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Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette...

April 2010

By Published: April 1, 2010
My thoughts? They're hardly the issue here. What matters is whether you can transcend your defensiveness and recognize a clear, desperate cry for help. Did you really miss the anguish in his voice, the deference in his averted gaze? This stranger bravely confessed to being a member of a terribly dysfunctional, albeit mightily privileged, family. He knows he's led a monkish life, from the cloistered conservatory to the insular symphony hall; he wants a taste of your worldliness and reckless abandon. He recognizes that his performances are ruled by fear (the conductor's baton already bouncing up, the downbeat come and gone, before he dares to play a note), while yours are full of joy. And he's owning up to his morbid obsession with dead composers; he watches in wonder as you give birth to new music, in the moment, every time you play.

More than anything, though, he feels guilty about being given so much more money—and adoration—than you. It wrenches him to know he's a darling of the same high society types who book you below scale and make you load in through the kitchen. He considers himself unworthy, and he turns to you for redemption.

So please don't add to his suffering by questioning how much soul he has; instead, why not share some of yours? Let him know that you respect and forgive him, and teach him a few of your most cherished blues licks. He'll be the hit of the next Symphony Benefactors Ball! It's good karma for you, too; with any luck he might just hire you as a sideman and throw a few scraps your way.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

So I'm subbing for another jazz pianist on his solo restaurant gig, where he gets to play pretty much whatever he wants. His only instruction to me is that I should NOT play any Andrew Lloyd Weber. He's afraid if I do, the patrons will love it and the management will make him do it too. Of course, that's an instruction I'm happy to obey. But then, wouldn't you know it, a patron asks: "Do you know anything from Phantom?" I'm pretty sure I bungled it; I'll spare you the details. But for next time, what can I do or say that isn't an outright lie? Karen, Omaha

Dear Karen:

Do you know why I write this column? Mr. P.C.'s mission is to promote equality, inclusiveness, all things sustainable (except, of course, dissonant chords), and above all, happiness throughout the land. And—face it—if we shed our musical elitism, leave the comforting darkness of our jazz clubs, embrace the light, and seek out the common man or woman, we'll find ourselves confronted by the fact that Andrew Lloyd Weber makes a lot of people happy. Very, very happy.

That's why it rips me apart to have to give you this answer, the only sensible solution to your problem, but one that goes completely against everything I stand for. Play Phantom, Karen, but play it so horribly that you completely ruin it for everyone listening. Butcher it beyond recognition; totally suck! You'll have to use a blunt knife, too, because Andrew Lloyd Weber fans aren't exactly musical sophisticates. Switch all the major and minor chords, and add the wrong sevenths. Drop beats at will. Take a couple of Cecil Taylor-esque choruses in the middle. Above all, destroy the melody, especially if there's any threat of the audience singing along. Stop and start over, more than once, making the same mistakes every time. Beat that piece to a bloody pulp, Karen. Make the diners choke on their overpriced food, spit up their overpriced drinks, and flee for the safety of their homes, only to have nightmares reliving your senseless, brutal mauling of "Music of the Night."

Whew—that was a some serious negative energy, wasn't it? I did it for you, Karen, and at no small cost to myself. I'm shaking; I think I may be feeling faint. Please, someone: Toss me a softball. Ask me about accessorizing tuxes for the holiday season, or defining "business casual." We're all in this together, aren't we?

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

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