I want to preface this by saying that this is a really dumb question, but here goes.

When describing some praised jazz performance, an adjective that sometimes pops up is "nasty or disgusting" (or rather, a reaction of disgust). [1] [2] Now from the context, I have inferred that this is a good thing, and in this context carries a good connotation.

However, the exact definition and explanation eludes me, and apparently also the internet (attempts to Google anything about it has failed.)

My exact question is this:

  1. What makes jazz nasty or disgusting?
  2. This is a good thing, right?
  • Makes you wonder, "smooth jazz" must be an oxymoron! Dec 18, 2019 at 7:25
  • Bit like the new good is bad? And how the heck could something be hot and cool at the same time?
    – Tim
    Dec 18, 2019 at 8:36

2 Answers 2


Giving a good connotation to seemingly negative words is an old practice. To point where a word like 'terrific' no longer even holds a negative connotation... Even a word like "funky" is rarely used to describe a bad smell nowadays.

In Jazz, this practice has roots in the early days of the genre, with the development of "Jive Talk"... Even slang words that we consider to be used contemporaneously can be traced back to those "old" jazz days. See here for a glossary of Jive words that includes, 'bad,' 'the bomb,' 'kill,' etc. (All used to describe good things.)

What makes jazz nasty or disgusting? This is a good thing, right?

One of the points of slang in general is to create a sort of exclusivity. In this case in order to separate the "hep cats" from the "crumbs," the words 'nasty' and 'disgusting' are used to describe a piece of music and/or a performance that is excellent, well-crafted, and/or noteworthy. So yes, those seemingly negative words are a good thing and used as compliments in this case.

Also, there is no distinction between the two words as far as the quality of the compliment; in the sense that if a piece of music and/or a performance is at certain level then it can be described as 'nasty' but, if a piece of music and/or a performance is at this other, higher level then it can be described as 'disgusting.' Either word gives essentially the same compliment. If it can be argued that one holds a certain level of connotative quality over the other, then that argument can still be subject to invalidity over time and/or as it applies to some other 'in-group' that uses those terms differently.


or rather, a reaction of disgust

I believe you are referring to "stank face." Urban Dictionary attributes this to 70s funk bass playing and based on personal live stage experience, I concur.

Yes, it is a good thing.

the exact definition and explanation eludes me

This is a literary question better suited to an English/Language stack. However, I believe these colloquialisms which on their surface read "negative" or "dirty" stem from earlier similar colloquialisms such as "that was the shit" or "that was some bad-ass playing."

  • 1
    Not sure what you mean about Tim Burns (Burnett!). Clicking on edited yesterday shows that all Tim did was add a [terminology] tag. And I do not believe that editing allows you to accept the answer for the original poster! But I agree that this might fit better in a different community.
    – PJTraill
    Dec 19, 2019 at 19:33
  • 1
    Multi-tasking clearly did not work in my favor. Sorry, Burnett. No hard feelings this entire thread is just a bit of fun :) Dec 20, 2019 at 7:35

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