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November 2010

Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

If I'm carpooling to a gig and we split the gas, should the guy with a day job pay more? Chuck, Seattle

Dear Chuck:

I know where you're coming from. You dream of a society—like I do—where each gives according to his or her means. Naturally, there should be a gigging equivalent, right? But let's make sure it's truly fair...

First of all, consider your respective lifestyles: You've got music running through your head all day, while his brain is swimming with numbers, clients, and co-workers. With that in mind, you really should be able to play much better than he does. You certainly have all the advantages, don't you?

Since you have more to offer on the bandstand and you're a proponent of shared wealth, it stands to reason that you should make the bigger musical contribution. Which makes the answer to your question pretty obvious: You can ask him to pay more only to the extent you play better than he does. For example, if you play twice as well as he does, he should pay twice as much for gas. The math can get complicated when there are fractions or negative numbers involved, but you've got plenty of time driving home from the gig together to work it out.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

A lot of times, I seem to suck a little on my gigs. Is this okay? Jeff, Ontario

Dear Jeff:

Do you get your seasonal flu shot every year? It's no fun, I know. There's the needle, a foreign object violating the sacred temple that is your body. There's tenderness or soreness in your shoulder. But, above all, there's the flu itself, a toned-down version inflicted on you by the vaccine so your body can build up antibodies. And, ironically, that's the part that makes it all worthwhile, preventing you from getting full-blown sick later on.

So it is with sucking a little on a gig. Your brain reacts to the minor suckage by saying: "This kind of sucks! I can't let it happen again!" That creates musical antibodies, of sorts, that save you from sucking more dramatically in the future.

The seasonal flu is different every year, and we need a new vaccine to help us build corresponding antibodies. In the same way, you suck a little in different ways on each gig, and thereby amass a large arsenal of musical antibodies. It's an essential part of the growth process and life cycle of a musician. When you stop sucking a little, you may as well stop playing, or you'll soon find yourself sucking a lot.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just read your July 2010 Installment—including the comments at the end—and I feel prompted to write my own question:

Why do jazz musicians make such bad jokes? Jazz Wife

Dear JW:

Hang on—don't tell me! I just heard this one last week... Ah, rats—I forget the punch line! All I can remember is something about Kenny G, bop heads, altered dominant chords and masturbating; totally insider stuff that wouldn't be appropriate for this column anyway.

But I can tell you this much: The jazz community is sharply divided between those who like to laugh at themselves and those who simply can't. Watch this:

— Me: Knock knock.

— Who's there, man?

— Humorless jazz musician.

— That's not funny, man! I suppose you think it's also funny that I practice four hours a day and still have to play $50 gigs in skanky clubs where no one is listening? And it's funny that shitty rock musicians I can play circles around get to perform in giant arenas? And that symphony musicians who can't play anything that's not written out for them start at $75,000 with benefits? Yeah; really hilarious, man.

Hmmm... While I'm at the door, there's something I've been wanting to check; bear with me...

— Me: Knock knock.

— Who's there, man?

— Mr. P.C.

— F*** Mr. P.C., man!

— (reeling backwards) Safe space!!! Safe space!!! Help me find somewhere calming, JW. Hurry! I can help him with his intimacy issues later...

That's right, JW, I'm not giving up on him. You see, jazz music really isn't funny. An artist's life dedicated to uplifting humankind—against its will—is no laughing matter. It's every bit as serious as my own unfunny mission: To instill proper etiquette in musicians so dedicated to their lofty pursuit that they forget to respect those beneath them.

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


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