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November 2012

Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

My mom won't let me play jazz. She says all jazz musicians are seedy. Is it true? class="f-right">- Gottagroove

Dear Gottagroove:

If by "seedy" your mother is referring to drug and alcohol abuse, she's being ridiculous! Let's take a look:

Louis Armstrong was famously a pothead. Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Chet Baker were all heroin addicts. Stan Getz and Zoot Sims were serious alcoholics. My own piano teacher, a brilliant but relatively unknown player, developed a dependency on laxatives in his later years.

But are all jazz musicians seedy? Not a chance! "Seediness" only describes the greats! Do you aspire to greatness, young man? Then you'll need to give drug use a try, and give it 110 percent. That's the only way to find out whether you're indeed "seedy" like the jazz legends, or just a worthless, run-of-the-mill addict.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I am the new guy at my music high school, and I seem to have a problem finding a group of guys to play with. Even when I do, it doesn't really work; it feels like we are playing coldly with masks or they are simply doing me a favor. How can I organize myself a good group to play with for a long term, or maybe just for a few gigs? class="f-right">- Tom Z.

Dear Tom:

Can't you see what they're doing? It should be obvious enough, with their "playing coldly" as if they're wearing masks: They're practicing to be professional jazz artists!

Do you want to discuss it with them? Well, don't! Jazz is all about spontaneity, and to verbally dissect it is to destroy the moment. Far better to join them, affecting a veneer of mild disdain. Believe me, someday you'll look back in disbelief at your behavior in these early years. That joyful smile pasted on your face, the occasional whoops of delight-totally inappropriate!

Incidentally, rookie audiences can easily make the same mistake as you, smiling and laughing, seemingly moved by the music. In fact, the audience can be a barometer of your own success: You'll know you're on the right track when your listeners are just as bored as the musicians you play with.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Etiquette wise, what is the correct response to a customer who wishes to make change out of my tip jar (assuming there's anything in there to begin with)? I've always found it a bit demeaning when a diner or attendee at a function where I'm performing wants a five and four ones back when he drops a ten in my bowl (then invariably asks for "New York, New York" or some other beloved standard). Change I Can't Believe In

Dear Change:

It seems to me that once you begin playing his request based on a ten dollar tip, if he cuts the amount by nine dollars, you then owe him just 1/10th of the tune. It's simple business protocol, reducing services in parallel with reduced payment.

That's a good example of how useful it can be to break music down into its monetary equivalent. You learn some surprising things, like this: Since there are three times as many notes in "Ornithology" as in "How High the Moon," each note is worth just a third as much. Those crazy, destitute beboppers-that explains how they turned jazz from lucrative popular music into a fringe art form!

Anyway, playing 1/10th of the piece should put you part way into measure three. At that point you should stop, inconclusively, and offer to play more, proportional to further investment. If your customer refuses, it's perfectly reasonable for you to segue into a long set of dissonant free improvisation. You'll be rid of him in no time, plus you'll get the peace of mind that comes with knowing no one else will go anywhere near your tip jar!

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