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Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette and Bandstand Decorum

October 2015

October 2015
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Dear Mr. P.C.:

I used to get all the calls in town when someone needed a bassist. Now I don't get any, and the weird thing is that I've only been getting better. I still practice all the time and can tell I'm improving. So why would I suddenly disappear? I'm not in the clubs anymore, and apparently I'm not in anyone's book either.

—Invisible Man


Dear Invisible:

When the phone isn't ringing, how can you be so sure that it's other musicians not calling you? It could be anyone, right? Telemarketers, collection agencies, local law enforcement...any of them might not be calling you, and that's a very good thing!

I don't know why you have to be so negative, but that might explain why nobody wants you in their band.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I have heard the song "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing," and have several questions:

Does the word "ain't" have a place in such a musical masterpiece? 

Why would a composer write such double negatives?

What does it mean if it
Does Have That Swing?

—Stuck Wondering If Negatives Groove


Dear SWING:

Although Ellington has received plenty of recognition as a composer and pianist, he's deeply underrated as an existential philosopher. When he says "It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing," he's telling us that a musician who isn't swinging—or perhaps even a swinging musician when he's off the bandstand—is plunged into meaninglessness.

"What Am I Here For?" Duke asked, but a part of him knew that there was music, and nothing more. That explains how terribly prolific he was, shadowed by the fear that the moment he put down his pen or took his hands off the keys, a life well-lived would come to nothing.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm a young jazz cat trying to enter the scene, but I really don't like old musicians. Unfortunately, they seem to have a lock on the decent-paying gigs. How can I play with people my age and still make money?

—Sam


Dear Sam:

Here's what you don't get: Old musicians get paid more because they need the money more. Why? Because they've been playing jazz longer!

Ask yourself, Sam: Is it worth a lifetime of scuffling just to get some decent-paying pity gigs on death's doorstep? If you can't answer yes, I urge you to get out of the business while you still have all your plasma.

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

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