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September 2013

September 2013
Mr. P.C. By

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Dear Mr. P.C.:

Is playing ahead of your time the same thing as rushing? Gregg B.C.


Dear Gregg:

What a great brainteaser! Look, if you're someone who rushes, then rushing is "your time," right? You can try playing ahead of it, but you'll soon catch up with yourself. The only way you can play ahead of your time—and stay ahead of your time—is to be in a constant state of acceleration.

I turned this over to my staff physicist, and he told me that at some point in your acceleration, your notes would be coming so fast—say around twenty per second—that they would generate their own new tone, a complex waveform that would then sweep the frequency spectrum as you continued to speed up. From Barry White low to Geddy Lee high, and beyond.

The exact consequences at that point—the supersonic level—are known only to classified military personnel. You might even have viable offensive strike capabilities, vastly more powerful than the current offensiveness of your unsteady time.

My advice is to curb your dangerous ambitions to play "ahead of your time," Gregg. It would be much better—for you and mankind—if you would settle for your sorry lot as just another musician who rushes.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Did you ever say anything about people undercutting each other? There's a gig where I live, and it used to pay $100 a man for three hours, and then a guy who doesn't play very well offered the owner to do it for $60 a man. Seems like the bread will keep going down and never go up. How does that work? Are we doomed? Undercut Player


Dear UP:

If lesser musicians didn't offer to play for less money, everyone would be paid the same. While that achieves some admirable egalitarian ideals, it's not really fair to the best players, is it? This "guy who doesn't play very well" is showing amazing graciousness and humility by volunteering to play for less. You should be grateful to him, not only for knowing his place, but for helping establish a pay scale that recognizes and rewards excellence.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

If I'm eating dinner and someone passes me the salad, I say thank you. But when I finish my solo and pass it on to the next guy, they never say anything at all. You're the etiquette guy—aren't they being kind of rude? Tyler


Dear Tyler:

On the surface, yes. But unfortunately, your alternative wouldn't play out any better...

Let's say you've just finished a solo, and the audience erupts in applause. Being someone concerned with etiquette, you acknowledge the clapping with a humble smile; just enough to accept the praise while conveying all due humility. But at the same time, the next soloist says "thank you, as if they're applauding for him. Jazz audiences are easily confused—how cool is it they figured out you'd taken a solo!—but instead of reinforcing their good behavior, you totally throw them for a loop.

Then let's say that after your next solo, the audience doesn't applaud. It's not surprising—after all, they'd just been confused by another guy in the band saying "thank you" after your first solo. So now when the next soloist says "thank you," it's as if he's thanking them for not acknowledging your solo. Not only does this give the appearance of petty jealousies on the bandstand; it also reinforces not-clapping as the behavior of choice.

Can't you see where this is leading? If you have your way, the audience will never clap for solos again. They'll feel much safer ignoring solos altogether, chatting loudly through them to escape the culpability that comes with applause. Of course that's not so very different from the way audiences are now, but I'm sure it must be worse, somehow.

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

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