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.

Now, reading your letter makes me feel even more foolish; our enthusiasm was misplaced, and our analysis shallow. A little sociological inquiry tells me that the Death With Dignity act bodes poorly for the future of jazz. So I'll assume the role of pundit here, though I've sworn off politics ever since my failed run for junior high student council. That tragic episode merits a separate column, but suffice to say it was a painful early defeat for my progressive agenda. It was also the first time I found myself profoundly disheartened by the meager social awareness of my peers, a disappointment that's become a recurring pattern in my life.

Of course I detest labels—a slippery slope toward stereotypes—but I need to start by defining two subspecies of the jazz genus. Those who would throw "Brown-Eyed Girl" into the middle of an acoustic jazz set, with no guilt toward their jazz forbearers, will be known as "Gig Whores" (per the seminal essay, Careers in Jazz). And those righteous individuals like yourself, who prefer to take the high road, we'll call "Jazz Warriors." With that in mind:
  1. In a Death With Dignity state, only Jazz Warriors will take their lives; it will be business as usual for the Gig Whores.

  2. As the ranks of Jazz Warriors are thinned, the state's fragile jazz ecosystem will be destroyed. (A balanced population, it turns out, is essential to keeping the system in check). Suddenly, Gig Whores will flood the state, drawn by the clarion call of "Moondance/Mustang Sally/Soul Man" medleys resounding throughout the land. As the Gig Whores' numbers swell and they compete ruthlessly among themselves for gigs, musical standards will further plummet.

  3. With the state's jazz scene quickly becoming a musical cesspool, Jazz Warriors who haven't already killed themselves will either do so or flee to other states that have yet to pass the legislation. You may, at this point, find yourself hurrying back to Georgia.

  4. The country's jazz community will thereby be split into highly partisan states with little common ground or room for diplomacy, much like our ever-sharpening red/blue political divide.

  5. The greatest irony: Death With Dignity states today include all the jazz hotbeds—New York, California and Illinois, for starters. Jazz Warriors will have to relocate the art form to "safe states" where Assisted Suicide has been declared illegal, like... Alabama, Idaho and South Carolina. Can the seeds of jazz music's future be germinated and cultivated in such barren terrain? And can the poor Jazz Warrior, already carrying an unimaginable historical burden, endure in such an utterly alien environment? Picture a progressive, creative thinker, pulled from his beatnik bookstore audiences, secular spiritual centers, and natural food stores, now thrust into a hotbed of firearms, bible thumping and country music; the Real America. He is the sole hope for jazz music's survival, but his own survival is far from assured.

Deep and depressing stuff, Dan. Makes me want to, you know...

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