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September 2012

September 2012
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

Will there ever be a unanimous decision within the jazz world on who is and who is not "burning"?

Are there different levels of "burned"? Gregg BC

Dear Greg:

"Burning," "smoking," "on fire...." It's all so different from the Cool Jazz of the Fifties! What has caused the radical shift? Jazz climate change, of course. As with global warming, the only real question is whether "Hot Jazz" is part of a natural cycle, or a human-generated crisis promising dire long-term consequences.

Proponents of the "natural cycle" model hold jazz artists blameless. Many believe that the tide has already turned, and as evidence they point to the current wave of Tepid Jazz.

On the other hand, those attuned to scientific inquiry are less forgiving of jazz musicians. According to them, recent actions by artists have made the music more combustible, fueling it with incendiary elements including faster tempos, richer harmonies, and more complex rhythms. "Burning Jazz" is actually an incidental byproduct of a supercharged and inefficient musical process, like a powerful racecar engine that burns to the touch and gets just two miles per gallon.

But both camps overlook what should be the most obvious explanation: The musicians' own fuel intake. It turns out a lot of players can't burn until they've had a few drinks, which means they're literally powered by alcohol. Unfortunately for jazz, alcohol has proven to be a disastrous energy resource. At the individual level, its long-term usage is unsustainable. And at the collective level, fueling multiple players on the bandstand at once, it creates explosive instability that can blow a gig to smithereens.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

A pianist I play with from time to time has me on his email list. He emails way too often, even about gigs I'd never want to go to, like sing-alongs in retirement homes. I want him to take me off his list, but I'm afraid if I tell him he won't hire me anymore. What can I do? Stupid Pianist Annoys Me

Dear SPAM:

Obviously you've never played in retirement homes, or you'd know that they're loaded with talent! And I don't mean "promising" talent, like the precocious high school kids we hear about so much nowadays. I'm talking about fully seasoned talent that has reached maturity and then just kept on going. Like an overripe melon— so full of history!—wonderfully sweet and only slightly brown, soft and decaying. So it is with these fearless senior vocalists, always ready to celebrate in song even as death bears down on them. In their heartfelt, shaky singing lies the glorious history and imminent decline of mankind.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I just went on YouTube and found out there's a really crappy video of me playing with some lame musicians. I got pretty upset. Is there really nothing I can do about it? Fred T., Boston

Dear Fred:

Of course there's something you can do about being upset—just stop dwelling on the negative, and pay a visit to your happy place!

Mine is the memory of a very special moment early in my career. I was playing a solo gig as a volunteer at the local psychiatric institution when a middle-aged woman ran into the room, her mouth sealed by duct tape. She sat close to me on the piano bench, fragrant with medication, and began furiously attempting to sing. Duct tape isn't shed easily, but she was so moved by my playing that one side of her mouth eventually broke free. It turned out that she was improvising her own lyrics, a combination of the Gettysburg Address and the Book of Job. I went right there with her, bursting into passionate free improvisation that became her underscore.

Before I knew it, she tried to kiss me, and her mouth got stuck to the side of my face. It was the first time I'd ever seduced a woman with my playing, and I realized I was blessed with a powerful gift; one that I was obliged to share with man/womankind. I didn't even mind our eventual painful separation, though it did rip a layer of skin from my cheek.

How strange and enchanting that the two of us, both destined for groundbreaking careers, should meet in this chance encounter! I, of course, parlayed my interests in psychology and music to become the doctor so many of you depend on. She headed east with her duct tape, took the stage name of Thorazine, and was the toast of New York's performance art community before a rehearsal mishap led to her untimely death by suffocation.

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


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