An Extensive Encyclopedic Music Dictionary

An Extensive
Traditional and Folk Music
Encyclopedic Dictionary

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(Section J)


Jack-in-the-Green (aka "The Green Man") one of the characters often portrayed by morris troupes. The costume consists of green branches that completely enclose the wearer; he or she symbolises the fertility and regrowth of the spring.

Jackson, Aunt Molly (1880-1960) Kentucky a cappella singer who recorded for the Library of Congress in 1939. She wrote a number of songs about union organizing in the coal country, and helped popularize "Which Side Are You On" by Florence Reece - see also Appalachia. She was a half-sister to Gunning, Sarah.

Jackson, Mahalia (1911- ) called "The Queen of the Gospel Singers", and with good reason. Her powerful singing has resulted in sold-out Carnegie Hall concerts, a performance in 1963 at the Lincoln Memorial during the civil-rights march on Washington, TV appearances, and a wealth of albums. Although she specialised in sacred songs, she was widely influential on blues and soul singers.

Jacobite songs the Jacobites were supporters of the claim to the English throne by James Stuart and his descendants. There were a number of Jacobite uprisings crushed in the first half of the 18th century, with the last being the Battle of Culloden in 1745. See also Bonny Prince Charlie. Jacobite sympathizers produced many songs, such as "The Wee German Lairdie" and "Cam Ye O’er Frae France", both vicious putdowns of the English king George I, who was German and didn’t speak English. There were also songs from another point of view, such as Robert Burns’ "Ye Jacobites by Name", which decried the violence they used in an attempt to achieve their political ends.

jam 1. (n., also "jam session") A gathering of musicians for the purpose of playing, either formally or informally. Usually implies instruments, though singing is included. Compare with singaround, hootenanny. 2. (v.) To play with other musicians, usually in an impromptu or informal style. "Let’s jam!"

James, Skip (1902-1969) born Nehemia James in Mississippi, Skip was known only to collectors of race records until his discovery in the folk revival of the 60s. He then played major clubs and festivals, establishing himself as an expert fingerpicking blues player.

Jansch, Bert British guitarist whose late-60s solo albums and his work with Pentangle brought him a certain amount of fame in both pop and folk circles. He’s noted for his intricate fingerpicking, and helped popularize Davey Graham’s "Angie" (long before it was recorded by Paul Simon).

Jefferson, Blind Lemon see Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Jeremiad a tale of woe, a complaining or protesting against the world. Every good protest songwriter has written one.

Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring always on any greatest-hits list for J.S. Bach (1685-1750). Despite its powerful sound, it’s fairly straightforward in construction and lends itself to either solo or ensemble performance. Seeger, Pete recorded a banjo and vocal version for the Folkways album "Goofing Off Suite" (see also Beethoven, Ludwig van). Pete sings the original German words: "Jesus bleibet meine FreudeMeines Herzens Trost und Saft.Jesus wehret allem LeideEr is meines Lebens Kraft." One of several English versions of the above is: "Jesus all my joy remaineth,My heart’s solace and my stay,All my wounds to heal he deigneth,On him all my need I lay." The Jesu/Jesus inconsistency results from the German case for proper names and the retention of it in the English title. It was originally the second chorale part from Bach’s Cantata 147, "Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben"; the extant manuscript is dated 1723. It became quite popular as "Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring" through a piano transcription in the 1930s and 40s by the English pianist Dame Myra Hess.

jew’s harp despite attempts to convert it to "jaw harp", the name continues on, to the embarrassment of the politically correct. It’s a metal strip fastened at one end to an open metal frame. The frame is placed over the open mouth and the strip struck with the fingers, producing a boing-boing noise that can be changed in tone to some extent by moving the mouth and tongue. Like the slide whistle, it lends itself to comic songs and tunes and not much else. There are virtuosos, and even conventions of virtuosos, but it doesn’t really sustain interest for long as a solo instrument, except perhaps to its practitioners.

jig a tune, generally used for dancing and generally played on the fiddle. Most are in triple time, such as 6/8 or 9/8. The variety in 9/8 are called "slip jigs". It’s the rhythmic grouping that defines it, rather than just the time signature. The rhythm goes "diddley-diddley-diddley". See also reel, strathspey and hornpipe. It can also refer to a dance done to a jig tune. There’s a peculiarity in counting the beats (foot taps) per measure (the top number of the time signature is the beats per measure) and it’s easy to illustrate with the 6/8 jig. While a topnotch musician might count six per measure, jigs generally go too fast for the rest of us to keep up, and so we count only beat #1 and beat #4. This gives the jig a strong feeling of being in double time, not triple (see compound meter). Compare with waltz, which has a powerful oom-pa-pa triple feeling. 2. The jig (= French: gigue; Italian: giga), a lively dance in compound time, became the usual final dance of the baroque dance suite.

Jim Kweskin Jug Band see Kweskin, Jim, jug band.

Jimmy a popular name in traditional song, almost to the exclusion of others, except Willy and Polly.

John Barleycorn (UK) beer or ale. There are a number of popular songs by this name. One of them is simple praise ("John Barleycorn’s a hero bold as any in the land...") and another gives an elaborate but metaphorical description of how barley is grown, harvested, and brewed ("There were three men come from the west, their fortunes for to find...").

John Henry probably the best-known worker-hero song ever. John battles the newcomer steam drill and wins, but pays the price. His fatal fight against new technology has inspired a number of parodies. It is one of the best-crafted American folk songs, surviving dozens of recordings (fave versions: Pete Seeger ( banjo) and Michael Cooney ( 12-string). Some of the verses in this and many other songs come from a British song called Lass of Roch Royal.

John Roberts & Tony Barrand see Barrand, Tony.

Johnson, Blind Willie see Blind Willie Johnson.

Johnson, James (1750-1811) a Scottish music engraver. He published "The Scots Musical Museum" from 1787-1803; it contained 600 airs, many of them tunes that Burns, Robert had memorized. It formed an invaluable aid to later collectors.

Johnson, Lonnie (189?-1970) a guitarist and singer, mostly jazz oriented, although he recorded a number of blues selections. In the 20s and 30s he played with such performers as Louis Armstrong and Eddie Lang, and played guitar for Spivey, Victoria when she began recording again in the 60s. He had something of a revival in the late 60s as a soloist (vocal and guitar) after he moved to Toronto. Donegan, Lonnie took his first name from Lonnie Johnson.


Johnson, Robert (1916-1937 or 1912-1938) Johnson was one of the most influential musicians in country blues. His brilliantly inventive bottleneck style guitar has been copied to this day; it is usually referred to as delta blues, although he was from Mississippi. Much of what is known about his life is anecdotal or conjectural, though all accounts of his death mention that it was a murder. Johnson did say that he learned to play the blues by listening to House, Son. Many of his lyrics contain astonishing images of paranoia: "Blues falling down like hail, I can’t keep no money,Got a hellhound, hellhound on my trail...""I got stones in my passway, can’t get my sleep at night...""Went down to the crossroads, fell down on my knees...Ain’t nobody seem to know me, everybody pass me by." He died leaving 41 recordings of 29 songs (recorded for Vocalion in 1936-7) that still change the styles of blues players today. Some of his songs still heard are "Terraplane Blues", "Last Fair Deal Gone Down", "Crossroads Blues", "Ramblin’ on My Mind", and "Travelling Riverside Blues". It’s generally agreed among blues fans that no other single player had such an impact, from country blues to Chicago-style urban electric to modern rock. See also crossroads, movies.

Jones, Grandpa see Grandpa Jones

jongleur (Fr.) itinerant minstrels who were singers, instrumentalists, jugglers, etc. The first recorded mention of them is about the 9th century. Our word "juggler" is said to be from the name.

Joplin, Scott (1868-1917) American composer, famous for ragtime piano pieces. He started off playing bars and travelling shows in the late 1880s, writing the well-known "Maple Leaf Rag". He moved to St Louis, where he composed "Treemonisha", an opera made up of ragtime, plantation songs, and parlor ballads. It was never fully produced in his lifetime, although it was staged in the US in the 1970s. He never recorded other than on piano rolls. He wrote more than 50 rags, marches, and waltzes. His "The Entertainer" was popularized by the 1973 film "The Sting", and his rags are popular with finger-style guitarists.

Jota-The jota is a traditional Spanish dance, transmuted into an orchestral composition by the Russian composer Glinka in his Jota aragonesa.

Journeymen one of many folk groups produced by the folk revival, the initial members were Scott McKenzie, John Phillips, and Weissman, Dick. They made a number of albums for Capitol before disbanding. Scott McKenzie had a hit with "If You Go to San Francisco" in 1967, John Phillips went on to the Mamas and the Papas, and Dick Weissman made a number of solo albums for various labels.

juba 1. (capitalised) A famous 19th-century dancer in the minstrel tradition of the US. He was as widely acclaimed in his time as Bojangles was in his. 2. A style of energetic dancing in the minstrel tradition, possibly named after the famous dancer, but possibly from an older African word.

jug band a band using improvised instruments, such as large jugs, washtub basses, and washboards or anything that makes some sort of musical sound. Also includes guitars, banjos, etc. Some jug bands were remarkably good, such as the Jim Kweskin Jug Band (see Kweskin, Jim), popular in the 60s. Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers of the 20s wrote "Walk Right In" in 1929, which was a hit in the 60s by the Rooftop Singers (see Cannon, Gus). Other jug bands that came and went in the 60s included the Ragtime Jug Stompers and the Even Dozen Jug Band.

juke (also "jook", "jookie", etc.) a word from the Gullah tongue, usually attached, as in "jukejoint" (a roadhouse, or bar with entertainment, or a brothel) or the familiar "jukebox", an automated record player that got its name by association. The word is from an older African language and means "wicked", something of a comment on the goings-on in a jukejoint.

Juno a Canadian award for recording artists and producers; the equivalent of the American Grammy.

just intonation a way of tuning the musical scale, based on the integer ratios of the harmonic series, which yield a {natural scale}. These ratios provide sweet-sounding intervals as well as some unique ones as described under harmonic series, but they also make key-changing difficult. Note that the just scale is the same thing as the natural scale, with a few small adjustments to change the notes that don’t quite suit the customary scale. (Another contender for the title of natural scale is the Pythagorean scale). In one key only, the sound is about as good as it gets because all the notes agree with all the harmonics. However, changing to other keys isn’t possible without tuning clashes. The problem stems from the natural scale’s creation of many different types of tones - instead of our current tone and semitone, there are whole tones (C-D, ratio 9/8), minor tones (D-E, ratio 10/9), and different semitones (E-F, ratio 16/15). Also, sharps and flats are not enharmonic where they should be - C# and Db are two different notes by about 20 cents. With this many different tones, key changes are impossible because the order of all these tones would be wrong, necessitating either retuning or a massive number of available notes (in the 16th and 17th centuries, there were organs made with split black keys for sharps and flats in an attempt to accommodate all the many natural notes). An alternative was the meantone scale, and then our present equal-tempered scale, although the capabilities of the computer for adjusting temperament on-the-fly have meant a resurgence in the use of just intonation, as have people willing to construct instruments to suit the just intervals

just-intonation or pure-intonation. a tuning system that corresponds to the natural harmonic-series.