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March 2011

Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. PC:

What is the appropriate punishment for blue-hairs caught streaming out of the venue before The Bad Plus have actually finished their set? It's so inconsiderate and should be punished severely. Greg

Dear Greg:

What is this Bad Plus? Do they play swing music, or the Latin bossa nova, or "contemporary" jazz? Actually, it couldn't be "contemporary" jazz, or those punks with blue hair—drawn to anything with a cutting-edge label— wouldn't be in such a hurry to leave. They do love the Boney James vibe, as I'm sure you know.

So this Bad Plus combo plays some sort of mainstream jazz, leaning toward the older, more conservative side, and blue-haired punks stream out, angry because they were expecting more "contemporary" jazz like Boney James, or Dave Koz, or Mindi Abair. Isn't it punishment enough for them to have wasted their money, fooled by The Bad Plus ensemble's contemporary-sounding name?

Greg, I can't help but dig a little deeper: Don't you think "severe" punishment, such as you advocate, is exactly what led those punks to rebel against conventional, straight-ahead taste to begin with? Frankly, it's hard for me to answer your angry question, other than to suggest that you refrain from having children of your own until you've learned a lot more about compassionate parenting.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I've been a jazz fan for years. But lately when I set my car radio to "scan," I find myself more drawn to the pop snippets than the jazz. Is this okay? Bubble Gum

Dear Bubble:

It's not just okay; it's completely normal. Frankly, I'd be surprised if those pop sound bites didn't appeal to you. Pop music is designed for short attention spans, whereas jazz demands serious listening. It's like the difference between the quick high of fast food and the lasting satisfaction of gourmet cuisine.

So with just a few bites of these little musical Happy Meals, you're thrown into crisis: You've fed from the jazz menu of escargot, filet mignon and (God forbid) foie gras for so long that you're finally tired of it, so fully sated that you can no longer appreciate its skilled preparation and complex composition. Never mind the poor, musically starved kids in China who have never savored a rich drop-two voicing, or a pungent altered dominant chord.

Pop music is described as "infectious" for a reason, Bubble: Once pop songs get in your head, they spread like a virus. By setting your radio to "scan," you've invited them in; you might as well have unprotected sex with a street-worn prostitute.

The worst thing is, you don't even have to listen to a pop song for it to become an earworm. It's enough to hear it mentioned by name, or—in the case of a really heinous tune like, say, "Play that Funky Music"—to read it in print.

Dear Mr. P.C:

Is a married jazz musician, especially a pianist, likely to be more happy when soloing? Patrick, France

Dear Patrick: What a beautifully ambiguous question—you French people are so nuanced! You might be trying to ask any or all of the following:

— Is a married jazz musician happier than an unmarried one when soloing?
— Once a jazz musician gets married, does soloing make him happier than it did before his marriage?
— Once a jazz musician gets married, is he happier to be soloing, as opposed to, say, staying home and washing the dishes?
— Once a jazz musician gets married, is he generally happier to do things alone?

But what of the elephant in the room, which is surely on every reader's mind: Why, Patrick, does it matter that this married musician is specifically a pianist? Hah! Maybe that's a clue, or maybe you just threw it in as a red herring...

One thing's for sure: I could spend hours wrapping my mind around your shape-shifting question, and it would be time well spent. We Americans are so wedded to certainty that sometimes we completely miss the beauty inherent in the abstract.

If I were to give your question a definitive answer, I'd destroy its essence, reducing it to the type of one-dimensional construct that gives my countrymen comfort. By leaving it unresolved, I approach and accept it on its own (i.e., so very French) terms. That, in turn, demonstrates my belief that my country is no better—or worse—than yours or any other. Patrick, with your help, I deny American exceptionalism and recommit myself to the over-arching principle of global equality.

Thanks for asking.

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