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May 2014

May 2014
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Dear Mr. P.C.:

Why do pianists do so much more with their right hands than their left hands?

—Leftist


Dear Leftist:

It's a gesture of cultural understanding. In some eastern cultures the left hand is considered "dirty" because it's used to cleanse the butt after evacuating. For that reason, it isn't used to eat food, shake hands, or play piano.

It's hardly fair for western jazz pianists—just because they have the luxury of toilet paper—to use their left hands. But, at the same time, the urge to play left hand chords can't be completely ignored; after all, what does a piano have to offer if not polyphony? Jazz pianists are constantly pulled in both directions, which is one of many reasons they tend to be emotionally unstable.

The compromise most reach is to focus exclusively on their right hand when they practice, rendering their neglected left hand largely inoperable in performance. Still, occasionally an essential chord simply can't be resisted, and even left hands that have lain fallow are up to the task of plopping down on the keys here and there. These chords are followed by intense self-recrimination, and are the best explanation for the current migration of pianists to the melodica.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

There's a vocalist I play with who always makes us wait for our checks at the end of the night. He talks to everyone in the audience who's still in the room, and sometimes even tears down his p.a., before he takes care of us. What is he thinking?

— Waiting For The Dough


Consider this, WFTD: A lot of things can go wrong on a gig, but a lot more things can go wrong after a gig, while you're waiting to get paid. You might get drunk at the bar and trip over the P.A., busting an expensive microphone. Or run up a huge bill charging expensive drinks to a phony "band tab." Or spill your drink all over the leader's fancy dinner jacket, if he's foolish enough to stand within range.

That's why the savvy bandleader delays paying the musicians as long as possible—so he can adjust the pay for any of these expenses that might occur while they wait. It's just common sense.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Philosophical question for you: How can I be more like myself than I am?

I was at a rehearsal before a high-profile gig, and the bandleader took me aside to tell me I was playing fine, but needed to "play more like Ted." Is this even possible?

— Ted


Dear Ted:

Of course it is—you just need to start copping your own licks! Listen to all your recordings of yourself and pick out your best lines. Transcribe them, learn them in all 12 keys, and you'll be playing more like yourself in no time.

Of course if you sound too much like yourself you may wind up stealing your own gigs, which can cause resentment and self-loathing. That, of course, is what disguises are for.
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