Best of Mr. P.C. 2014

Best of Mr. P.C. 2014
Mr. P.C. By

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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 that those are all tricks to cover up the troubled souls that lie beneath! As if there's no uncertainty or conflict within—how utterly dishonest and cowardly!

The players who are truly "the best" are the ones who aren't afraid to show their vulnerabilities—weaknesses like uneven time, clumsy phrasing, bad note choices, or the simple inability to master their instruments. They're telling you real stories, of real lives that reflect the fragility of our troubled planet.

Remember the children's tale about the ugly duckling that becomes a swan, or the creepy caterpillar that grows into a beautiful butterfly? That's what these raw musical truth-tellers are like, but without the ridiculous Hollywood endings.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I recently did a club date for a saxophonist, and as we were finishing, I overheard the following conversation between the client and him:

Client: "You did a great job, and I'd like to give you a tip. There are five of you, right? Here are five hundreds, one for each of you."

Saxophonist: "Thanks!"

Mr. P.C., you probably know where this is going. When I got my check, it was only $50 more than what I was booked for. When I started asking around the band, it turned out that we'd all been given different tips, from $50 to $90. On top of that, we'd been hired for different amounts, too!

What should I say to him?

—One Hundred Should Happen In Tips


It's pretty obvious why he'd hire each of you for different amounts: he set the pay based on how well he expected you to play. When the tip money came in, it gave him the chance to correct his initial estimates and pay you based on your actual performance.

I don't know which is more disappointing: Your indignant reaction to his savvy, results-based managerial style; or the fact that you just really didn't play very well.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

How should I set my pay scale when a pianist calls me for a duo gig and asks how much I need? I hate that question!

—Jim of MD

Dear Jim:

Of course the enlightened path is to act selflessly—to put others' needs before your own. So the answer should be obvious enough: Ask the pianist how much he needs, and tell him he can just pay you the rest.

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 perspective, maybe you don't have better moments at all. Probably not.

With that in mind, getting back to your question: No, there's nothing wrong with you; just a lot of things wrong with your playing.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I work with a guitarist who I mistakenly thought was playing wrong notes when he took a solo. When I asked him about it, he explained to me that he was anticipating the chord change. My question is, do you have to anticipate a chord change in the same song? Or is it cooler to anticipate a chord in a song that you might be thinking of playing in the next set?

—Wanting To Be Cool

Dear WTBC:

Most jazz artists make it their goal to play "in the moment," but your guitarist is taking it to the next level: playing in a future moment. And where's your musical empathy? When he anticipates a chord change—whether from the next measure or the next song—why aren't you anticipating it with him?

Think of all the musicians who rush, desperate to reach the song's end as fast as they can. Well, he's already there, nonchalantly having a smoke, amused by all the fuss, gearing up for his next time-traveling feat. "You'll have to anticipate me," he says, because he knows that no amount of rushing will catch up to the future, just as dragging can't summon the past.

You're lucky to be teamed with a brilliant forward-thinking innovator, WTBC; please don't let yourself be left behind.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I was playing piano in a building lobby where I perform regularly. A woman walked past the piano and discreetly left something at the far end (it's a grand piano). When I finished the song, I walked around the piano to see what she'd left. Turned out it was her trash!

I'm a little old and out of touch so I'm wondering: Is that okay nowadays?

—Don't Understand Selfish Treatment By Inconsiderate Nutjob


When you call it "trash," I wonder if you're being too quick to pass judgment.

Was it recyclable? If so, it's not trash! You might not know this, being "old and out of touch," but in this century there are now separate containers for recyclables and trash, which means that recyclables are the exact opposite of trash. Wadded up napkins, empty cans of coke, mildly soiled toilet paper—not trash!

Was it compostable? That's not trash either; it's tomorrow's organic soil, next year's fresh produce. Rotten tomatoes, grass clippings, cow manure—not trash!

Leaky car batteries, used condoms, festering chunks of raw meat—now that's trash! Until you can tell the difference, I suggest you put three small labeled baskets on the piano—recyclables, compostables, and trash—and let your audience sort it out.

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