Black Lexicon: What “Cutting Contest” Means (LISTEN)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

In today’s Daily Drop, for #JazzAppreciationMonth, we explore the term “Cutting Contest.” To hear about it, press PLAY:

You can follow or subscribe to the Good Black News Daily Drop Podcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or create your own RSS Feed. Or just check it out every day here on the main website. Full transcript below:

Hey, this Lori Lakin Hutcherson, founder and editor in chief of, here to share with you a daily drop of Good Black News for Monday, April 4th, 2022, based on the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar” published by Workman Publishing.

It’s in the category we call “Lemme Break It Down,” where we explore the origins and meanings of words and phrases rooted in the Black Lexicon and Black culture. Today’s phrase for #JazzAppreciationMonth? “Cutting Contest.”

A “cutting contest” is a battle between two musicians where the “prize” could range from bragging rights to a coveted job.

The term was first applied to face-offs between pianists in the 1920s and later evolved to include competitions between singers, horn players, drummers, guitarists or virtually any musicians who squared off against each other on the same instrument.

A lasting form of the cutting contest is the improvisational trading of solos in jazz. It’s also a precursor to modern-day breakdancing and rap battles.

To learn more about cutting contests, you can watch a cool, fictionalized cutting contest from the 1977 television movie Scott Joplin starring Billy Dee Williams as Scott Joplin and Clifton Davis as respected St. Louis pianist Louis Chauvin on YouTube, and also check out the links to sources provided in today’s show notes and in the episode’s full transcript posted on

This has been a daily drop of Good Black News, based on the “A Year of Good Black News Page-A-Day Calendar for 2022,” published by Workman Publishing.

Beats provided by and produced by White Hot.

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[Photo credit: Mike Aremu and Yolanda Brown @Sax Appeal via]