October 2010

October 2010
Mr. P.C. BY

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

What is the proper thing for a jazz vocalist to do if a tooth pops out of her mouth at a gig? - Katy B., Oklahoma

Dear Katy:

You'd be surprised how often this comes up, really. And believe me, there are plenty of advice columnists, driven by ratings, who might focus on the blood gushing from your mouth, or the suffocating stampede of fans and poachers storming the stage to get their hands on some loose ivory.

But sensationalism has never been my style; I leave that to my bloodthirsty peers. Rather than exploiting gory symptom, my goal is to uncover root cause.

What I'm getting at is this:

Have you become too intimate with the mike—rubbing it lustily in your mouth to amplify barely audible throaty purrs?

Or—worse yet—are you playing the wild rock star, swinging the mike, rodeo-style, in an elliptical loop that every now and then shifts its orbit dangerously mouthward?

Either way, you're courting disaster. A tooth here, a tooth there, and before you know it, you're all bark, no bite. Picture yourself in concert ruining a tender ballad, spittle dripping down your chin as you hopelessly attempt the "th" sound ("'uh very 'ought of you, dribble, splat!"). On break, you retire to a Green Room whose hospitality platter holds nothing but jello and pudding; the full extent of your gummable diet. And, of course, there are the promo shots, where you look like a cross between Granny Clampett and late-career Chet Baker, your elegant evening gown a statement of sheer irony...

Not a pretty future, Katy, and there's only one way to prevent it: By wearing a mouthguard at your all gigs from now on. Of course you can buy a customized inside-the-mouth version from an orthodontist, but that will seriously compromise your diction. Instead, I highly recommend either a football helmet or an amateur boxing headpiece. Not only are they available in a wide range of colors—perfect for accessorizing your concert attire—but they can also protect you from fistfights, sharp thrown objects, and most other causes of gig-related head trauma.

From: "Jesse Remike"

Date: September 23, 2010 12:51:40 PM PDT

To: [email protected]

Subject: quick question

wassup? I noticed you were interested in mixtapes, do you know what I can do to spread my new mixtape? would you be interested in helping me promote it? Jesse Remike

Dear Jesse:

Man, I love the urban energy in your note! Not to mention the sheer ingenuity—I mean, how many mixtapers would think of turning to a jazz advice columnist, of all people, to jumpstart their career? Beautiful outside-the-box thinking.

I want to ask as delicately as possible: Would it be culturally insensitive of me to help you with your grammar? Personally, I have no problem with the lack of capitalization; in fact I dig the informality of it, which subliminally creates a knowing bond between the two of us. Me from my staid world of "How are you?" and you from your vibrant world of "wassup?."

But unfortunately, the people you really need on your side—producers, label executives and agents—aren't going to be so open-minded and nonjudgmental. You've got to play the game, Jesse, and if dressing up your language in a coat and tie will advance the cause of mixtaping, it's surely a compromise worth making.

With that in mind, I advise you not only to diligently capitalize, but also to reconsider some of your punctuation and word choices. And you'll definitely want to italicize "mixtapes" in case "The Man," doesn't know what they are; the last thing you want to do is embarrass him for his lack of street smarts!

If you follow my advice, you'll be left with this winning solicitation:

"Greetings! It has come to my attention that you have an interest in mixtapes. Can you offer me suggestions as to how I might best promote my mixtape?..."

You'll notice I tweaked just the first part of your message; your last sentence, aside from the missing capital letter at the beginning, is perfect! And that just goes to show, Jesse, that our two worlds have far more commonalities than differences. I do hope that you'll consider me an advocate, and even a friend, as you continue to promote the worthy cause of mixtaping. Whatever that is.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Facebook, Twitter, email, fax, beeper, MySpace, ReverbNation, Bandcamp, texting.... the modern world is full of digital promotional gizmos. The question is, what is the appropriate amount of beeps, twits, pokes, invites, e-blasts, etc., that the modern jazz musician is allowed to use before people think, "Shut the f**k up about your gigs. We got it!" If anybody is prepared to tackle this question, Mr. P.C., it has to be you. Jose

Dear Jose:

It depends how good you are, of course. If you're really good, it's your responsibility to spread the word far and wide, so your music can uplift and heal as many listeners as possible. If you're really not very good, it would be best to spare them.

How good are you, Jose? Of course you can't judge yourself—like all jazz artists, you feel like a genius on your best days, an imposter on your worst. And you certainly won't get an unbiased opinion from family, friends, or bandmates. So here's the ticket: Since the people you're trying to serve are the listeners, why not ask them directly?

Here's what you do: At your next gig, after your first few tunes, ask the audience members to rate you on a scale of one to ten. They can shout out their numbers, or you can turn it into a party game by handing out Olympics-style judging cards. Either way, there will be lots of laughs and love, which will open the way for honest, heartfelt sharing.

With inhibitions lowered all around, you can to take it to the next stage: Soliciting individual critiques, going around the room in a circle. Then, adjusting your music to the suggestions, you can play a few more tunes—better, of course—then get the next round of feedback. And so on, through the night, until there simply is no question that you are, in fact, really good.

Do you see the beauty of this? Jazz artists are so often criticized for not caring about their listeners. Now, not only will you be tailoring your music to suit them, but you'll also be making them an integral part of the creative process. All while perfecting your art!

In the long run, grandiose as it may sound, this might just be the salvation of jazz, Jose. At the very least, in short order, you'll be able to beep, twit, poke, invite and e-blast with confidence.

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

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