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Death By Banjo, Playing With Emotion, and Musical Divorce

Death By Banjo, Playing With Emotion, and Musical Divorce
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just played a gig with a bad banjo player. I spent a lot of time learning the music, and the gig went fine. My problem is that now I can't get that music out of my head. It's killing me! What am I supposed to do?

—Troubled in Tallahassee


Dear Troubled:

Unfortunately, offensive music in your head can only be displaced by music that's more offensive—that's how the banjo music got in there to begin with. So if you really want to get rid of it you could always listen to bagpipes or kazoos, but at some point you'll have to ask yourself: "Could I face death with this as my final soundtrack?"

For now, a better question is this: How and why, in the course of evolution, did humans develop a predilection toward filling their heads with painful music? The answer: If their heads were instead filled with beautiful sounds, humans would become complacent, content to sit idly and enjoy their internal concerti. Bad music motivates humans to take action, even if their march forward is just a desperate attempt to escape, their heads ringing with escalating sounds insufferable.

It's a bleak commentary on existence—mankind forever in motion, running from increasingly torturous music that finally proves inescapable. Unfortunately, that's the formula for progress; on the brighter side, death becomes something no longer to be feared.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I've kind of fallen out of love with jazz. It feels like a game where everyone plays a bunch of licks or scales that they memorized and can fit over whatever chords are being played. And of course audiences can't understand it because they don't know theory so jazz players are really only playing for each other (and themselves).

What does any of that have to do with emotion?

—Jazz Artists Don't Emote Decently


Dear JADED:

Jazz just keeps getting harder, doesn't it? Chords are trickier, scales are more complicated, and rhythms are more intricate. But somehow the modern jazz artist is supposed to fit all the pieces together. It's so tough that when he pulls it off he feels positively joyful—there's the emotion!

And on the flip side—with all the tough competition for gigs—how about the impact of choosing the wrong licks and scales? Absolutely devastating—and that's more emotion! Even if the audience members "can't understand it because they don't know theory," with such powerful feelings emanating from the bandstand they can't help but be moved.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

If you've been working with someone for quite awhile, a nice person but not a very good player, hoping he'd get better but he doesn't, what is the right way to break up with him, musically speaking?

—Dusting Up My Partner


Dear DUMP:

We're constantly reminded that jazz is like life itself, and musical partnerships are like marriages. That's why breaking up with him is the last resort; your next step should be couples counseling, but you need to be prepared to face the music.

What you might find out: Some of your behaviors may be preventing him from getting better. Your own prejudices may be blinding you to the fact that he actually is getting better. Or you may be drawn to the type of player who truly can't get better.

Until you've sought professional guidance, any effort to break up with him is nothing more than avoidance behavior. Which makes me wonder: How many musicians have you already broken up with over the course of your career? The answer may tell you a lot about your own capacity for musical intimacy.

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

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