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Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette and Bandstand Decorum

Hitting Things

Hitting Things

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

A percussionist came to one of my gigs. Without asking the leader for permission, he handed out shakers and other percussion instruments to many of the people in the "audience." "Audience" in quotes because it was actually a fancy hotel where we were just supposed to provide ambiance while rich old people enjoyed their food and drinks. Instead, it turned into a bunch of drunks with no sense of time just banging away. We fought through the bedlam and finished the evening, but it wasn't easy.

We weren't surprised when the manager approached us afterward. But what he said totally threw us—that since the people were having such a good time, we should make that a regular part of our gigs there! What do we do now? And what was that percussionist even thinking?

—Shaken By Shakers

Dear Shaken:

I don't need to explain the spiritual power of the drum circle; we've all basked in its magic glow. But you know who never gets to feel those healing vibes? Rich old people! Burning Man, tie-dye, hippie culture—rich old people may diss those at their corporate retreats, but they're secretly jealous. To them it's all part of a distant and exotic sphere far beyond their reach, a rare place where money can't buy access.

You know what else these rich old people had never done? Made music! Now they finally got their chance, all because your percussionist somehow reached across the cultural divide and brought them over. Consider the miracle of it: suddenly you were making joyful sounds with these musical magnates, and for the first time ever they treated you almost as an equal!

Sometimes music can be so much more than mere notes. Hats off to the manager for recognizing what you apparently missed: a metaphysical, cultural, sociological and socioeconomic breakthrough.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

My quartet was asked to play a private party. The guy throwing the party told me he preferred I didn't use my regular drummer. I asked if it was a personal issue or a musical one. He said it's musical, but I know for a fact that he doesn't know anything about music. Should I allow a civilian to dictate my personnel?

—Baffled In Boston

Dear BIB:

Let's be fair. Not knowing anything about music shouldn't disqualify that guy unless it disqualifies your drummer too. Conversely, if the guy isn't disqualified, his opinion stands and the drummer gets the boot; the drummer's out either way.

This no-win situation beautifully illustrates the futility of a life spent hitting things.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When you're comping on piano for a bass solo and the bassist is rushing while the drummer is dragging, what is the right thing to do:

Split the difference and comp somewhere between the two of them, at the tune's actual tempo?

Go with the bassist because he's the one soloing?

Go with the drummer to help him keep the bassist anchored down?

Drop out and let them fight it out?


Dear Middleman:

Their time issues are symptomatic of a dysfunctional and potentially abusive relationship. The bassist is desperately trying to get away from the drummer, while the drummer insistently pulls him back. So before you take action, you need to thoroughly assess the situation. If you bring them together, will the bassist be safe? Will you, along with any other musicians in the group, be capable of subduing the drummer if necessary? And would you, in essence, be normalizing behavior that instead needs to be radically modified?

Taking the drummer's side could be catastrophic, and this is no time for compromise or half measures either; you need to join the bassist. As the two of you speed away, treat yourself to the occasional glance back. You'll see the drummer struggling furiously, getting smaller and quieter until he no longer poses a threat to anyone but himself.

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

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