February 2011

February 2011
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

People say that when you see a panhandler at the end of a freeway off ramp, you shouldn't give him money. How is that different from a jazz musician with a tip jar? Brent Jensen, Boise

Dear Brent:

Ha! A trick question! You want me to cite statistics about panhandlers wasting their loot on booze instead of food or shelter, right? Then I'm supposed to spin some lofty rhetoric about the underpaid jazz musician, living for art, spurned by society...

But consider this: The panhandler is fundraising for a new mouthpiece, striving to get that John Coltrane-ish sound that's just out of reach, but so vivid in his mind. The musician with the tip jar is going to blow it all on a bottle of single-malt scotch, draining it in a one-night bender.

Or—wait, I see it now—what if it's the same enterprising person? And—let me guess—could that be you, Brent: idealistic panhandler by day, shitfaced performer at night?

Okay, then, here's a tip for you: Maybe you could combine the two on your next gig! Skip showering for a week and show up in your shabbiest clothes. Accessorize your outfit with scummy teeth to match—nothing says "down and out" like bad oral hygiene! Confront your audience members individually, thrusting the tip jar forward, rattling it for maximum impact, mumbling incomprehensibly....

Of course you won't want to play too well or you'll lose all credibility. But don't let that worry you; just be yourself and everything should be fine.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

My fiancé does nothing but play jazz all day and all night. He says he's playing "Thelonious Monk," but it sounds crazy and you can't even dance to it!

I've finally gotten sick of this and told him that he has to choose between me and the music. After all, he'll never make any money playing that weird crap. We're going to need lots of it (and good credit too) for the down payment on the house with the picket fence, and lord knows that our future children are going to be spoiled and very expensive.

Should I leave him? Or should I stay and try to mold him into my adolescent fantasy dream man? Jazz Widow

Dear Jazz Widow:

Whoa!!! Have you even asked your fiancé whether he might have a plan for the family's financial future? Jazz musicians can be surprisingly resourceful when it comes to money. For example, he may already have scoped out a lucrative job that perfectly complements the modest income he makes playing "weird crap." And while the work itself may be somewhat degrading, he's confident that over time you'll get used to it.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

What is the ethical validity of using the iReal Book application on a "standards" jazz gig? Scrupulous in Schenectady

Dear SiS:

Do you believe in equality—in a just society that offers a level playing field for all? Well I do, and so do the compassionate, progressive minds behind the iReal Book application. Think about it:

It used to be that only a musician blessed with a great memory or a strong work ethic could play hundreds of standards by heart. Other players—disadvantaged by being either less gifted or less motivated to learn standards—might know just a handful. On the bandstand, the one with the big repertoire could totally embarrass the others by calling obscure tunes. Not fair!

And it's the same with transposing. Imagine a group of instrumentalists backing a vocalist. She calls a tune they all know, but she wants to sing it in an unusual key. Once again, one lucky musician has no problem; he either was born with a better ear or was motivated early in his career to work on ear-training. The others—burdened with blunter listening instruments—are utterly humiliated, playing wrong notes left and right. Again—totally unfair!

Well, thanks to the iReal Book, those injustices are a thing of the past! And not only does it put all of today's working musicians on equal footing; it also opens up the bandstand to legions of less "gifted," but equally earnest and deserving people! Those who were once put off by the need to have an "ear for music" now face a much more palatable paradigm; all they have to do is memorize scales to fit each chord that appears on their iPhone or iPad screen. Heck, they can even put together a chord/scale "cheat sheet" and call it up on a second digital screen right next to the first!

Cities across the country will soon be flooded with this new crop of digitally empowered jazz musicians, all eager to work. What could be better for the music?

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

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