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

Inspired by the cutting edge advice of Abigail Van Buren, the storied bass playing of Paul Chambers, and the need for a Politically Correct doctrine for navigating the minefields of jazz etiquette, I humbly offer my services.


July 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: I hate my playing almost all the time. What's worse is I don't seem to hate it any less even though I'm getting better. At least I think I'm getting better, when I'm not busy hating my playing. Is there something wrong with me? --Having Absolutely Terrible Esteem Dear HATE: Instead of getting lost in self-loathing, try to focus on the times when you don't hate your playing. What makes those moments different? Do you really sound better, or is it just a matter of perspective? If it's just ...

June 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: I knew a singer once who couldn't read a note of music. But when she got lost she'd go over to the pianist and start pointing at his music as if he was lost and she was helping him. She even did it on TV once so everyone watching thought it was his fault. My question is for him, I'm wondering what he was supposed to do. --Singer's Tyranny Oppresses Pianist Dear STOP: Simple: He should have grabbed a pencil, circled the notes she was pointing to, and handed ...

May 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: Why do pianists do so much more with their right hands than their left hands? --Leftist Dear Leftist: It's a gesture of cultural understanding. In some eastern cultures the left hand is considered “dirty" because it's used to cleanse the butt after evacuating. For that reason, it isn't used to eat food, shake hands, or play piano. It's hardly fair for western jazz pianists--just because they have the luxury of toilet paper--to use their left hands. But, at the same time, the urge to play left ...

April 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: How do you decide how many choruses to take? -- Long Solo Dave Dear LSD: How do you decide how many miles to drive? How much meat to eat, how many lights to turn on, how often to flush the toilet? When it comes to drawing on non-replenishable resources, all you can do is balance your needs against the greater global good. You see, the operative word in your question is “take," because every chorus of yours is one less for someone else; songs are finite. On ...

March 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: What do you think about the whole transcribing thing? Studying the best players, transcribing their solos, and learning to play like them. I thought jazz was supposed to be an individual expression. -- Trying to Be Myself Dear Trying: Look, when you transcribe a solo and try to play Coltrane or Bird's exact lines, you never do it as well as they did, right? Well guess what: those imperfections are the very “individual expression" you're looking for--they're your sound! Obviously, this offers enormous opportunity for musical growth. ...

February 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: What's up with singers who count off tunes so quietly that not all the guys in the band can even hear it? Then half the band starts up and the other guys kind of flail their way in. It amazes me because it would be so easy to fix, but they act like the numbers are some dirty little secret or something. -- Singers Have Hard Heads Dear SHHH: Okay, let's say you're a vocalist--do you know what the hardest part of your job is? The fact that everyone ...

January 2014

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Dear Mr. P.C.: Why is it that whenever I go to a jam session, the best players are the meanest? Does that mean that I have to become a jerk if I want to get good? --Still A Nice Guy   Dear SANG: Sounds like you're buying into some very common but misguided notions of “best." Just what is it that you admire about these “jerks"? That they play comfortably and melodically at any tempo? Negotiate chord changes effortlessly? Phrase naturally at all dynamic levels? What you don't realize is ...

Mr. P.C.'s Best of 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.: I was playing at a club in town, a pretty fancy place, the gig all the guys in town want. On the break a pretty woman in the audience came up to me and complimented my playing. So far so good! But then she asked if I play professionally--right in the middle of a gig! What should I have said? John G., Denver Dear John: You should be flattered! Obviously she was attracted to you and just wanted to make sure you have some other, more viable source of ...

November 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.: When is it okay to sub out a gig if I get called for a better one? -- Holding Out, Eagerly Dear HOE: Here's the problem: If you take the better gig, who's to say that you won't get called for one even better than that? And so you begin a destructive cycle that knows no end. It becomes an addiction--there's always a better gig around the corner, and the gig you have is never good enough. You lose your ability to live in the present, and soon your ...

October 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.: What do musicians mean when they say they're “using space" in their solos? --John H. Dear John: Obviously if they're “using" space, they're doing something to it. And in music, pretty much the only thing you can do to space is fill it with a bunch of notes. Of course, space is infinite, and even Coltrane's “sheets of sound" approach couldn't fill it completely. Defeated, Trane devoted his later years to an interstellar approach that celebrated space as his worthy adversary. Coltrane's early space-filling efforts have been heavily imitated ...

September 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:Is playing ahead of your time the same thing as rushing? Gregg B.C.Dear Gregg:What a great brainteaser! Look, if you're someone who rushes, then rushing is “your time," right? You can try playing ahead of it, but you'll soon catch up with yourself. The only way you can play ahead of your time--and stay ahead of your time--is to be in a constant state of acceleration.I turned this over to my staff physicist, and he told me that at some point in your acceleration, your notes would be coming so ...

August 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:Why do guys want to play tunes really fast? Like, I'll call “It Could Happen to You," but instead of having a nice swinging groove they want to play it at 280 beats per minute or something. Then they say it's an “east coast" thing, which I guess is supposed to mean I can't understand because I always lived on the west coast. Why do people play faster on the east coast? Nice and Easy

Dear Nice: They just are faster--how do you think they got three hours ahead of us?

July 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:Why does it seem like the better the music is on a gig, the less it pays? - Aiden

Dear Aiden:Well, obviously, better music is more “fun," and therefore less work. The less work you're doing, the less you should get paid.What part of that don't you “get"? All I can think of is that maybe better music somehow isn't more fun for you; you prefer music that's artless and laborious. But then, you see, since you actually like soul-crushing music, it isn't work for you, so you still don't ...

June 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:Is it really important to play fast on your solos? Michael T., St. Louis

Dear Michael:Actually, it's more important to look like you're playing fast. This is the video era, and the people who demand note athleticism are the same ones who'd rather watch music than listen to it.How can you look ultra-speedy? Break a sweat. Tap your foot spastically. If you're a horn player, turn bright red and gasp for air between phrases. Above all, end your lines clumsily, like a fast player desperately targeting the downbeat as his ...



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