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April 2013

April 2013
Mr. P.C. By

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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 saxophonists to pick up a huge head of steam. Without the chromatic changes, the whole 32-bar form would become a giant speedway. Instead, soloists careening into bar three at a reckless pace inevitably wipe out. But only once! Behavioral modification ensues, and "I Can't Get Started" is subsequently approached with proper taste and civility.

Beyond that, there's an element of social justice at play here. Not only do the extra changes tether high-flying soloists; they also give a speed boost to the slowest players of all—bassists. When plodding bass players default to playing the roots of chords, as they so often do, the added chromatic changes force them to play twice as fast. And so parity is reached—just like social contracts that redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor. If you believe in justice and equality, you should be all over chromatic changes!

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm getting well into my sixties now, and I'm wondering: How does a jazz musician age with dignity? Getting Into Geriatric Space

Dear GIGS:

There are two paths you can follow.

One is the Celebrated Elder Statesman. He culminates his career by performing with his peers in special "legends" packages at the top international festivals and concert halls. On the side he finds time to mentor talented youngsters who treat him with respect and deference, and every year he enjoys fawning birthday tributes from leading jazz magazines.

The other is the Noble Warrior. Although fame and fortune aren't part of his picture, he continues to perform every night, heroically shrugging off the indignity of sleazy venues and disinterested audiences, still motivated by a love of the music—and, in most cases, financial necessity.

GIGS, if I were you I'd go the Noble Warrior route. I know it seems like the lesser path, but it must be somehow be more rewarding—just about every aging jazz artist nowadays is choosing it.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

A guy calls me for a gig. Not a very good one, just backing a bunch of high school singers in a showcase. The kind of gig you only want to do if it pays large cash, but he didn't say anything about the fee. How do I ask how much it pays before I agree to the gig without sounding too crass? Tell Me the Bread, Ted

Dear Tell:

Clearly this "Ted" guy is uncomfortable talking about money, or he would have told you the pay up front. My sense is that he has trouble accepting the role of boss/master/oppressor. If only more employers were so sensitive and socially attuned!

You, on the other hand, are all about dollars and cents, as if your relationship with him—and with the singers—can be so easily reduced and quantified. Maybe you'll get $200 at the end, maybe just $50, but what about the value of your interactions on the bandstand, and the subsequent broadening of your own soul?

Some day, after playing enough of these gigs, you might even achieve Ted's level of growth and awareness, developed through decades of rewarding musical and social interchange. In the psychiatric world we refer to such an individual as "fully self-actualized"; in common musical parlance he is simply called a "Contractor."

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


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