtapes of 1970s Japanese Jazz: 4 Hours of Funky, Groovy, Fusion‑y Music

Like Amer­i­can jazz, Japan­ese jazz start­ed with ear­li­er styles like fox­trot and rag­time. Jazz was an inter­na­tion­al music, spread­ing across the Atlantic to Lon­don, Paris, and Berlin and across the Pacif­ic to Shang­hai, Manil­la, and Tokyo. Lux­u­ry lin­ers crossed the ocean and their house bands fer­ried new styles of dance music with them. “There was pre­cious lit­tle impro­vi­sa­tion,” in ear­ly Japan­ese jazz, “but that was­n’t as big a deal, as you know, in Amer­i­can jazz of the 1910s or ’20s,” his­to­ri­an E. Tay­lor Atkins tells NPR.

Japan even had its own jazz age. The word first entered the coun­try in a 1929 “pop­u­lar song attached to a movie called Tokyo March,” says Atkins. “The lyrics refer to jazz, and … that’s sort of where it came into mass con­scious­ness. It was asso­ci­at­ed with dance halls, it was asso­ci­at­ed with ‘mod­ern girls’ and ‘mod­ern boys’ — the Japan­ese ver­sion of flap­pers and dandies — and the urban leisure class­es: excess, and dogs and cats sleep­ing togeth­er, and all those sorts of por­tents of future calami­ty.”

When calami­ty came in the form of World War II, jazz was banned in Japan as the music of the ene­my. On August 15, 1945, when the Emper­or went on the radio to announce Japan’s sur­ren­der, Hat­tori Ryoichi, “Japan’s pre­mier jazz com­pos­er and arranger,” found him­self stuck in Shang­hai, “the city that since the late 1920s had served as the jazz Mec­ca of Asia,” Michael Bourdaghs writes in a his­to­ry of Japan­ese pop music. “From now on,” Ryoichi sup­pos­ed­ly toast­ed his fel­low musi­cians upon hear­ing the news, “we can car­ry out our musi­cal activ­i­ties in free­dom.”

How lit­tle Ryoichi could have pre­dict­ed the kind of musi­cal free­dom Japan­ese jazz would find. But first there was a peri­od of imi­ta­tion. “In the ear­ly post­war years, Japan­ese musi­cians were essen­tial­ly copy­ing the Amer­i­cans they admired,” notes Dean Van Nguyen at The Guardian. Some of the most pop­u­lar bands on TV and film were com­ic acts like Frankie Sakai and the City Slick­ers, a big band formed in 1953 in imi­ta­tion of Spike Jones & The City Slick­ers. Anoth­er pop­u­lar jazz com­e­dy act, Hajime Hana & The Crazy Cats “are sig­nif­i­cant,” writes Atkins, “for cap­i­tal­iz­ing and pur­vey­ing an image of jazz musi­cians as clown­ish, slang-singing ne’er-do-wells.”

Pianist Toshiko Akiyoshi was “the first Japan­ese artist to break away from sim­ply copy­ing Amer­i­can artists and devel­op a dis­tinc­tive sound and iden­ti­ty that incor­po­rat­ed Japan­ese har­monies and instru­ments,” Van Nguyen writes. By the lat­er 60s and 70s, eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment led to a “renais­sance” of Japan­ese jazz, writes the Sabukaru Guide to 1970’s Japan­ese Jazz. “The unique cre­ative land­scape in the jazz com­mu­ni­ty, along with Japan­ese music as a whole becom­ing simul­ta­ne­ous­ly more exper­i­men­tal and main­stream, led to an abun­dance of excel­lent Japan­ese jazz music in the 1970s.”

In the four playlists here, you can hear hours of this ground­break­ing music from some of the great­est names you’ve prob­a­bly nev­er heard in Japan­ese jazz. These include trom­bon­ist Hiroshi Suzu­ki, “one of the most-revered Japan­ese jazz artists,” notes the blog Pink Wafer Club, “even if most lis­ters are only famil­iar with his work thanks to the num­ber of times his music has been sam­pled.” Suzuk­i’s 1975 album Cat is one of the funki­est jazz albums from any coun­try released in the decade.

These playlists also include fusion key­boardist Mikio Masu­da, sax­o­phon­ist Sadao Watan­abe, and oth­er musi­cians who, like Akiyoshi, helped spur “young artists to evolve away from Blue Note mim­ic­ry towards free jazz, fusion, funk, spir­i­tu­al, modal and bebop,” writes Van Nguyen. “These dar­ing vir­tu­osos implant­ed rock and elec­tron­ic ele­ments, or took influ­ences from Afrobeat and fla­men­co music.” Their inter­na­tion­al influ­ences reflect­ed 1970s jazz exper­i­ments around the globe. The music also ben­e­fit­ted from the excel­lent record­ing qual­i­ty of Japan­ese stu­dios and the rise of small­er labels, which allowed for more exper­i­men­tal artists to record and release albums.

Find out above why “many young Japan­ese musi­cians cite the jazz inno­va­tors from this era as influ­ences,” Sabukaru writes. Read about ten of the best 1970s Japan­ese jazz records here. See a huge guide to Japan­ese jazz from all eras at Rate Your Music, and find track­lists with time­stamps for each of the playlists above at their YouTube page.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

A 30-Minute Intro­duc­tion to Japan­ese Jazz from the 1970s: Like Japan­ese Whisky, It’s Under­rat­ed, But Very High Qual­i­ty

Son­ic Explo­rations of Japan­ese Jazz: Stream 8 Mix­es of Japan’s Jazz Tra­di­tion Free Online

Acclaimed Japan­ese Jazz Pianist Yōsuke Yamashita Plays a Burn­ing Piano on the Beach

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Doreen Ketchens’ Astonishing Rendition of “The House of the Rising Sun”: A World-Class Clarinetist Busks on the Streets of New Orleans

Dirt­i­ness has no descrip­tion. It is a  feel­ing. — music tran­scriber George Col­lier

You may be able to read music and play the clar­inet, but it’s extreme­ly unlike­ly you — or any­one — will be able to play along with Doreen Ketchens’ “dirty” solo on “The House of the Ris­ing Sun,” above, despite an assist from Tom Pick­les’ scrolling tran­scrip­tion.

Down­load the tran­scrip­tion for free and keep try­ing.

It’s what Ketchens, a world renowned clar­inetist and music edu­ca­tor, who has played for four US pres­i­dents and busks reg­u­lar­ly in the French Quar­ter, would advise.

“You have to prac­tice and be ready to per­form at the drop of a hat” she told The Clar­inet’s Ben Red­wine, when he asked if she had any advice for young musi­cians hop­ing to make it pro­fes­sion­al­ly.

She’s also a strong advo­cate of lis­ten­ing robust­ly, not throw­ing in the tow­el when some­one else gets the job instead of you, and let­ting your per­son­al­i­ty come through in your play­ing:

You don’t want to sound like you’re play­ing an etude book. This is for all types of music – even clas­si­cal. You want to move the audi­ence, you want to touch them.

Trained as a clas­si­cal clar­inetist, Ketchens cozied up to jazz short­ly after she cozied up to the tuba play­er who would become her hus­band. “All of the sud­den, jazz wasn’t so bad,” she says:

I start­ed to lis­ten to jazz so I could learn the tunes and fit in with his band. I start­ed lis­ten­ing to Louis Arm­strong. He is my biggest influ­ence. Some peo­ple call me Mrs. Satch­mo, I guess because that con­cept is in my head. I’ll hear some­thing he plays, which I’ve heard thou­sands of times, and I’ll think, “What? How did he do that?” Then, I lis­tened to the clar­inetists who played with him: Edmund HallBuster Bai­leyBar­ney Bigard. Those cats were awe­some too! Edmund Hall had this thing he could do, where it sounds like he was play­ing two tones at the same time. Peo­ple today might hum while they play to achieve some­thing sim­i­lar, but I don’t think that was what he was doing. Buster Bai­ley had a sim­i­lar back­ground to me, start­ing out with clas­si­cal music, then learn­ing jazz. Ear­ly on, I emu­lat­ed Jer­ry Fuller, clar­inetist with the Dukes of Dix­ieland. I would steal so many of his solos just so I could keep up with my husband’s band. Even­tu­al­ly, I real­ized what he was doing, and it trans­lat­ed into me being able to impro­vise. I’d start out tran­scrib­ing solos, then play­ing by ear, copy­ing what those clar­inetists were doing. I don’t remem­ber those solos now, but I’m sure that I still play snip­pets of them that creep into my impro­vi­sa­tions.

How­ev­er she got there, she pos­sess­es a sin­gu­lar abil­i­ty to make her instru­ment growl and her com­mand of 32nd notes makes us feel a lit­tle light­head­ed.

Clar­inetists abound in New Orleans, and they prob­a­bly all cov­er “The House of the Ris­ing Sun,” but you’ll be hard pressed to find a more excit­ing ren­di­tion than Ketchens’ on the cor­ner of St. Peter and Roy­al, with hus­band Lawrence on tuba and daugh­ter Dori­an on drums.  Here’s the full ver­sions, sans tran­scrip­tion.

You want an encore? Of course you do.

How about Ketchens’ mag­nif­i­cent solo on “Just a Clos­er Walk With Thee” for the Louisiana Phil­har­mon­ic Orches­tra?

Find more aston­ish­ing, tran­scribed solos and a heap­ing help­ing of Jacob Col­lier on George Collier’s (no rela­tion) YouTube Chan­nel.

His tran­scrip­tions, and those of col­lab­o­ra­tor Tom Pick­les, are avail­able for free down­load here, unless the artist sells their own tran­scrip­tion, in which case he encour­ages you to sup­port the artist with your pur­chase.

If you’re a music nerd who would like to dis­cuss tran­scrip­tions, give feed­back on oth­ers’ attempts, and upload your own, join his com­mu­ni­ty on Dis­cord.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Women of Jazz: Stream a Playlist of 91 Record­ings by Great Female Jazz Musi­cians

Jazz Vir­tu­oso Oscar Peter­son Gives Dick Cavett a Daz­zling Piano Les­son (1979)

Lit­tle Kid Mer­ri­ly Grooves to ZZ Top While Wait­ing for the Bus

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, the­ater­mak­er, and the Chief Pri­maol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. Her lat­est book, Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo, will be pub­lished in ear­ly 2022.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

Jazz Virtuoso Oscar Peterson Gives Dick Cavett a Dazzling Piano Lesson (1979)

Duke Elling­ton once called Oscar Peter­son the “Mahara­ja of the Key­board” for his vir­tu­os­i­ty and abil­i­ty to play any style with seem­ing ease, a skill he first began to learn as a clas­si­cal­ly trained child prodi­gy. Peter­son was intro­duced to Bach and Beethoven by his musi­cian father and old­er sis­ter Daisy, then drilled in rig­or­ous fin­ger exer­cis­es and giv­en six hours a day of prac­tice by his teacher, Hun­gar­i­an pianist Paul de Marky. “I only first real­ly heard jazz some­where between the ages of sev­en and 10,” said the Cana­di­an jazz great. “My old­er broth­er Fred, who was actu­al­ly a bet­ter pianist than I was, start­ed play­ing var­i­ous new tunes — well they were new for me, any­way…. Duke Elling­ton and Art Tatum, who fright­ened me to death with his tech­nique.”

Despite his own prodi­gious tal­ent, Peter­son found Tatum “intim­i­dat­ing,” he told Count Basie in a 1980 inter­view. He respond­ed to the fear by learn­ing how to play like Tatum, and like every­one else he admired, while adding his own melod­ic twists to stan­dards and orig­i­nals. At 14, he won a nation­al Cana­di­an music com­pe­ti­tion and left school to become a pro­fes­sion­al musi­cian.

He record­ed his first album in 1945 at age 20. “Since his ‘dis­cov­ery’ in 1947 by Nor­man Granz,” wrote Inter­na­tion­al Musi­cian in 2002, five years before the pianist’s death, “Peter­son has amassed an incred­i­ble lega­cy of record­ed work with Louis Arm­strong, Ella Fitzger­ald, Count Basie, Fred Astaire, Dizzy Gille­spie, Cole­man Hawkins, and Char­lie Park­er, among count­less oth­er greats.”

In the video at the top of the post from the Dick Cavett Show in 1979, Peter­son shows off his ele­gant tech­nique and demon­strates the “styl­is­tic trade­marks” of the greats he admired, and that oth­ers have heard expressed in his own style. He begins with his alba­tross, Tatum’s “stride piano,” a style that requires a good deal of left hand artic­u­la­tion and which, done right, can “put the rhythm sec­tion out of busi­ness,” Cavett jokes. Peter­son then shows off the “the two-fin­gered per­cus­sive­ness of Nat Cole,” the “lyric octave work of Erroll Gar­ner,” and dou­ble octave melody lines, a very dif­fi­cult two-hand maneu­ver.

It’s a daz­zling les­son that shows, in just a few short min­utes, why Peter­son became known for his “stun­ning vir­tu­os­i­ty as a soloist,” as one biog­ra­phy notes. In the video above, pro­duc­er and YouTube per­son­al­i­ty Rick Beato explains why he thinks Peter­son played the “Great­est Solo of All Time” in the 1974 ren­di­tion of “Boo­gie Blues Study” fur­ther up. As David Funk, who post­ed the Cavett video clip to YouTube, puts it, “What more can you say?” To under­stand why Louis Arm­strong called Peter­son “the man with four hands,” we sim­ply need to watch him play.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How Music Unites Us All: Her­bie Han­cock & Kamasi Wash­ing­ton in Con­ver­sa­tion

Decon­struct­ing Ste­vie Wonder’s Ode to Jazz and His Hero Duke Elling­ton: A Great Break­down of “Sir Duke”

Jazz Decon­struct­ed: What Makes John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” So Ground­break­ing and Rad­i­cal?

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch Jaco Pastorius: The Lost Tapes Documentary, the Fan-Made Film on the Most Innovative Bass Player of All Time

Peo­ple do not under­stand how hard a jazz musi­cian works for a liv­ing. I’m not putting nobody down, but I’m telling you nobody under­stands how hard jazz musi­cians work. Jazz is not big in the US, because the States are too wor­ried about Pac-Man and The Police. — Jaco

When Jaco Pas­to­rius uttered the quote above in a typ­i­cal­ly enter­tain­ing and insight­ful inter­view with Gui­tar World from 1983, he meant no dis­re­spect to the mem­bers of The Police. It’s safe to say, in fact, that Pas­to­rius sig­nif­i­cant­ly influ­enced crossover sub­gen­res in punk, New Wave, and No Wave, through com­po­si­tions like “Punk Jazz” — “a real jazz play­ers stab at a brave new music,” writes Gui­tar World’s Peter Mengazi­ol. In gen­er­al, Pas­to­rius’ music was “a fusion with ener­gy but with­out overkill.” He absorbed influ­ences from every­where, and noth­ing seemed out of bounds in his play­ing. “I am not an orig­i­nal musi­cian,” he says in the same inter­view:

I am a thief…. You see, I rip off every­thing. I have no orig­i­nals. Only ani­mals and chil­dren can under­stand my music; I love women, chil­dren, music, I love every­thing that’s going in the right direc­tion, every­thing that flows… I just love music. I don’t know what I’m doing! 

It’s not that Pas­to­rius nec­es­sar­i­ly thought of jazz as a more ele­vat­ed form than rock or funk or soul or pop — hard­ly. He regard­ed Hen­drix with the same wor­ship­ful awe as he did Motown bassist Jer­ry Jem­mott, and both equal­ly informed his play­ing and show­man­ship. Yet he seemed to feel under-appre­ci­at­ed in his time, and that is prob­a­bly because he was, even though he was acclaimed as one of the world’s great­est bass play­ers dur­ing his brief 35 years, and he rad­i­cal­ly altered the sound of pop­u­lar music on albums by Joni Mitchell and oth­er non-jazz-world stars.

But Pas­to­rius knew that few under­stood what he was try­ing to do with jazz-rock groups like Weath­er Report and Blood, Sweat & Tears and in his solo work. He knew he could sell records and sell out per­for­mances, but he did­n’t care about com­merce. (He spent the last few years of his life sleep­ing on park bench­es.)

Warn­er Bros. refused to release his third solo album, Hol­i­day for Pans — a selec­tion of orig­i­nal com­po­si­tions and tunes by the Bea­t­les, Coltrane, and Alan Hov­haness, cen­tered around the steel drum play­ing of Oth­el­lo Molin­eaux — on the basis that it was “extreme­ly eso­teric.” Described by The Pen­guin Guide to Jazz as “by far the most imag­i­na­tive project Pas­to­rius ever under­took,” Hol­i­day for Pans received a release in Japan in 1993, but remains unre­leased in the US, per­haps val­i­dat­ing the bassist’s opin­ion of his coun­try’s cul­tur­al lim­i­ta­tions.

The fan-made doc­u­men­tary at the top, Jaco Pas­to­rius — The Lost Tapes Doc­u­men­tary, first appeared “on a some­what obscure French chan­nel called ‘Real­cut’,” notes the site Jazz in Europe. The title refers the inter­view footage with choice sub­jects like Mar­cus Miller, Joe Zaw­in­ul, Peter Ersk­ine, Dave Car­pen­ter, and Paco Seri, all shot while the musi­cians “were on tour in France back in the mid noughties.” In 2008, “the images were defin­i­tive­ly lost,” the film­mak­ers write in their descrip­tion, only to sur­face again on a hard dri­ve in a dusty attic last year.

Tying these inter­views togeth­er with archival Inter­net footage of Pas­to­rius, the mak­ers of The Lost Tapes Doc­u­men­tary have done an excel­lent job of intro­duc­ing the man and his work to a broad audi­ence through the words of those who knew and played with him, and they’ve done so with “no bud­get, no finan­cial aid or no image pur­chase.… The peo­ple who worked on this project did it vol­un­tar­i­ly, out of pas­sion and love of music, and the film will in no way be mon­e­tized on the plat­forms.” Pas­to­rius would have approved. “I don’t want to sell shit,” he told Gui­tar World back in 1983. “I want to do what has to be done.” For him, that meant con­stant inno­va­tion and change. “I’m not a magi­cian, I’m not a politi­cian, I’m a musi­cian,” he said. “I have no goal. You don’t get bet­ter, you grow. I am a musi­cian, and I final­ly real­ized it!”

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Jazz Leg­end Jaco Pas­to­rius Gives a 90 Minute Bass Les­son and Plays Live in Mon­tre­al (1982)

How Jaco Pas­to­rius Invent­ed the Elec­tric Bass Solo & Changed Musi­cal His­to­ry (1976)

Bass Sounds: One Song High­lights the Many Dif­fer­ent Sounds Made by Dif­fer­ent Bass Gui­tars

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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