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October 2009

Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

Here's the scene: A friend of mine has a trio gig at a local club. I drop by with my horn after my own gig, and he invites me to sit in. I finish my tune (which, I think, goes pretty well), and then I'm just standing there wondering: Is he going to ask me to play another one or not? I have no idea, and my question to you is how I'm supposed to handle it. class="f-right"> —Dave, Sacramento

Dear Dave:

My initial reaction was this: You call him a friend, but if the two of you really had a healthy, mature relationship, you'd have taken the time to work out a special sign in advance; some subtle gesture he could make during the final chord, even while you are having your Special Guest cadenza moment. You know: a discreet behind-the- back thumbs-up or thumbs-down; a quiet musical quote ("I Love Being Here With You" or "Get Out of Town") delicately buried beneath your blistering scales and arpeggios... There are so many possibilities, and the two of you could have spent some deeply fulfilling, friendship-enriching time together dreaming up creative solutions. I picture you happily swapping ideas over a nice bottle of wine in an intimate restaurant, the seriousness of your mission lightened by the joy of shared discovery. There could have been a lot of laughs there, a lot of love.

But I'm not really feeling the love, and I suppose you would want me to blame your so-called friend. Maybe he deliberately prolonged that terrifying pause, watching you sweat and squirm, playing you like a hooked fish, his sense of power fed by your utter helplessness. That would be a pretty sad commentary on your friendship, wouldn't it?

Not as sad as this, though, which I'm afraid is where all roads lead: What if he's the innocent one—paralyzed by the fear of offending you—and you're the insensitive perpetrator? Who really instigated all this drama, after all—your "friend," who was simply playing a gig, or you, who by carrying a horn into that gig created an impossible situation for him? One tune or two, you ask—with some presumed sense of entitlement - but was zero ever really on the table? Consider this: Even if he KNEW that bringing you on stage might create a scenario that would strain your friendship, wasn't he forced to do it anyway to avoid the greater insult of NOT calling you on stage?

Maybe his trio was having a special night, their music a rare, in-the-moment conversation. Then in comes Dave, horn in hand, quick to impose, but all too conflicted within. The tormented, self-doubting artist, so desperate for validation that only the soothing words of an advice columnist might bring him inner peace.

Sorry, but I refuse to be an enabler.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I've heard people say that if you suffer in life, your music will have more depth. I recently sprained my ankle and am wondering if that counts. class="f-right"> —Duane, Detroit

Dear Duane:

It depends on whether the pain can be fully controlled by over-the-counter medication.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

A guy (I'll call him Bud) calls me up for a gig, but doesn't say anything about money. Should I ask him what it pays before I say yes? class="f-right"> —Tony, Richmond

Dear Tony:

I've found that with this type of question, role reversal can sometimes be helpful. So let's say you're Bud, and I'm you. And let's say Bud is the advice columnist, so the circle is unbroken. Now you call me for a gig, don't say anything about money, and the question is—does the advice columnist think you should ask him what it pays. Well, since the advice columnist is Bud, he says you shouldn't ask because he might take offense and never call you for a gig again. He says the chance to play with a good musician like him should be more important to you than the amount of money involved. He makes note of the way you phrased your question ("Should I ask him what it pays before I say yes?"), which makes it pretty clear that you're going to take the gig no matter what. He also says not to call him Bud, because his name is Richard.

But you wrote to find out my opinion. Unfortunately, since I'm now you, I have the exact same question. That is, unless reading this column took care of it for you. And me.

I hope that helps.

Dear Mr. P.C.: How long should I have to wait after a gig to get paid? class="f-right"> —Tired and Ready to Go Home

Dear Tired: It depends how much more important than you the leader is.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I think you're an asshole. Where do you get off on telling other musicians what to do? Eat Shit and Die

Dear Eat:

"He's a motherfucker!" "He's BAD!" "He's an asshole!" Thanks, Eat! I love the way derogatory adjectives are used backwards in jazz as the highest form of praise. "Asshole" is new to me, but maybe the derivation comes from "playing my ass off" so many times that my "asshole" is all that remains? I'm not a doctor, but it seems to work anatomically. Where did you hear me, I wonder. If it was at Tula's last week I should mention that on that tune in the third set where it sounded like I got lost, it was really the bassist. I'm sure you couldn't even tell anything was wrong, probably. You couldn't, could you?

As for where I "get off": I see a need in the jazz community, and I step in to help. It's my contribution to the betterment of the field. I guess my goal is to someday be as much of an asshole in the real world as on the bandstand.

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


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