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

May 2010

By Published: May 4, 2010
Dear Mr. P.C:

I'm about to travel with my group (a pianist, bassist and drummer), to a gig in a really remote area. I'm wondering: If we somehow get stranded and eventually run out of food—a la the Donner Party—which guy should I eat first?

Chuck D., Seattle



Dear Chuck:

You're kidding, right? Because, thankfully, most jazz musicians nowadays are vegetarians. But, okay, let's assume you're one of the carnivore holdouts. Imagine you're at the butcher's, and consider the cut of meat:

Jazz musicians, regardless of instrument, are underfed, overworked, and stressed. One meal off the buffet at a gig (plus whatever they can stuff in their pockets) has to hold them for days. It gives them just enough body mass to lug their heavy gear up steep stairwells, and just enough nourishment to practice frenetically between gigs. They're gaunt, their flesh dry and stringy. As for the taste: Just think about the smell! At best, a rancid commingling of smoke, alcohol and sweat. No amount of hot sauce would make it okay.

By contrast, consider opera divas. Confined to small conservatory practice rooms, trotted out only occasionally for concert hall performances, plumped up to fill out the plus-sized bodices of their costumes, they are the veal of the music world. And they're oh so flavorful, too—always freshly showered, lightly powdered and sweetly perfumed.

If, God forbid, you are forced into cannibalism, don't eat one of your fellow jazz musicians; eat the opera singer. And if you're taking a trip through potentially dangerous terrain, be sure to pack her along with your flashlight, blankets, and potable water.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I've always thought that critics are totally full of crap. Now one of them has written a glowing review of me. Does that mean I suck?

Dennis, Portland



Dear Dennis:

Remember adolescence, when it seemed like nothing you did was good enough for your parents? Your teen years felt like one long fight against their interference. Until one day you realized—they were right all along! And then they were quick to shower you with praise.

Guess what? Critics are no different! When they've scolded you in the past, it's not because they didn't love you—it's because they wanted to help you do better. If they're praising you now, it can only mean that you've finally seen the light and embraced their wisdom. Don't fight this newfound acceptance, Dennis; revel in it!

Of course there will still be bumpy stretches in the road ahead, but you'll be okay if you stay true to the path the critics lay out for you. Craft your music to please them, and yours will be a career well spent.

Just one thing to watch out for: As you start accumulating rave reviews, you'll find yourself gigging more often, and in front of larger audiences. That may sound good on the surface, but if you become too popular, the critics will tear you back down. Theirs, I'm sorry to say, is a jealous love.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

Should I write in to a jazz advice column and ask a question about amateur vocalists who take themselves to be pros, convince their friends they are, too, and then take over the world? My question would be: As a guitarist, is it morally wrong to support their efforts if it helps me make a boat payment?

Dazed and Confused



Dear Dazed:

You're writing to a jazz advice column, asking whether you should write to a jazz advice column? I'll admit there's some ironic, postmodern appeal there. But when a question answers itself, consider how it makes me feel. Okay, I'll tell you: Superfluous and expendable, like I'm just another pretty face. And to be honest, that's been a problem throughout my career, dating to the disco days when I was forced to wear revealing jump suits, my hairy chest more valued than my talent, intellect, or compassion. Now your little brain-teaser leaves me filing my nails, tweaking my eyebrows and dabbing myself with natural musk—feeling utterly objectified, frankly—but only until I reach the meatier part of your question...

...Which turns out to be yet another one of those amateur-vocalists-take-over-the-world B movie zombie narratives that seem to be all the rage right now. Just out of curiosity, what dreaded superpower do these vocalists wield? My favorite is projectile vomiting, but it only works in greasy restaurant gigs. Most likely it's bad intonation, capable of melting the ears—and, ultimately, the brains—of anyone within listening range. Are there painful, writhing deaths? And—let me guess—are self-referential guitarists especially susceptible to it?

How many times have we seen this plot, with its demonic, shape-shifting singers and the senseless, widespread loss of human life? And invariably there's an unlikely hero, driven by the fantasy of escape and the hope of eventual return. A social outcast, with few friends and minimal talents, he nonetheless becomes mankind's sole hope.

The only variation in this particular version is our savior's detailed getaway plan. "If I could just buy a boat, I could sail away to a deserted island and make a new life while the rest of mankind is slowly felled by out- of-tune versions of "Summertime" and "Fever." I could bring my Guitar Hero controller, practice Led Zeppelin unplugged all day, and maybe even teach myself to read music.

"Then, God willing, the time will finally come when I can sail back. I'll embrace my beloved Marshall stacks and make steamy hot music with them through the night. Then I'll redirect my musical libido into re- propagating the species, and civilization as we know it can begin anew.

"But in order to pay for my boat, I have to aid and abet these homicidal vocalists in a pivotal early phase of their evil crusade—selling my soul, and betraying the musicians around me. Only then will my safe passage—and the future of mankind—be assured."

It's a moral dilemma, all right.

I'm also wondering about the boat payments. My question would be: Should I ask how much you owe?

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



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