Best of 2010
Dear Mr. P.C.:
What's with the joke, "More cowbell"? I got to watch a jazz recording session, and the musicians kept saying it to the engineer, then everyone would laugh. Does jazz even use a cowbell? David T., New Orleans
Not all jazz is bucolic, but certainly much of the music on the ECM label fits that description. So, while you might not hear a cowbell in the music of, say, John Coltrane's Impulse years, it would be entirely appropriate in the more pastoral music of Keith Jarrett. For me, his standards trio often evokes imagery of a cow leisurely chewing its cud on a lush green field, its bell gently tolling with the mastication. I've often wondered why Jack DeJohnette doesn't lay down a cowbell groove on some of their tunes, or why Jarrett doesn't expand the group to a quartet, with a dedicated cowbellist. Or cowbeller. Or whatever. He probably just hasn't thought of it, so I'll bet he'd love it if you brought a cowbell to one of his concerts and started jamming along with his solos.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
I wrote you in October telling you about my ankle pain, and asking if it might count as enough suffering to make me soulful. Your answer was, "Only if it can't be fully controlled by over-the-counter-medication." That was really helpful, and it sent me on quite a journey.
I tried Advil, Tylenol, Aleve, and traditional aspirin, and none of them helped. Ka-ching! Over-the-counter-medication couldn't control my pain!!! So I got a prescription for Oxycodone, and it didn't help either. I figured I needed to increase the dosage, and my bassist was able to hook me up. Now he also sells me Valium to help me sleep. As it turns out, not only does my ankle still hurt, but my life is unraveling. Might I have soul now? Duane, Detroit
I think you're heading down the right path, but keep in mind that the truly tragicand soulfulhistorical figures in jazz would already have added booze to the mix; that's a no-brainer. And don't worry about the warnings on the labels, saying not to mix this medication with that, or with alcohol, or with the operation of heavy machinery. They're written by pharmaceutical lawyers; soulless corporate tools who wouldn't recognize the Blues if it wore a nametag and had a firm handshake.
Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool: "And what company do you work for?"
The Blues: "I don't work for a company. I'm an expression of loss and yearning."
Soulless Pharmaceutical Tool (hiding disappointment): "Ah, well, if you ever need large quantities of labels warning against mixing alcohol and anti-convulsants..." (hands the Blues a business card, heads to the bar for a refill).
And if you want to take it all the way, Duane, why not top off your "soul cocktail" with the most storied self-medication of allheroin? Jazz lore tells us that no spiritual enema is really complete without it.
Just one note of caution: As I advise all my readers, I recommend you avoid caffeine, red meat, and gluten.
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 fooda la the Donner Partywhich guy should I eat first? Chuck D., Seattle
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, tooalways 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.:
When I finish a gig with a bunch of other white musicians, we all shake hands like we're just held some freaking corporate board meeting. That's bad enough. But when I play with a group of black guys, I totally dread the end of the gig.