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March 2014

March 2014
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

What do you think about the whole transcribing thing? Studying the best players, transcribing their solos, and learning to play like them. I thought jazz was supposed to be an individual expression.

— Trying to Be Myself


Dear Trying:

Look, when you transcribe a solo and try to play Coltrane or Bird's exact lines, you never do it as well as they did, right? Well guess what: those imperfections are the very "individual expression" you're looking for—they're your sound!

Obviously, this offers enormous opportunity for musical growth. Whether through inaccurate transcription or poor playing, the more mistakes you make, the more personalized your concept becomes!

Someday down the road, a student from the next generation may transcribe your flawed renditions of Trane and Bird's solos, and add his own mistakes. That, my friend, is a legacy; it's what keeps jazz moving forward, and might just cement your place in the music's storied evolution.


Dear Mr. P.C.:

How should I set my pay scale when a pianist calls me for a duo gig and asks how much I need? I hate that question!

— Jim of MD


Dear Jim:

Of course the enlightened path is to act selflessly—to put others' needs before your own. So the answer should be obvious enough: Ask the pianist how much he needs, and tell him he can just pay you the rest.


Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm a pianist and I accompany a vocalist who teaches a beginning jazz class. The problem is, she doesn't know what she's talking about! Like they'll sing a 12-bar blues head with me, I'll start to solo, and she'll tell them to come back in at the bridge! Something like that happens just about every day. I'm not sure what to do. She's my boss, so I guess I'm supposed to support her. But she's corrupting all these young minds with bad information, and I'm an accessory. But if I disagree with her, I'm undermining her authority, right?

What should I do? Help, Mr. P.C.!

—Blues Bridge Blues


Dear BBB:

Anyone can buy a jazz theory book and learn that a 12-bar blues doesn't have a bridge. That's jazz for dummies—and that's certainly not what these kids are shelling out the big tuition bucks for! They chose this teacher because they wanted to tap into her very personal take on form and harmony. The amazing thing to me is that the students are more open and receptive—dare I say, more jazz-minded—than you are. And yet they have to suffer your pedantic, by-the-rules accompaniment!

If you want to have a "theory talk" with her, you should set up a private meeting. Obviously there's a lot you can learn from her, and as you begin to approach her level she might just book you on an actual gig.

Imagine your shared joy when you jump to that bridge together! And what an incredible experience for you, to suddenly be playing part of a song you were convinced didn't even exist! That's called transcendence, BBB—when the mortal distractions of form, harmony and meter give way to a greater purpose.
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