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

April 2012

April 2012
By Published: April 1, 2012
Dear Mr. P.C.:

I've noticed that when a lot of the younger groups rearrange a standard or pop song, they take out a beat here and there. It keeps me off guard and if I don't count I lose track of the downbeat. But that's fine. What I'm wondering is: Where do those beats go? Beats Are Missing



Dear BAM:

It's horrible to say, but this is simply the thinning of the species; natural selection favoring the beats that matter most, at the expense of those proven to be expendable. Oh, to believe in Intelligent Design, that benevolent fairy tale glossing over the destruction of the weak and defenseless! But, no, my belief system offers no such consolation; these superfluous beats will someday be entirely extinct, thoughtlessly offed by young composers yet to develop a musical conscience.

What does this mean for the future of jazz? 4/4 time will no longer be the standard; first 3/4, then 2/4 will eventually rise to the fore, with sporadic dropped beats continuing to mark the music's evolution. The brutal process will continue until there's just one beat left; a powerful and utterly adaptable beat, granted, but one that in itself will appeal to only the cruelest and most simple-minded among us. Which, conveniently, may be the only humans left by then anyway.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

Serious question. Context: I am taking beginning cello lessons. The muse is immortal and perfect. The master, however, is mortal and imperfect. The student, too, is mortal and imperfect. Both master and student honor the muse. What then is the proper attitude of student to master? Cellist and Madtown Percussionist



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm a jazz bassist in the middle of nowhere. I play with the big name players whenever they come through, and all the people who live here tell me I should get out of town. Am I a big fish in a small pond, or a turd in a punchbowl? Diamond in the Rough



Dear CAMP and Diamond:

Two probing existential submissions from readers bravely trying to understand their place in an unknowable universe. Big questions so vastly outnumber satisfying answers, don't they? Fish in Pond? Student in Servitude? Turd in Punchbowl?

But who am I to distill the ineffable into bite-sized truisms? Some self-appointed Philosopher King who happens to have connections at allaboutjazz.com and Facebook? Or half a worm in an apple? It's depressing.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

Let's say a musician knows just enough to be dangerous. Maybe he took one theory class once, so he decides he should reharmonize all the standards he plays. The new chords make no sense, sound awful, and pretty much ruin the tunes.

Okay, when he's soloing, fair enough—he made his own bed so let him lie in it, I guess. But when my solo comes along, is it okay to quietly say to the bassist "Let's just play the real changes"? That way I wouldn't have to navigate the horrible chords, so I'd play way better, so the audience would like it more, and chances are he wouldn't know the difference anyway. What do you think? Pissed Off Pianist



Dear POP:

The absolutism of your "good changes/bad changes" dogma is disappointing, but it's nothing I haven't seen a hundred times before. What I find more troubling is the subversive nature of your partnership with the bassist. There the three of you are, seemingly a thriving cooperative, while in reality a seamy two-against-one alliance simmers dangerously below the surface, secretive words exchanged conspiratorially.

Emboldened by the numbers, you're quick to voice your prejudices against a musician whose harmonic sense might dare to favor the personal and intuitive over the scholarly and codified. What other marginalized minorities will you oppress, given the chance? The creative? The sensitive? The innovative?

Want to vote him off your fascist island? Show some guts, POP, and do it to his face. He'll quickly find his place in a more open-hearted and open-minded musical community, while you and your evil partner follow your twisted path to its inevitable conclusion: complete isolation and utter irrelevance.

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


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