MUSICIAN FRIENDS WILL BE quite impressed when you sprinkle into the conversation a little lyrical lingo from their universe, and one of my favorite old books, the American Thesaurus of Slang, is just the place to find it.
Jazz slang, and where I heard it first
My own introduction to that world came at a young age; Joan Marie Starr, my mom, was a jazz singer. I’m not sure there was a more glamorous mother in that small Ohio town, and some of my most vivid childhood memories include seeing her walk out the door on her way to perform in a night club.
Then there was the experience of sitting only inches away from the band as they practiced in our basement, feeling both the acoustic and electrified music pound against me more intensely than hearing it.
I remember one night being led by the hand from a spare bedroom at the neighbor’s, awakened to watch her one and only live tv performance on a local telethon.
And one more vivid memory, from the age of eight: flipping through her record collection to encounter Julie London’s plunging neckline on the cover of “Cry Me A River.” Yes, from early on I grew to deeply, deeply love the arts.
How the warbler helped make me a writer
But take all that glamour, plus all those names, and add in the all-too-familiar sense of disconnection I experienced seeing her blurry image on a tiny television in the wee hours that night; combined they characterize the distance and unapproachability that existed between my mother and me for as long as I can remember. Painful, yes, but it was a reality I finally came to accept long before she left for the last time, at the age of eighty-two, two years ago on Thursday.
In the strange way art has of being birthed out of difficulty, my mother’s flitting in and out of my life may have contributed as much as her DNA to my becoming an artist and a writer. So maybe this list of jazz-man’s slang for a singer, mined from the American Thesaurus of Slang, appeals to me because it seems to capture some sense of my own elusive songbird.
(Female) bird, chirper, shouter, tunester, canary, nightin-gale, oriole, song bird, tunestress, warbler, bathroom tenor, gelatine (tenor), whisky tenor, a drunken tenor; altone, barytone, lantern, balloon lungs, leather iungs, bluebird, bluester, moaner, mammy singer, jazzbo, crawk, ear comforter, hoof-and-mouth artist, hot cat, hot canary, killie-loo bird, Madame Cadenza, operactress, song plugger, pop warbler, primmer donner, queentet, sex-tette, radioriole, sarongstress, (spec. Dorothy Lamour), scooper, singing click, single, songopator, song wran-gler, torcher, town crier, wah-wah singer. (Male) boop-boop-a-dooper, croonie, mike hugger, moaner, sweet boy, croonette, groaner, grooner, croonader, croon prince.