Best of Mr. P.C. 2017

Best of Mr. P.C. 2017
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

This whole "jazz musicians play thousands of chords to three people" vs. "rock musicians play three chords for thousands" thing: What is the correct chord/audience ratio?

Perhaps zero chords for an infinite audience is the ideal; or all chords for no audience. I certainly have landed closer to the latter.

Is art about this kind of calculus?

—Randy H., Atlanta

Dear Randy:

Let's break it down. We have a situation where as variable x (the number of chords) increases, variable y (the number of people willing to listen to the chords) decreases. The two variables are inversely related, so instead of a single "correct chord/audience ratio" we need a slightly more complex equation.

If we can (optimistically) speculate that an average jazz audience might be 50 people, then our equation is xy = 50. If there is one chord (x = 1), then y = 50; all 50 people will listen. If there are ten chords, only five of them will listen. And if there are 50 chords, just one person will listen: a misguided critic looking for the "next new thing."

But this overlooks the role of two additional variables. First, the complexity of the chords themselves: of those five people who would listen to ten chords, four of them would drop out if the chords were altered dominant jazz chords instead of rock triads. And the visual aspect: of those same five people who would listen to ten simple chords, four would quickly leave if the chords were played by old, broken down jazzers instead of healthy young rock studs.

Your original premise that "jazz musicians play thousands of chords to three people" gives us all hope; those three people—abnormally gifted in their capacity to withstand both harmonic intricacy and unsettling reminders of the human condition—are the music's lifeline.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

What are you supposed to do with loud drunks? The kind that love to scream at each other when you're in the middle of a tender ballad.

—Songus Interruptus

Dear Songus:

Here's my question for you: Which is a more authentic expression of human emotions in the moment—your practiced licks, or the cries of those anguished patrons drinking away their sorrows?

I'm not surprised their emotional outpouring scares you. That's why you take cover behind your "tender ballad" and demand silence, knowing that their stories are so utterly wrenching that you, as a sensitive artist, could never bear them.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Microphone hygiene, the singer's nightmare. When I sit in at a jam session, the mike is coated with dried saliva from all the other singers who have put their lips against it and/or accidentally spit at it while they sing. Sometimes it's really rank!

If I'm going to exchange bodily fluids with other people, there are more enjoyable ways to do it. Comments?

—Aspiring to Asepsis

Dear ATA:

What you're completely missing is the cumulative history being recorded by the microphone. Like the rings of a tree, the layers of dried saliva chronicle all the singers who have used the mike through sickness and health, good gigs and bad, flat notes and sharp, missed entrances and forgotten lyrics.

The bacteria may stink, but they're a living history built from each of you, a history that is far greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, you could always bring your own mike or dental dam, but you're withholding the bounty of life contained in your every spat plosive.

Next time you're at a vocal jam, follow the lead of the poor, beleaguered rhythm section —hold your nose and dive in.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When someone counts off a tune in jazz, why do they count up ("1-2-3-4") instead of counting down ("4-3-2-1") like they do for most things—rockets, New Year's Eve, etc.? They even count up when they count off "Countdown!"

—The Count, NC

Dear Count:

Counting down is morbid. It's akin to death, reducing a known quantity to nothing.

Counting up is the opposite, suggesting the creation of something new that will continue to grow through a tune's thousands of beats. Although counts five through the end of the song aren't stated aloud, they're felt by musicians and audience alike. Contained in those counts are choices good and bad and the consequences they inevitably produce—the arc of a song's life culminating in one final count that's either major or minor, fortissimo or pianissimo, joyful or bittersweet.

Trane was a spiritual and often inscrutable being; how he could glorify the idea of a "Countdown" remains one of his greatest mysteries. While we honor him when we play "Countdown," we honor life itself by counting up when we count it off.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When I'm booking a gig, sometimes I'll deliberately call people I know are already booked elsewhere so that they'll "owe me one." Is there anything wrong with that?

—Drum and Drummer

Dear Drum:


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