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May 2013

May 2013
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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I bought an acoustic bass guitar that you can also plug in and my son and I have been playing a lot of pop songs together taking turns on the bass and guitar. I know this is a stereotype that upsets bassists and I'm sure it's hard to play really well, but... it does seem pretty f'ing easy to play the root or maybe a little more and sound okay. It's also very fun. Andrew


Dear Andrew:

Well, you're half right. Playing simple roots on the downbeat can be easy, but it's not fun. How can it be fun when almost anyone can do it?

Frankly, so called "simple pleasures" have no place in jazz bass, or in jazz itself, for that matter. What is more profoundly fun is playing busy lines of dizzying harmonic and rhythmic complexity. That's what motivates bassists through a lifetime of desperate practicing, for they are the jazz world's true hedonists.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

A pianist I know keeps calling me for wedding gigs, which I'm happy to take because they pay well. I know he is hoping I'll return the favor by booking him on my own gigs, but he totally sucks! What should I do? A Sycophant Saxophonist


Dear ASS:

If this pianist really "totally sucks," and you're his favorite saxophonist, what does that say about you? For some reason this terrible player—who we might assume has terrible taste—is drawn to you above all others. Obviously you're pretty awful yourself!

The solution is to work on your own musicianship; set up a practice regimen, and stick to it. At some point you'll have improved enough that he'll start calling someone worse than you. Voila—you'll be free from any obligation to call him for your gigs!

Of course you won't be calling anyone else for your gigs either—venues will quickly lose interest in booking you. Why? Simple jazz math: In the world of jazz there's an inverse relationship between musicianship and employability. But if you ever get to play, you'll sound great!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When will I be good enough that I can stop practicing? Tom, Des Moines


Dear Tom:

Everyone knows that the better you get, the more you're able to find things wrong with your own playing. It's just one of the perks of musical growth and maturity; developing your ears to the point where you can find fault with pretty much anything you play.

Uneducated listeners, on the other hand, only perceive that you've improved, totally oblivious to the new, more sophisticated problems you've unearthed. That, in a nutshell, is why audience members are of so little use to the serious jazz artist.

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

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