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February 2012

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm pretty new as a jazz listener, but there's already something I don't get. People say jazz is supposed to be all about surprise. But I keep hearing this same formula: They play the melody, then the melody instrument takes a solo, then the piano solos, then the bass solos, and then sometimes the drums solo. If it's supposed to be so spontaneous, why do they keep doing it the same order, over and over? Where is the Surprise?



Dear WITS:

Well, it's true that some people claim jazz should be spontaneous and unpredictable. But they're flirting with danger—jazz can't be too unpredictable, or it risks being imperfect. Consider this: What if the saxophonist was about to solo, and the pianist just "felt" like soloing first? So the pianist starts to solo, and the saxophonist has to completely rethink his place in the order. Can you blame him for being startled? After all, jazz musicians have been soloing in the exact same order for so long that he'd have every reason to be completely flummoxed. In fact he might be so disoriented that he'd forget to solo next, and the bassist could slip in. Then he'd have to solo third, which would really mess him up!

At that point, how would a veteran listener feel? Not someone green like you, but a devotee with enough experience to have developed firm expectations; an elderly jazz fan steeped in the tradition. I'll tell you: He'd be so upset by the brazen violation of his trust that he'd probably give up on jazz altogether. Is that really what you want?

Give it some time, WITS. Lots of time—a few decades instead of mere months. Trust me: As you age into it, you'll take comfort in the "predictable" solo order. It's simply one less thing you need to worry about, and life does get pretty confusing toward the end, you know.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

My question is basically about a bandleader (contractor) who everyone in town runs in fear from the phone when they see his name on the caller ID because no one has the time to talk about nothingness forever until he gets to the point about the gig details, none of which matter because he is pretty average at best and always puts himself down wanting you to counter his put-downs of himself by saying that he is good, but he really isn't and just hires good players and wants to know everybody's business and basically just wastes our time and doesn't know that everyone in town runs from his calls until the last minute.

I can't figure out if this question is funny or not? Tim C.



Dear Tim:

My test is always the noser: If I'm drinking herbal tea while I read a question, do I laugh hard enough to get a full nasal enema? Aside from the Netipot, there's no better way to unblock and restore unfettered function to our nasal passages. Fortifying the tea with antioxidants and small natural cleaning particulates makes it even more effective—it's like self-plumbing, but without the plunger!

So I tried reading your note again while drinking a good green tea, sprinkled with fine organic silt. And I'm sorry to tell you that it's about as funny as a throat full of viscous sludge, which I can authoritatively say isn't funny at all.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

The bassist in my band keeps checking his cell phone for messages right in the middle of the gig! How can I make him stop that? Vexed Vocalist



Dear Vexed:

Here's a thought: Why not get your own phone into the act? Imitate his body language as if you're checking messages, but instead, text him! You could say something like "You just played a major seventh in bar 17, and it's supposed to be a minor seventh flat five—thanks a lot!" Or use bumper sticker wisdom: "If you can read this, you're not paying attention!" Or, better yet, create a personalized fortune cookie: "You will be fired from a very important job!"

But what makes you so sure he's reading messages, rather than just checking his phone's clock? If he's pulling out the phone more and more toward the end of a set, you should know what that means: He's worried there may not be enough time for the arco solo he practiced all day.

Have a question for Mr. P.C.? Ask him.

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