February 2013

February 2013
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

My teacher told me to practice with a metronome, but then I was getting ahead of it sometimes, and behind it sometimes. Where can I get a metronome that works? Beats Me

Dear Beats:

Don't be so quick to blame your metronome—you may have accidentally hit its "jazz" setting. That deliberately miscalibrates the time in order to simulate working with an actual jazz drummer.

Unfortunately, the "classical" setting is no better. To simulate the experience of working with a conductor, it strikes each downbeat well before you're expected to play.

Even the standard setting has its dangers. The only people able to play along with it are those said to have "perfect time." Sadly, for reasons that defy simple explanation, they have no soul.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just watched my first jazz show. How come it sounds like each musician is playing a different song at the same time? Betsy, Salt Lake City

Dear Betsy:

You have no idea how lucky you are! What you witnessed is no less than the pinnacle of jazz artistry.

A brief history of music: Once upon a time someone played a note, and it created quite a stir. People were furious—weren't there other, better notes? Did there have to be notes at all? But eventually that note entered the mainstream and was embraced by all. Hundreds of years later, when a brave artist added a second note, people again resisted at first, only to ultimately embrace the expanded pallet. And so the evolution of music proceeded, always over initial objections but always for the best: first the polyphony of chords, then the polytonality of multiple key centers. Now, finally, you're witnessing polytuneality: the simultaneous presentation of multiple tunes!

Could there be any more profound artistic statement? Each musician has to play a tune and stay fully faithful to its intent—harmonically, rhythmically and emotionally—while those around him are playing material that's completely unrelated; often jarringly so. Jazz is always a conversation, and in this case it's an entire group of people speaking at once, each staying true to his/her own narrative by willfully ignoring the others.

Try that at a cocktail party, Betsy, and see how long you—and those around you—can handle it. Pretty tough, right? And not a whole lot of fun, either! Hopefully our little experiment teaches you that playing polytuneally is every bit as unpleasant as listening to it. And for that, polytuneal musicians deserve your gratitude.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

There's a bandleader I've been playing with who sometimes records our concerts, then releases CDs without paying us for them or even telling us about them. If I complain and tell him my rate for CDs, he'll probably just hire someone else. What should I do? Recording Unpaid Music Sucks

Dear RUMS:

Think about it: If your complaining would cause him to hire someone else, you'd be putting that person in the exact same quandary that is tormenting you now. You'd be an accomplice to the very crime that is victimizing you.

Unfortunately for you, the die was cast the first time that evil bandleader hired you. Now that you've been chosen, inescapably and irreversibly, all you can do is bravely face your fate. Make the sacrifice; endure his exploitation in silent obeisance, knowing that your suffering spares the fate of another innocent musician.

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