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

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 ...

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 ...

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 ...

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?

April 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:I hate it when people add all those extra chromatic chord changes on “I Can't Get Started," like in bar three starting on a B minor seventh. What a pointless pain in the ass! I Can't Keep Going

Dear ICKG:You know those speed bumps they put on some roads? Sure they're annoying, but they keep traffic at a safe speed and prevent possible injury. Well, the chromatic changes on “I Can't Get Started" serve the exact same purpose! The first two measures--with their easy changes at a slow tempo--enable unchained guitarists and ...

February 2013

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Dear Mr. P.C.:My teacher told me to practice with a metronome, but then I was getting ahead of it sometimes, and behind it sometimes. Where can I get a metronome that works? Beats Me

Dear Beats:Don't be so quick to blame your metronome--you may have accidentally hit its “jazz" setting. That deliberately miscalibrates the time in order to simulate working with an actual jazz drummer.Unfortunately, the “classical" setting is no better. To simulate the experience of working with a conductor, it strikes each downbeat well before you're expected to play.Even ...

January 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! 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 income. Like being a realtor, or an insurance salesman, or ...

Best of 2012

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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 ...

September 2012

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Dear Mr. P.C.:Will there ever be a unanimous decision within the jazz world on who is and who is not “burning"?Are there different levels of “burned"? Gregg BC

Dear Greg:“Burning," “smoking," “on fire...." It's all so different from the Cool Jazz of the Fifties! What has caused the radical shift? Jazz climate change, of course. As with global warming, the only real question is whether “Hot Jazz" is part of a natural cycle, or a human-generated crisis promising dire long-term consequences. Proponents of the “natural cycle" model hold jazz ...



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