Jazz was a furtive thing in the early thirties, heard only in a handful of nightclubs and speakeasies. Almost the only time the dedicated jazz fan could hear his favorite music was when he was fortunate enough to be allowed to sit in on an after-hours jam session where the musicians made their kind of music for their own mutual enjoyment. Things have certainly changed, but one thing has changed little, the argot spoken by the musicians themselves. Like all secret languages, the talk of the working musician exits chiefly because he wants a way to communicate with his fellow musicians without the general public (squares, to musicians) knowing what is going on.
Any instrument may be labeled the ax – though the term is usually reserved for one or another of the horns. A bash, gig, hame or bake is an engagement where the musician works. But a ball to a jazz musician is never a formal dance; it’s an occasion for exuberant enjoyment, a real good time. Ball is also used a verb: “I’m going to ball tonight.” A benny is a pawnbroker and a bill is a hundred dollars. Money, generally speaking is bread, and for the most part, bread come from the bossman,who may be booking agent, bandleader of music contractor.
A cat is dragged by a dull, boring experience, but a stimulating, enjoyable occurrence will gas him – sometimes to the extent that he will flip. When low in funds, the musician may speak up for a taste – meaning an advance upon the bread to come. If the taste is big enough, he might treat himself to a new set of threads – a suit.