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:

Let's be clear: What you're talking about is establishing a new market, one that exists in parallel to the current market of debts and obligations for real gig offers made in good faith. In your market what you'll be owed isn't just a call for a gig, but more specifically a call for a gig you can't play.

Those calls aren't only for gigs on dates where you're already working. They can include any gig you'd have to turn down—gigs you're unqualified to play, gigs where you'd have personal conflicts with other musicians, and gigs at venues that have banned you for inappropriate behavior.

Keep in mind that these non-gigs are not all created equal. If you call someone for a $200 gig they can't play, they can't repay you with a $100 gig you can't play; they'd have to call you for two of those. Likewise if you call someone for a $200 gig with great musicians at a classy venue, they can't pay you back with a $200 gig with mediocre players at a dive. But this one's tricky: Having to turn down a better gig will make you feel worse than turning down a lesser one, even though the gig itself would be a nicer experience. Your feelings have value, too, and that raises a difficult question: Which offer creates a greater debt, and how can that be assigned a more realistic monetary figure?

The good news is that you can bypass monetary equivalents altogether: Your calls don't even have to be about "real" gigs! Just find a date where a player is booked (hint: website calendars are a great resource) and make the call. Until they figure out what you're doing, you'll be owed more gigs you can't play than you'll know what to do without.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

In grad school, a well-respected L.A.-based professional drummer came to guest-lead a student combo. One of my classmates asked him why older musicians seem so devoid of passion on their gigs when us young pups feel full-body convulsions of joy every time we hear an outside note. His answer was that as someone ages, every day they live is an increasingly smaller percentage of their total lifetime lived, and every gig they play is an increasingly smaller percentage of their total gigs played.

Was he right? Is there a cure to this natural law? How many gigs does a jazz musician play in their life?

—Diminishing Returns

Dear Diminishing:

If he's right, wouldn't the same logic apply within a tune? So the first note—which would be 100% of notes played to that point—would be bursting with excitement and promise. And the last note—one thousandth of the cumulative song—would be virtually meaningless; the corollary to an artist's last gig or final breath.

From this we learn that the journey from the beginning of a jazz tune to its end is essentially a process of degeneration and degradation. While some listeners may find profundity in its parallel to the human condition, most just flee to a less morbid art form.

That's why more and more jazz artists are getting into looping; after all, loops value every note equally. In the world of loops life is a circle—death isn't final, but rather a gateway to rebirth. The critics and so-called jazz "purists" who dismiss looping for falling outside the tradition reveal nothing but their own spiritual vacuum.

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


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