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May 2012

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I am a jazz vocalist. When I am on a gig, is it OK to request that the bassist play arco on a solo, or should that be entirely up to his discretion?

I hope you can help me. I don't want to make a dumb singer mistake here.

Thanks! Katy



Dear Katy:

My, you're really new to all this, aren't you? Your fundamental assumption—that a bassist needs to be asked to play arco—couldn't be further from the truth, unfortunately.

A bassist's bow is always at the ready, just like the bow of an archer in pursuit of game. The difference is that in jazz, the animals in danger are the audience members. While feeding, they're just as unsuspecting and defenseless as fauna, but not nearly so fleet of foot. With that in mind, for the sake of public safety, it's understood that bassists should be set loose with their bow as little as possible.

I'm not an attorney, Katy, and my advice shouldn't be mistaken for legal counsel. But I urge you to warn the audience of any impending arco playing ("We'd like to feature the lovely bow work of our bassist Chris") so those who wish to flee to safety can get a good head start. If you authorize arco playing and fail to give due warning, you may be legally accountable for any damages that ensue. And that would be a "dumb singer mistake," indeed.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

My group was playing in a remote South American town for people who had never heard jazz before. We were billed as a jazz trio, and after the show one of the audience members asked me, "Who is Jazz?" What should I have said? Howard In The Tropics



Dear HINT:

Jazz is slippery. It carries no passport or credit cards, and refuses to reveal its name at hotel check-in. Hiding from authorities, it can take on any physical form it chooses—from Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
Wynton Marsalis
b.1961
trumpet
to John Zorn
John Zorn
John Zorn
b.1953
sax, alto
, from Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny
b.1954
guitar
to Kenny G
Kenny G
Kenny G
b.1956
sax, soprano
. Its diet is high in alcohol and THC, and it often smells rank. Jazz has no fixed name; it's a psychopath, changing identities faster than you can say "harmolodic funk."

So who is jazz? For the time being, apparently, it's my next door neighbor Bill, a surly tugboat captain who keeps building weird additions to his house. Go figure.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I have some friends who are jazz musicians, and when it comes to their playing, they all seem to be full of self-loathing. I asked one of them to explain it, and he said it's how he gets better. He has to always look for the things to hate in the way he plays so he can work on them, and that's how he improves.

It seems like a pretty unhappy existence, though, doesn't it? Worried 'Round All The Haters



Dear WRATH:

Remember the good old days when jazz set all the trends in popular culture? Think about it: "Cool" fashion, cutting-edge lingo, and fatal drug abuse are just a few great examples. Well, now jazz is doing it again, this time in my own cherished arena—the glorious field of psychotherapy!

As a sensitive, loving humanist, it goes against my every instinct to say this, but here's the hard truth: Therapists have been coddling their patients for far too long. "Learn to love yourself," we've mushily counseled, "for without self-love there can be no self-growth." Nonsense!!! With the best of intentions—dispensing our own compassion like candy—we've created a generation of spoiled, dependent adult-children too lazy to hold their own in the increasingly competitive global workforce.

What do they need? Frankly, as the jazz trailblazers have long known, a little self-hatred can be a tremendous motivator. How can we make it happen? Demeaning comments from employers, brutal interchanges among lovers, and random antagonism among strangers can help plant the seeds. There's plenty of room for creativity—use your imagination!

Does this strike you as incompatible with our progressive politics? Well, consider this: The progressive movement itself can be the first patient! By spreading self-loathing among progressive activists we'll improve their efficiency, and our cause will leap forward. What better way to advance our ideal —peaceful, loving and compassionate global citizenry—than by disseminating the seeds of self-hatred among those best poised to bring about change?

Thanks for the inspiration, tortured jazz artists!

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