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Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette and Bandstand Decorum

A Marvelous Night, Self-ish

A Marvelous Night, Self-ish

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A Marvelous Night

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I went to a jazz club to hear a jazz band. When I shouted out a request between songs, the musicians just looked at one another, shook their heads, then ignored me. The song was "Moondance," which I happen to know is jazzy. I even asked the people at the tables around me, and they agreed it's jazzy. So what kind of so-called "jazz" band in a so-called "jazz" club can't even play a jazzy song like "Moondance"? And where can I go to find real jazz music?

—Very Annoyed Naysayer

Dear VAN:

Of course they shook their heads—"Moondance" is impossibly hard, and they can't play it. That's why Van Morrison recorded it over a period of weeks, while entire jazz CDs are typically recorded in a few days—jazz is that much easier! Mr. Morrison's band also had multiple paid rehearsals, while you expect a local jazz group to cover the song—with its complex rhythms, unorthodox harmonies and raw emotion—without any rehearsal whatsoever. Not fair!

If you need more evidence of how challenging it is, consider this: The public, which is always quick to reward the most difficult music, snatched up literally millions of copies of "Moondance," making it one of the best-selling jazzy songs of all time.

And are you really suggesting that just because these local artists can't play a very jazzy and very hard song like "Moondance," they aren't really "jazz" musicians? Jazz musicians come at all levels, from rank amateurs to top professionals almost good enough to play "Moondance." The pros, of course, cut their teeth on other impossibly difficult jazzy songs like "Riders On the Storm," and "Piano Man," but "Moondance" will always be the ultimate test—completely inaccessible to beginning and intermediate jazz musicians, and just tantalizingly out of reach for the best ones. Still, there are those who try anyway, hoping to appease hard-core jazz fans like you; sadly, you're the very ones who notice where they fall short.

Finally, for you to question whether your "jazz" club deserves that label, consider this: Since jazz isn't very popular—due in large part to the musicians' inability to play the hard music audiences demand—jazz clubs have been forced to offer an eclectic musical menu that at times isn't nearly as hard or as jazzy as "Moondance." Instead they pander to the audience's base desires to hear old-fashioned, simple music by dead artists like John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk; that's just the sad reality of what it takes to stay in business. The mere fact that the musicians you heard wouldn't even attempt "Moondance" doesn't, in any way, prove that the venue isn't really a "jazz" club; it's just not a very good one.


Dear Mr. P.C.:

One of my peers told me "you sound like yourself" (which she meant as a compliment), as opposed to my trying to emulate my favorites. But is that really better? I mean, I'm not as good as the greats, who are considered great for a reason.


Dear Self-ish:

This is an age-old debate, even though the answer should be clear. Think about it: When you were first learning to play, making mistakes left and right, you sounded exactly like yourself, because you weren't good enough to sound like anything better. As you straightened out the rough edges, you certainly didn't sound more like yourself; you just learned how to cover yourself up. So when she tells you that "you sound like yourself," it's just a passive-aggressive way of saying you still aren't very good.

You're better off emulating the greats, even if you can't do it well. Should you somehow lose your musical identity in the process, all the better.

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

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