Sucking While Blowing, Door Gig Blues

Sucking While Blowing, Door Gig Blues
Mr. P.C. By

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Sucking While Blowing

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Semantic inquiry: When someone has a ton of chops and still utterly sucks to play with, would his or her chops/suck ratio be convergent or divergent?

—Getting Older And Testier, Gaming Out Tactics To Enervate Neophytes


To answer your question, we need to ask another: If this chop-laden person gets even more chops, heading toward infinite chops, will the sucking keep pace, moving toward infinite suckiness? Or is there some sort of suck threshold, beyond which more chops will have no effect, or perhaps even an inverse effect?

The physics of sound tells us that when these chops-heavy players reach a speed of 20 notes per second, the notes' pitches will be replaced by a new lower pitch, a composite waveform that initially offers great relief from the suckiness that preceded it. Then, as the notes are played even faster, this new composite pitch will rise from the bottom of our hearing range until it becomes a shrill and piercing irritant, bringing the suckiness back up. It's a complex relationship.

But what if instead of looking at the effect of chops on suckiness, we turn it around and look at the effect of suckiness on chops? If a chops-laden musician's suckiness moves toward infinity, will their chops keep pace? At this point it becomes a question of causality: If the player's speed chops are the sole cause of the suckiness, it can be assumed that those chops will grow in tandem. But if there are other factors contributing to the suckiness—bad intonation, uneven time, bad taste—an increase in suckiness won't be directly paralleled by an increase in chops.

What are the practical applications of this? If you have a lot of chops and you suck, getting more chops will actually decrease your sucking, up to a point. If you suck a lot but don't have a lot of chops, sucking more won't necessarily elevate your chops level, so you may as well just stick with the suckiness that comes naturally to you.

Dear Mr. P.C.:

How completely not suckish do you have to be to be able to tell other musicians they suck?

—Sick Of Bad Solos

Dear SOBS:

Question: Do they suck when they're reading, or do they suck when they're blowing? Certainly at a jam session—which is all about blowing—you'll find no shortage of players who suck as they blow. And wind players, even outside of jam sessions, are always blowing, so if they ever suck, they are necessarily doing both at once.

That raises another question: Do wind players have a counterpart who is always sucking? Some people believe that accordions always suck, and it's verifiably true that they suck at least half the time. That means that while accordionists are less likely than wind players to suck and blow simultaneously, they're more likely than players of other instruments.

As for those other instruments: Since playing itself doesn't involve sucking or blowing, they're less likely to do both at once. That makes them far less interesting than their sucking-blowing counterparts, which kind of sucks. And kind of blows. Just not at the same time.

Door Gig Blues

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Sometimes I'll be a sideman on a door gig that doesn't pay very well. When our leader (I'll call him Jeff) gets paid, he gives all the money to us and doesn't keep any for himself, so we make closer to a decent wage. But I always feel a little bad about it, I mean after all he had the hardest job but made nothing at all for it.

—Friend of "Jeff"

Dear Friend:

If his gigs are making you feel bad, you should quit taking them. There are plenty of other players out there who would take money from "Jeff" without feeling bad at all. Jazz is supposed to be joyful; there's no place in it for your negativity.

Consider, by contrast, the blues. They're all about pain and suffering, so blues gigs pay even less than jazz gigs. While a few blues bandleaders might keep nothing for themselves like "Jeff" does, most of them will pocket everything and totally rip you off. Then you'll really feel bad!

You know how they say that every jazz musician needs to be able to play the blues? That's because once you've played a few blues gigs, your approach to jazz is altered forever. In your case, that would mean feeling just fine about taking every last penny from "Jeff."

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

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