Best of 2020

Best of 2020
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

So with the ever-present question of "selling out," my question for you is this:

Is it better to alienate your audience by playing complicated original music, or to lift their spirits playing standards you can't stand?

—Dave the Dichotomist

Dear Dave:

If the only thing that lifts their spirits is seeing you miserable, what kind of people are they? Go ahead and play your original music—they deserve it.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm playing solo piano at an old folks home. Suddenly I feel an explosive sneeze coming on, and I can tell it's going to be "productive." I don't want to be responsible for infecting the vulnerable elderly. Where am I supposed to point my problematic proboscis? Do my hands get involved?


Dear Achoo!:

What kind of distance can you get? How accurate are you? Will it hold its mass in flight? These are the questions we normally ask.

Keep in mind that if your hands get involved, so do the keys, and that could lead to a sticky situation. That's why the best solution is to point that proboscis away from the piano and toward the old folks. After all, music has healing powers—even over the sickness you spread while making it.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

If a guy in the audience comes up to me on break and says I sounded great, when I know I sounded terrible, what am I supposed to say? I'm sure he means well, so I don't want to totally go off on him.

—George N.

Dear George:

Obviously this guy needs educating, and you're just the one to teach him. How? By respectfully explaining exactly what was terrible about your playing.

Was it your time? Intonation? Flawed technique? Lack of originality? All of the above? Don't wait for him to hear it from someone else, George—no one knows your shortcomings better than you do!

If you're thorough enough, he'll also learn to dislike artists similar to you; music he may have been naively enjoying. Unfortunately, he could still enjoy an artist with different flaws than yours, assuming there are flaws you don't have.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

We've all had people in the audience request a song that was already played, even in the same set. But last night someone asked if we knew a song while we were playing it! What were we supposed to say?

—Cover Band Dissed

Dear CBD:

If they questioned whether you knew the song, you should have promised to do better next time.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Some jazz players record all their gigs and listen studiously to the playbacks. Others can't stand to hear themselves and don't even listen to their own CDs. Who's right?


Dear RAM:

It's not a matter of who's right; they're just in different stages of their artistic growth. Once the players who record all their gigs have heard enough, they'll mature into players who can't stand to hear themselves.

Eventually they'll evolve beyond recordings altogether and learn to despise their playing where the music really happens—on the bandstand, in the moment.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I was playing bass on a trio gig along with a guitarist and drummer. I was comping during a drum solo and I suddenly heard "Quit playing!" from across the room. Now I don't always lay it down for drummers, but this guy did not know the form of any of the tunes we played, so I thought some nice hits and sparse walking in key parts of the tune would help keep things together. I did lay out in some tunes after that, and it was a free-for-all, as far as form goes, during the drum solos.

Should I expect drummers to stick to the form when they are soloing?

—Stickler, SC

Dear Stickler:

What is form but an artificial construct, a tool of oppression? It's designed to hem musicians in, keep them racing around within it like hamsters on exercise wheels. Outside the form lies an entire world; inside it just a bunch of looping chord changes.

If your drummer has managed to escape, you should joyfully follow him—two wrongfully imprisoned musicians busting free. And if the guitarist refuses to join you, it's because he's decided the food and shelter he earns by playing "inside" make it worth being the music's bitch.

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

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Interview with Elusive Spontaneity, Mooed Indigo
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Interview with Cursing, Gambling, Drinking and Smoking
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Interview with Best of 2020
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Interview with Inside Out
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Interview with Talking While Playing, Sub Division, and Translating Scat
Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette and Bandstand Decorum
Talking While Playing, Sub Division, and Translating Scat


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