June 2010

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

When I finish a gig with a bunch of other white musicians, we all shake hands like we're just held some freaking corporate board meeting. That's bad enough. But when I play with a group of black guys, I totally dread the end of the gig.

I mean, what are my choices? I can extend my hand in the generic white guy way, but then I feel like "The Man," like I'm making them play by the stupid rules of our dominant white corporate culture. But, on the other hand, if I try to celebrate their way, I feel like a poser, like I'm pretending to be a "bro," and I wonder if maybe that's even worse. Plus, they keep changing the code. I mean, I'll go for the curled-finger- grab-into-simultaneous-finger-snap move, and they'll be waiting to bump shoulders. Then I try to bump shoulders and they're expecting the fist bump. It's totally embarrassing, and sometimes I even lose my balance.

It's reached the point where I'm faking bathroom emergencies just to duck the issue. Help! Vanilla Shake

Dear Vanilla:

H-U-U-T-T! What would you do if I told you there's already a model of racial unity that could be easily adapted to the jazz world? Well, there is! And it's right in front of you—broadcast nationally all day Sunday and every Monday night! Better yet, it's rendered with impeccable camera work that zooms in on every nuance, all the better for you to study. Of course I'm speaking about the world of football, where team camaraderie totally transcends racial division.

What are the jazz etiquette lessons of football, reinforced by instructional instant replays and slow motion highlights? They're surprisingly simple, and totally applicable: After each tune, you can celebrate with a band mate by swatting him on the butt, jumping in the air and bumping his chest, or simply headbutting him. Following an especially athletic lick, you can tackle him and roll around the stage in shared ecstasy. And at the end of a successful gig, the entire band can writhe around on stage together.

If you're not a sports fan, you might consider the more passive European model—a light kiss on each cheek. But neither solution will work unless you're completely free of intimacy issues. That's another area where you could take your lead from football players—they're just as comfortable in tight-quarter group showers as they are in televised embraces. How do they do it? I give a lot of the credit to their coaches, and you might consider hiring one to work with your group. Under his caring guidance, you and your bandmates—like your gridiron counterparts—can overcome personal boundaries and become more emotionally available to one another. Hey, maybe he'll even tell you where you can get matching, skin-tight uniforms. H-U-U-T-T-T!!!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

How can jazz be funny? I accidentally read a jazz review, where the artist was characterized as witty and amusing. Trying to Stay Awake in a Dark Jazz Club

Dear Trying:

So I go to hear this quartet. They start out with Stella, and the guitarist—you know the first chord is an e minor seven, flat five, right?—so the guitarist, he (tehee), he just plays this (oh, god), this B natural, and the look on his face (snort—sorry) all deadpan, like nothing just happened... Then they (ackkk...I can't breathe!), they get to the bridge and the band hits the G augmented chord, and he—wait for this—he just (god, I can't do it!) he lays into this D natural (help me, somebody!) and I swear I spit out my drink, I just (stop me—I'm dying!)... I just couldn't take it! (wheeze, gag, drool!).

Okay, well maybe you had to be there.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Once again, someone has requested a robust rendition of "Brown Eyed Girl" from my jazz trio.

My wife and I are considering moving to Washington State for a few reasons. The most important one is that since Washington is a "Death with Dignity" state, I take some comfort in having found a lawful and reasonable way to get out of the next one of these requests!

Do you think this is a reasonable rationale for moving across the country... or should we be lobbying the General Assembly in Georgia for our own Death with Dignity law to accomplish the same result? Daniel Turner, Atlanta

Dear Dan:

When Death With Dignity passed here in Washington, my friends and I hoisted our mugs in celebration, so energized and giddy that our green tea sloshed wastefully over the rims. It was an unfortunate display of excess, and we lowered our eyes in shame, even as our hearts continued to pound wildly.

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