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

June 2012

June 2012
By Published: June 7, 2012
Dear Mr. P.C.:

When people use big words to describe their music, is that supposed to make it better? Like I know a bassist who says he's "contextualizing" his music. Why does he do that?

Bassist Uses Lofty Language



Dear BULL:

He's practicing Grantspeak, of course. A few decades ago, granting agencies grudgingly started funding jazz projects. But how can their panelists judge the applications when they know nothing about jazz music?

Well, what they are comfortable judging is intellect, so they depend on jazz artists to put it on full display. That's why savvy applicants like your bassist friend keep their eye on the prize and practice at every opportunity. In fact, if you'd stuck around a little longer you might have even seen him go from contextualizing to "re-contextualizing." Extra credit!

Although grantors were the original targets of Grantspeak, its use has become more widespread. Other people in positions of power in the jazz world—especially presenters and journalists—have proven equally susceptible to its charms. And it's even starting to influence artists, not only in their music, but also in their interactions:

Andrew: Hey, Bob, what's happening?

Bob: You know, just shedding, trying to keep my chops up. How about you?

Andrew: Actually, in my new multidisciplinary song cycle, based on a contemporary reading of recovered scripts from the earliest matriarchal societies, I'm reexamining the relationship between soloist and ensemble, looking for ways to evoke a more egalitarian, communal paradigm.

Bob [embarrassed]: Cool. Um, guess I'll go practice Stablemates.

Andrew [silently]: "Heh, heh, heh."

People ask where jazz is heading, BULL, and I can answer definitively: Grantspeak is the future! Not only as a descriptive language, but as a quasi-paradigmatic, non-idiomatic re-contextualization of jazz itself. Buy your thesaurus now, before you and your music are left behind!



Dear Mr. P.C.:

I worked really hard to get a steady, and it's just starting to pay off with a couple of bookings. At the last gig, where I was getting great response from the audience, I found out that the chef was going from table to table telling people that my music "sucks." I let him know in no uncertain terms that I wasn't pleased. He plays bass in a metal band, but I doubt he can hurt me as long as I avoid the food. Did I do the right thing?

Rex



Dear Rex:

The problem reveals itself in your choice of words. If you "worked really hard" to get this steady, you shouldn't be surprised when the management or employees reject you. They probably hate jazz, and you're essentially paying the price for your own aggression and poor judgment in pursuing the gig.

As any successful jazz musician will tell you, it's much more effective to wait for gigs to fall in your lap. In a sense, it's a Zen approach to jazz career development: Overcome the irrational need to impose your will onto jazz; let the gigs come to you. Only then will you achieve the inner calm of a life led fearing neither physical violence nor poisoned cuisine.



Dear Mr. P.C.:

As a bandleader, is it ever appropriate to ask band members not to drink liquor of any kind on the bandstand?

Recently, I hired a well-known and well-regarded pianist for a local gig. I had been looking forward to working with him and having a great night of outstanding music. Instead, I found myself appalled and disappointed by his sloppy, disruptive behavior.


[P.C.'s note: There follows a list of his many bandstand transgressions, omitted for brevity...]

I certainly do not plan on hiring him again. But I notice that other musicians drink on the bandstand, too. Another well-regarded pianist I hired, after putting away more than a few, grew surly during our gig (I haven't hired him since, either).

I thought the old-school lions didn't allow drinking on the bandstand. What happened?

Renewing My Membership in Al-Anon



Dear Renewing:

Surely you know that drinking alone is one of the early signs of being an alcoholic. Meaning: If you don't join him when he drinks, you're enabling his alcoholism! And that's hardly the compassionate choice.

The good news for you is that once you have a couple of drinks in you, he won't seem irritating at all! You might even take part in his "sloppy, disruptive behavior," and the two of you will no doubt get a few good slobbery laughs out of it. Eventually, when you get fired from the venue, his drinking will no longer be a problem, at least not to you. Problem solved!

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


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