Does jazz "ax(e)" derive from jazz "chops"?

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Mon Oct 7 02:22:10 UTC 2002

On Sun, Oct 06, 2002 at 02:34:22PM -0500, Gerald Cohen wrote:
> Jonathon Green (editor, _Cassell's Dictionary of Slang_) privately
> sent me a message in reply to my query about axe/chops, and with his
> permission I now share it with ads-l. JEL in his message is Jonathan
> Lighter, editor of (the invaluable) Historical Dictionary of American
> Slang.
> >As regards chops = skill, I'm surprised that JEL missed the pre-1968 cites
> >from available in Robert S. Gold: _Jazz Lexicon_ (1964)
> >
> >1947 Metronome Jan. 32: He might not have the chops he used to have, but
> >his
> >ideas are always fine
> >1958 Down Beat 24 Jul. 14: While it lasted it helped musicians who weren't
> >working because they could keep up their chops
> >1962 Down Beat  27 Sep. 41: He's got a lotta chops, but he played way too
> >long

I'm surprised that JG missed the placement of the 1947 cite
above in JEL--it's the first cite at sense 2.a., 'a
trumpeter's strength of embouchure'.

I don't have _Jazz Lexicon_ here, only the later _Jazz Talk,_
which lumps these together in an unhelpful way. In the earlier
book does he actually claim that the 1947 exemplifies the
'skill' sense? I personally think that the 1947 cite clearly
means 'lip strength' and not 'skill', as does the 1958, but
the 1962 quote probably does belong to the 'skill' sense (by
_Jazz Talk,_ at least, Gold seem to think so too).

Jesse Sheidlower

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