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November 2013

November 2013
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Dear Mr. P.C.:

When is it okay to sub out a gig if I get called for a better one?

— Holding Out, Eagerly


Dear HOE:

Here's the problem: If you take the better gig, who's to say that you won't get called for one even better than that? And so you begin a destructive cycle that knows no end. It becomes an addiction—there's always a better gig around the corner, and the gig you have is never good enough. You lose your ability to live in the present, and soon your professional life is in shambles.

There's plenty of collateral damage, too—the trail of jilted bandleaders littering the path behind you. Imagine how the very first one feels, knowing that all the other gigs you turned down are better than his. Devastated! But of course you can't empathize; you're too busy looking for your next fix, searching back alleys for some shady contractor who will promise $25 more, a run at the buffet, or the seductive opportunity to play "real jazz."

Dear Mr. P.C.

I get the stuff at the beginning and end of songs, but what's that stuff in the middle...?

— J. G.


Dear J.G.:

If it weren't for that "stuff in the middle," a jazz performance would be nothing more than the melody twice in a row (the so-called "head in" and "head out"). And that just isn't nearly long enough! Think of all the histrionics you'd miss: The trumpet player's face turning beet red at his solo's high-note climax, the pianist angrily bashing the keys with his fists and elbows to get back at the drummer for playing too loud, the drummer falling asleep during the bass solo, and that weird thing right before the "stuff at the end" where the trumpet player has to start his second solo over and over again because the drummer keeps interrupting. Sure, in one sense the heads alone would be prettier. But that "stuff in the middle" is where the raw struggles of real life take place. Disturbing as they may be, they're only as ugly as humanity itself.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I like bass players, and every good jazz band needs one underneath. But why the grimacing? Do they go to school for it? Many seem to act like they believe the bigger and uglier the grimace, the better the sound. John Clayton
John Clayton
John Clayton
b.1952
bass, acoustic
is the exception: he's always smiling and plays great. Can you explain this phenomenon?

— Wondering


Dear Wondering:

They grimace because they're "digging" in. "Digging," in this case, isn't the jazz slang for enjoying; quite the opposite. It's more like a cold, dirty shovel thrust into a mucky pile of manure. But it's not a shovel, of course; it's gut strings cruelly fashioned from animal intestines, bows strung with hair ripped from horse carcasses, and the bass's own shape as an obese headmistress, oppressive and humorless.

I think we can forgive these poor bassists if their faces sometimes betray the misery of their plight, don't you? The John Clayton part I can't explain.


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