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

January 2012

By Published: January 5, 2012
Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'll be playing "Mr. Magic," or "Just the Two of Us," and a musician will say to me "I'm calling the Jazz Police." Who are the Jazz Police? "G" Is Good!



Dear GIG:

You've forced me to confess: I hate policemen/policewomen! Why? Not just because they're pepper-spraying authority figures enforcing a repressive, fascist system that calls itself democracy. They're also propagandists of the worst sort, leveraging laws to distort well-intentioned actions by a peaceful citizenry.

Say in the name of protecting the planet, you engage in a few minor acts of eco-terrorism. Maybe you free some lions from the zoo to protest their enslavement, or poison a few heads of lettuce to bring attention to exploitative immigrant labor conditions. And what do the cops do? Arrest you on trumped up charges of endangering the public—as if they understand your actions and motives better than you do!

Well, the Jazz Police are no different! Somehow, they've decided it's their station in life to define and enforce the laws of good taste, but of course they can only do it by wildly exaggerating the so-called "danger" created by your music.

So the propaganda begins: That incessant backbeat you love is cast as intolerably heavy-handed and mind-numbing. The endlessly repeating two-chord harmonies that give you comfort are somehow labeled juvenile and insufferable. Those simple nursery rhyme melodies you enjoy are called saccharine, mindless, even nauseating. And don't get them started on that cloying soprano sax tone favored by your "G" man! It's as if they want you to think he's superficial, vapid, and utterly without substance.

The worst thing is, the Jazz Police are so thoroughly entrenched in the power structure that it's really hard for oppressed Smooth citizens like you to fight back. Here's my suggestion: Mount a massive PR campaign! Start with places where you have a captive audience, and flood them with the sedating sounds of your music. Off the top of my head, I'd say airports, elevators, and upscale restaurants would be the perfect place to start, unlikely as they may seem.

Play your cards right, GIG, and the music you love could become the anaesthetizing anthem of a revolution!



Dear Mr. P.C.:

Recently a drummer friend and I were hired to travel out of town for a few weeks with a local jazz pianist. You know the type: Middle-aged, balding, sporting a goatee, fancies himself quite the intelectual. While on the road he couldn't stop talking about the virtues of eating at a certain fast food establishment. Since he was our boss at the time, the drummer and I felt obligated to go there to eat with him, but at this point we are both concerned about having consumed meals advertised as "Number Two."

Will we be all right? Is there a proper way to avoid this situation in the future? Chris Symer



Dear Chris:

I totally understand where you're coming from. It's bad enough that this pianist's good looks and braininess leave you feeling like an inferior species, though he can hardly help it. But for him to turn your meal orders into some sort of hierarchical statement, just because technically he's the leader and you're a sideman, is absolutely inappropriate. When you've built your life around music, it's hard to accept being "Number Two," isn't it? But don't give up hope, Chris. There are plenty of simpler vocations out there that don't place such a premium on talent and creativity.

Here's another bit of consolation: While eating a dinner advertised as "Number Two" may leave a bad taste in your mouth, "Number One" isn't exactly a Happy Meal either.

P.S. Did you forget to spell-check "intelectual," Chris? The irony is almost too beautiful to bear.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm a bassist who occasionally gigs with a pianist who has the annoying habit of grunting and groaning along with his solos. He's a great player, but this is driving me crazy. Apparently, he thinks he's Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner
Erroll Garner
1921 - 1977
piano
or Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
Keith Jarrett
b.1945
piano
, for God's sake. How can I get him to stop? Bassist Unimpressed by Narcissistic Grunting, Howling, and Other Loud Effusions



Dear BUNGHOLE:

I have it on good authority—unfortunately I'm not allowed to reveal my sources—that when a pianist grunts it's actually a cry for help. Not anything conscious, mind you, but some horribly repressed part of his psyche screaming to be released. Often he'll finish a grunt-laden concert with no idea that his inner torment was audibly expressed. In fact, he may be completely unaware that his soul is in such utter disrepair.

You know, BUNGHOLE, so often we blame the victim, and I'm afraid that's exactly what you're doing here. Our charge, instead, should be to heal, and fortunately in this case there's a clear course of action. You see, even inner demons get lonely, and there's no better way to draw them out than to offer them company. Which is to say that when the grunting begins, you should join in, and with vigor. If possible, you should get the drummer to take part as well. Lacking your own authentic demons, you'll need to closely model your sounds after those of the pianist.

So turn challenge into opportunity and borrow from an essential element of jazz—call and response. He grunts, you grunt. He moans, you moan. He lets loose a blood-curdling scream, you reach deep inside and let loose your inner coyote. From there, you can gradually work your way into three-part harmony. Make sure to invite a few forward-thinking critics, and you may just chart a new direction for jazz in the process!

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


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