Support All About Jazz

All About Jazz needs your help and we have a deal. Pay $20 and we'll hide those six pesky Google ads that appear on every page, plus this box and the slideout box on the right for a full year! You'll also fund website expansion.

I want to help

September 2011

Mr. P.C. By

Sign in to view read count
Dear Mr. P.C.:

Jazz is a finite resource, right? So when people write long compositions or take long solos, aren't they stripping the planet? What will be left for our children and grandchildren? Saxophonists Against Future Exploitation

Dear SAFE:

Of course there are the jazz depletion deniers who say we can always find more. They want us to mine the music of remote aboriginal tribes, for example, then distill it and extract essential elements of jazz. Pentatonic scales, maybe, or out of tune vocals. But that's a shortsighted approach that simply postpones jazz music's extinction.

Rather than stripping the planet, we could do much better by modifying our behavior. We really don't need saxophonists who spit out hundreds of notes per minute; instead we can develop more note-efficient players able to coast on a whole note or even rest for measures at a time. And in the place of modern composers writing wasteful extended works for big band—literally thousands of notes per piece!—we can go back to the sensible and economical model of lead sheets for trio.

But conservation alone won't be enough; we need to turn to alternative, renewable sources of jazz. These, of course, are colleges and conservatories, which efficiently convert tuition dollars into vast numbers of jazz performers and composers able to crank out low-grade jazz in tremendous quantity. There's no end to the number of programs our planet can accommodate, and no limit to the number of notes their graduates will produce.

Problem solved! Anyone who tells you otherwise is in the pocket of the jazz industry ("Big Jazz"), a greedy monolith that squandered the abundant resources in flusher times, and is now desperately clinging to its last vestiges of power.

Dear Mr. PC:

Sometimes I have to count out loud while trading fours. Is this uncool? If so, would it be less uncool to get lost? Chuck Boom

Dear Chuck:

What a shame to be playing with musicians who can't follow your fours unless you count out loud. Of course it's not uncool to do so—you're helping them! And they'll need your help even more when your fours wind up a beat or two short or long. When that's the case, you should count even louder. And if appearing uncool is such a concern, you can make it clear to the audience—through facial expressions and body language—that without your verbal prodding, the band would be hopelessly lost.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I can tell how my husband has played by the way he walks into the house after a gig. Problem is, he doesn't even ask me about my day. You've got it—a major communication disconnect.

So I'm thinking of taking up an instrument in hopes that I can at least have a musical dialogue with him like he has with the guys in the band. I don't have time to practice but want to be performing as soon as possible. He's a pianist; what instrument do you suggest for me? A Call With No Response

Dear Call:

Do you really think this self-centered, uncommunicative man is any more interactive on the bandstand than at home? The sad truth is that jazz isn't always the profound conversation we'd like it to be. Plenty of musicians ignore the people they're playing with, just as your husband ignores you. I'll bet he's that kind of player, spewing out heavily practiced, fancy patterns, lick by lick. The band is no more to him than a deluxe play-along CD—that is, until he feels like the drummer is dragging, or the bassist is playing the wrong changes. Then his impassive mask briefly dissolves into a vicious glare, and that's as close as he ever gets to playing with emotion or dialoguing with his band mates.

Of course, he's never told you any of this. There's only one person he confides in: The bartender. Musicians are always intimate with bartenders, who are the most important players of all. The fate of the evening often lies in the strength of their pours, so they are treated with deference and kindness.

Taking up an instrument wouldn't get you any closer to your husband; it would just grant you access to another disappointing side of his self-obsessed persona. Studying mixology, on the other hand, would quickly earn you the communication you're so hungry for. Pour him a few stiff drinks, if you really want to go through with this, and here's your reward:

Shoulders slumped, eyes half-closed, a distant look on his face, he complains about a certain woman who seems to always be around him. Day after day, she insists on talking about her job, and expects him somehow to be intrigued. Pour him a couple more, and he confesses that he would ask her about it—just to shut her up—if he only knew what her job is. Then, his mouth trembling slightly, he adds "and she keeps telling me things about our children." He crumples forward, covers his face with his hands, and whimpers "I have children?"

HA!!! Just kidding! Hey, advice columnists can have fun, too, right? At least I think those are the rules; if only there were someone I could write to and ask.... So I now get serious: You want me to recommend an instrument you can pick up, skip practicing, and take straight to the bandstand. The answer, of course, is the original instrument: the human voice. It happens all the time—singers get on stage with no training or practicing whatsoever. And the good news is that self-absorbed pianists like your husband just love them! Plus, it couldn't be more practical: He can write all your arrangements for free, and he'll always be available to rehearse. You'll salvage your marriage in no time!

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


More Articles

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

All About Vince Guaraldi!

An exclusive opportunity for All About Jazz readers to participate in the celebration of a jazz legend.