April 2010

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

What is the bassist trying to tell the rest of the band when he sits on the tonic for, like, three choruses in a row? Is it oh-so-clever "I'm so on top of the harmony, nobody but me knows what's going on," or "I'm bored, please stop taking those extra choruses"? (Or maybe "I'm lost but can get away with it cuz I'm the bassist" or "OK, time for a drum solo"?) - Steve, Middletown CT



Dear Steve:

Have you thought about getting a pet? My dog and I can stare in each other's eyes for hours, connecting not as master and subject, but as fellow creative spirits, each striving to live a life unleashed. And there's a lot of shared knowledge in that connection. I can tell you, for example, that she's thrilled to be included in this column, and that she prefers jazz to country music, but not to Meaty Bones.

Learning to commune with your pet helps you get inside the minds of other animals, too. That's how I've become intimate, over time, with the mule. Mules have an undeserved bad rap; they're actually generous beings who selflessly bear heavy loads so that others can move more freely about. Of course, if you had a pet, you'd already know that, and you'd also better understand the bassist—jazz music's own beast of burden.

Bassists do the musical heavy lifting, taking on an unglamorous supportive role so that others may soar. Their "reward"? Suffering all the mulish stereotypes—they're considered not only dull and plodding, but also unimaginative and unintelligent. So you shouldn't be surprised that sometimes they need to remind the rest of the players what happens without their support. Like a pack mule who decides he's worked enough, the bassist simply stops walking. Then he sits stubbornly on the tonic or dominant until he gets what he wants.

If you'd watched closely at the end of the third chorus, you would have seen the saxophonist discretely slip him a sugar cube. Or the group's designated bass whisperer—every band should have one—may have petted him on the head while quietly speaking loving words of encouragement. Then—"Atta boy!"—the bassist pricked his ears, lowered his eyes, and dutifully shuffled on.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I saw my doctor for a physical today, and when she found out I'm married to a jazz musician, she recommended extra testing. I was totally offended! I cut her off, and she dropped the subject. But isn't that discrimination? Lisa G., Boston



Dear Lisa:

Your doctor is being ridiculous! Here's a close analogy: Let's say scientists wanted to identify the health effects on people who live near a toxic waste site. Would they simply call them in for testing? Of course not! Sure, they might find some tumors and collapsed lungs, but they'd have no way of knowing whether those ailments were actually caused by proximity to the site. Similarly, your doctor might find that you have character issues like instability and bad judgment, but without having assessed you beforehand, there's no way she could say the problems were caused by your marriage to a jazz musician. In fact, those very traits may explain why you were drawn to a jazz musician.

For the test to be meaningful you would need to be measured not only beforehand, but also regularly throughout your marriage. Then your doctor might get an understanding of your baseline personality, the initial shock of marrying a jazz musician, your subsequent attempts to adjust to and cope with marriage to a jazz musician, and the long-term effects of the relationship. Ideally, you'd be part of a large population of jazz spouses being studied, so the findings could have broad significance.

An isolated set of tests means nothing, Lisa. But it's not discriminatory. True science is unprejudiced and non-judgmental; in its always objective eyes, jazz musician and toxic waste are one in the same.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

What do you do when a stranger comes up to you on your gig and introduces himself as a "Classical Musician?" I usually react with a polite but dismissive, "Oh, that's nice!" or "Wow, that's cool!" while inside I'm thinking, "So what... Big deal... I bet you can't even play a single chorus of Blues to save your life!"

This has happened to me on more than a few occasions. What are your thoughts on the situation? - So Seattle



Dear So Seattle:

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