May 2015

May 2015
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I bought a trombone they said had seven positions, but I can find only one long one. Was I ripped off? 


Dear Jazzprof:

You weren't exactly ripped off, but perhaps misled. There are indeed seven positions, but they are positions between you and the trombone, not built into the trombone itself.

This is intricately described in The Joy of Sax, and the positions are pretty universal regardless of instrument. So one position has you on top of the trombone, another has you beneath it, another puts you behind it, one puts your fist in its bell, one has you in the inexplicably popular mouth-to-mouthpiece stance, and so on.

You may find that you can come up with your own variations by manipulating the "slide," which is a moving part. But there's a danger to it: To some extent the trombone can also be a musical instrument; it can play and sustain a note except when the slide is being moved. From a musical perspective, integrating the slide into the seven "positions" is to be be avoided at all costs, no matter how much it might spice up your love life.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Why is it that as an artist ages, when he plays fewer notes they say he's matured? Isn't he just worn out?

—Tank Is Really Empty, Dammit


Exactly! That's why there's a direct correlation between remaining life expectancy and notes per solo. Note count can even be used diagnostically: When a patient reports a dramatic decrease, his doctor knows it's time to order a battery of tests. In the final months, weeks or days, note count should be regularly monitored along with other vital indicators like pulse, blood pressure and blood count. With the right medication, note count can temporarily go back up, but of course the long-term prognosis is for no notes whatsoever.

Saying an artist has "matured" is really just a polite way of explaining his fatigue; typically it's a gesture of respect to a determined elderly player who has already outlasted all expectations.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Why do musicians always complain about gigs? Then when they don't have gigs, they complain about that too. Is there anything that makes them happy?

—Gigs Rarely Induce Positive Enjoyment


I know you expect me to say "alcohol" or "drugs," but in fact those are not the only things that make musicians happy. Some musicians like following sports. Some like watching television. Most of them like sex. And, although the percentage decreases sharply with age, a few even like listening to music.

Your question is totally unfair, GRIPE, because you try to make generalizations about their whole lives when they really have only one problem: being musicians. Some are actually very happy, especially the ones who have found another way to make a living.

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