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March 2012

March 2012
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

A big guy came up to me on my solo piano gig and asked for the theme from Goodfellas. When I told him I didn't know it, he yelled "Know it next time!" and walked away pretty angry. Should I fear for my life? Tim, Memphis

Dear Tim:

Here's the problem: If you play Goodfellas for him, he'll want the theme from The Godfather. Learn that one, and he'll make you play Scarface. The cycle will continue to escalate, and you'll spend the rest of your career promoting senseless violence.

On my steady, I had a similar problem once with a beefy guy who tried to make me play his college fight song. I summoned all the alpha inside of me (yes, I found surprising inner vigor), looked him right in the eye, and very sternly said: "I would love to help you sir, if only I could, but the management strictly forbids me from showing favoritism for one academic institution over another."

It was a defining moment for me—a triumph over my sometimes over-eagerness to appease!—and needless to say I was utterly exhausted afterwards, too spent to even finish the gig. But he never came back! At least I don't think he did—for some reason I was fired the next week. Anyway, the point is that when you stand up to a guy like him, you'll probably scare him to death!

But in the unlikely event he sticks around and you actually have to play Goodfellas, for heavens sake don't screw it up! Start preparing now: Practice as much as humanly possible, preferably with a large and threatening Italian guy glowering over you.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

How come jazz musicians never smile? Get Happy

Dear Get:

I need to turn this one around slightly: If you want to see a bunch of people on stage smiling, why on earth would you go to a jazz concert? Why not check out a glee club, or a Christian Rock concert, or an Up With People show? And, more to the point, are you so unhappy that all your joy has to come from others? Is there none in your own heart?

So there you are, desperately needing the performers on stage to crack a smile. You bring your clown nose, your fake vomit, your funny hat; you cross your eyes, stick your thumb up a nostril, do everything in your power to pimp them for a little happiness. Nothing works! And you're angry about it, though of course smilingly yet joylessly so.

Here's the hard truth: Audiences that want to see performers smiling don't waste their time on jazz concerts, and neither should you. Jazz, if nothing else, is an opportunity for shared solemnity, or suffering, or impassive cool. It's about community; a particular community that happens to have little use for laughter.

I'm sure you'll eventually find a more light-hearted art form that will give you the happiness you need. Until then, if you insist on going to hear live jazz, I implore you for your own safety: Leave the squeaky toys at home.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just got called by a singer for a gig, but I was already booked that night. When I told her I couldn't do it, she said she was freaking out because I was the sixth person she'd tried. Isn't it rude for her to let me know she likes five other bassists more than me? Low Man

Dear Low:

Instead of dwelling in her negative space, why not make a positive action plan for the next time you get a call like that?

Here's what you don't want to do: Take the gig. Think about it: If you say yes, you'll be her last call, and there's no dignity in that.

Here's what you should do: Turn the gig down, and hope that she has to call at least seven more people before she finds someone. Then you'll be her sixth call out of 13—better than average!

Better yet, be the master of your own destiny. Try this: When she calls, tell her you'll get back to her. Then start calling all the bassists you know, until you've compiled a list of twelve players who aren't free. The next day, tell her you can't make her gig, but you can recommend twelve other bassists for her to call—the list you've just made. By the time she's followed all those dead ends you'll be her sixth call out of 18. Top third!

That's not all: In a delightful triumph of karma, she'll still be looking for a bassist.

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


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