Tuesday, August 19, 2014

What's a terp tempo?


If you read old Billboard magazines from the 1940s-1960s, then you'll sometimes run across the phrase terp tempo in its record reviews. 

In fact, if you Google the phrase terp tempo, almost all of the results will be from old Billboard magazines. Those old Billboard record reviews practically had their own vocabulary, and terp tempo was a bit of jargon that Billboard's anonymous reviewers liked to throw around

But what does terp tempo mean?

Terp is short for terpsichore, which refers to dancing and choreography. In short, a "good terp tempo" is a good tempo for dancing. 

In Greek mythology, Terpsichore was one of the nine muses. As the goddess of dance and chorus, she was often depicted—as in the illustration above—with a lyre. In Greek, the literal meaning of the word terpsichore is "enjoyment of dance." 

Over time, Terpsichore's name came to be synonymous with dance. The earliest example of this usage, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was in 1825. Charles Dickens, in 1865, used the phrase "Terpsichorean art." In 1869, the derivative terpsichoreal appeared. The word is rarely used today, although Wesleyan University in Connecticut has a dance program called Terpsichore

The only instance of terp tempo that I've run across outside of Billboard was a reference to a 1954 article in Variety about Perez Prado. The subtitle of the article was "Puerto Rican Terp Tempo Is Spreading." Variety was probably copying Billboard's lingo.

Here's a smattering of Billboard album and single reviews from 1946-1961 in which the phrase terp tempo is used. I could have doubled this sample if I had also included the phrases terp beat and terp rhythm. Billboard continued to use the phrase terp rhythm until 1964. 

Will Osborne – "They Say It's Wonderful" (May 4, 1946)

"Sticking to an easy terp tempo, ork furnishes smooth support for Eileen Wilson's soothing singing."


Tex Williams – "Tulsa Trot" (Feb. 17, 1951)

"Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings."


Bobby Smith and Orchestra – "Dash Hound Boogie" (Feb. 24, 1951)

"Smith ork essays a boogie instrumental in okay terp tempo with neat keyboard and baritone sax solos."


Bob Dewey Orchestra – "Villa" (Mar. 10, 1951)

"The Guy Lombardo-Sammy Kaye ork does the Lehar standard in smart terp tempo with soprano Sweetland giving the lyric a sweet-voiced reading."


Ramon Marquez Orchestra – "Mambo O.K." (Nov. 22, 1952)

"The ork pounds it out with verve and at a fine terp tempo." 


The Commanders – "Cornball No. 1" (July 2, 1955)

"A bouncy instrumental with an amusing theme and an okay terp tempo."

Rebo Valdez Orchestra – Hot in Haiti (Jan. 14, 1956)

"Tasteful merengue instrumental in a pleasant Latin-American ditty with a good terp tempo."


Benny Strong Orchestra – "You Call Everybody Darling" (Feb. 23, 1957)

"A danceable version of the tender oldie with catchy group vocal work by the Mellomen and a strong swingy terp-tempo."


Budd Morro  – Buddy Morrow and His Golden Trombone (Apr. 29, 1957)

"Morrow deserts his usual rock and roll dance groove on this LP, which features a group of dreamy instrumentals, spotlighting a smooth terp tempo and topflight trombone solo work by Morrow."


Guy Lombardo Orchestra – Berlin by Lombardo (Jun. 16, 1958)

"Interesting photo of bandleader on cover gives LP display value, while contents should appeal to Berlin fans and lovers of Lombardo's bouncy terp tempo." 


Eddie Platt – "Chi-Hua-Hua" (May 12, 1958)

"Eddie 'Tequila' Platt serves up another good version of the provocative instrumental theme with a solid terp tempo."


The Quarter Notes – "Record Hop Blues" (Jan. 19, 1959)

"Swinging instrumental side with fine rockin' terp tempo."


Edmundo Ros – "Shall We Dance-Conga" (Jan. 26, 1959)

"Swinging congo-tempo version of the 'King and I' standard. Interesting jockey side with infectious terp tempo."


Alden & the One Nighters – "Theme from Love-O-Meter" (Mar. 30, 1959)

"Raucous rocker-instrumental with eerie space music effects and good terp tempo." 


Gloria Matancera – The Soul of Cuba (Mar. 7, 1960)

"The group (trumpets, rhythm section and vocalists) features and easy terp tempo and play Guajiras, San Montimas, Guaraches and Guaguagances all with a cha cha or mambo beat."


Strangers – "Young Maggie" (Mar. 14, 1960)

"Lively rocking instrumental version of 'When You and I Were Young Maggie,' with a solid terp tempo."


Tony Pastor – Let's Dance with Tony Pastor and His Orchestra (Sep. 5, 1960)

"The veteran ork leader provides bouncy, verveful treatments of listenable oldies — all with a bright terp tempo, with pleasant vocal stints by Pastor's son Guy and Beth Harmon." 


Andy Rose – "The Bootie Green" (Dec. 4, 1961)

"Showmanly chanting by Rose on bouncy rocker with solid terp tempo." 


Donnie Charles – "Jumpsville, U.S.A." (Dec. 25, 1961)

"Exuberant reading by Charles and group on a happy, rocking tune with lively terp tempo."

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