chops \CHAPS\ (noun) - (Jazz slang) The skill with which a jazz musician plays an instrument or sings. "Chops" refers especially to one's technique and fluidity with riffs, improvisations and melodic lines. Anyone who plays an instrument knows that speed and accuracy are difficult to achieve together. The ability to play quickly and with technical precision, mixed with an innate ability to phrase with nuance, emotion and creativitythat's chops.
"Albert's mama always told him he'd never earn his chops without learning his scales."
Today's word stands alone it's not the plural of "chop." A jazz bassist doesn't have "a really good chop," but he can show his "great chops." Billie Holiday, a singer with a small range and soft voice, had some of the best chops ever because of her timing and phrasing. Lady Day's reputation goes to prove that pure sound isn't everything when it comes to judging chops. "Chops" is usually associated with the lower part of the mouth, especially the jaw, under the assumption that "chops" originally referred to the lip or jaw movement of brass and reed players (from choppers "teeth"). More likely, however, it originates from a phrase not often heard any more, "chops and changes," referring to swift, unexpected turns or twists ("licks"), as the "chops and changes of fortune." This sense of "chop" originates in a Middle English word that originally meant "barter" or "bargain," probably related to Dutch (aan)kopen "buy" and Modern English "cope" and "cheap."