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February 2010

Mr. P.C. By

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Because, as you've guessed, although their voices have changed and they long ago sprouted facial hair, these jazz musicians are juvenile, insecure, and self-involved, and will seize any opportunity to feel slighted. Wild applause at the end of a tune might lead an artist to wonder why his own solo didn't get a comparable ovation, or—as you suggest—if perhaps the audience is just thrilled that the tune is over.

But more evolved artists—and there are some out there—would forgo self-questioning in favor of compassion for their listeners. Pity the poor audience members, Alicia: They want to participate, join the celebration, but they live in fear of making a mistake. Many have sought refuge in jazz after clapping between movements at the symphony, where they were belittled by haughty glares and condescending "tsk- tsk"s from the uppity people surrounding them.

So they go to a jazz club, thinking a less highbrow room might be safer, but to their horror the humiliation continues. Suddenly—though no one warns them in advance—they're SUPPOSED to clap in mid-song, when the saxophonist stops squishing up his beet-red face and the pianist starts to squirm on his bench, and again when the pianist comes to a rest, the band gets quiet and the bassist becomes suddenly audible. How can they be expected to know what these cues mean? Then, later in the tune, the drums begin to intermittently play even louder and busier than usual, but in short spurts; only after the last of these convulsions is the audience supposed to applaud, but who is to say which will be the final one?

And, if that's not enough, even if they clap for all the solos just as they're supposed to, there's a danger of clapping TOO loud. The band members, briefly unable to hear one another, get separated, and the once- driving pulse disintegrates from a unified, joyous exclamation into an awkward, sputtering question. There's no greater embarrassment in jazz, and the devastated players head straight for the bar as soon as the tune reaches its ramshackle ending. Heads hanging, they avoid eye contact with one another and with the audience that unknowingly created this trauma.

So, really, the end of the song should be the audience members' safe place, the one time they can clap without being hated for it. If only the musicians had their own safe place, where they could bask in the applause and leave self-recrimination behind! But, no, they're slaves to a dysfunction rooted in their debilitating adolescence, when no bright young teenaged girl ever recognized their musical genius and gave them the encouragement and admiration they craved. Well, it's never too late, Alicia—and who better than you to help them shed these demons from their past?

Dear Mr.PC:

I took a legit gig—the music arrived and it really sucks. I am a Canadian jazz singer with health insurance and don't really need the gig. What should I do? Jen S.

Dear Jen:

So great to hear from our friendly northern neighbor! Is it true that even your free jazz has no anger in it?

But from the sound of your note, Canadians aren't entirely without issues. Let's start with your second sentence, whose meatiness appeals even to a vegetarian like myself. While I try to avoid all things carnivorous, I can't help but think that Canadian animals are slaughtered with more compassion—after all, you're not a warring people—and are less hopped up on antibiotics, your virtuous farmers resisting the temptation of low-priced Canadian meds.

Here's the crux of it: Consider your sister singers to the South. Theirs is a road fraught with hazards, which I'm sure you've shared: Thrown objects, vocal nodes, and psychological abuse from misogynistic sidemen, for starters. But unlike you, they may not be able to afford proper medical care when tragedy strikes, and their untreated problems may leave them physically or emotionally scarred for life. You say you don't "need the gig" because of your free health care, when in fact that very health care enables you as a vocalist. I'm sure you think globally, so look at it this way: In a world where there isn't enough health care coverage to go around, shouldn't you—as one of the lucky few—be leading the charge, drawing the fire? Take all the slings and arrows, Jen, let even the critics savage you. You've got an impermeable safety net; you'll be just fine.

Now let's go back to your first sentence, where you describe classical music as "legit," though you say this "legit" gig you took "really sucks." Does that mean you consider jazz "illegitimate"? And that you like this bastard art form even less than the purebred classical music you despise? It certainly sounds like it, and still you choose to call yourself a "jazz singer!" The implied self-loathing troubles me, to say the least. But here's the good news: A trained holistic counselor should be able to help you start loving yourself, and your music, again. And for you, it's free!

Dear Mr. P.C.:


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