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

The Lick, The Uniform, and All That Jazz

The Lick, The Uniform, and All That Jazz
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The Lick

Dear Mr. P.C.:

I'm afraid that someday as I'm getting ready to solo on a song, I may forget my lick. If that happens, what am I supposed to do?

Out Of Lick


Dear OOL:

At that point it's a little late to try to come up with a new lick, isn't it? So, unfortunately, you'll to have to try to improvise. It won't be fun or easy, but maybe in the course of it you'll stumble onto something that could become your next lick.

Then you'll be just fine—unless you forget that lick too. I just hope for your sake that won't happen, because licks are finite; with each new lick you find and forget, there's one less lick available to replace it.

The Uniform

Dear Mr. P.C.:

Why did musicians in big bands all wear the same clothes? I once played in a group where the leader wanted us to all look alike yet he could wear anything he wanted. I told him he dressed funny. He told me I didn't look like a musician. I got upset and quit the band.

How is a musician supposed to look? Is there a book I could read? —Sartorially Puzzled.


Dear SP:

The reason he wants you and your bandmates to dress alike is so audience members don't accidentally waste their time talking to you. Without the uniform, you might pass for someone they find interesting—someone with money, societal standing, and the ability to go five minutes without talking about mouthpieces. By dressing alike, you spare patrons the embarrassment of mistaken identity; after all, being seen in a jazz club is embarrassing enough.

All That Jazz

Dear Mr. P.C.:

When we're booked to play an outdoor gig and the stage is set up in the sun on a hot day, how hot does it need to be for us to refuse to play? And in the winter, how cold? Should we get paid anyway?

—Al, Brooklyn


Dear Al:

I want to start off by refusing to make any jokes about "hot jazz" and "cool jazz." Not that there's necessarily anything wrong with people who use those "humorous" cliches, but there probably is. Like what? Lack of imagination, laziness, conformity, insecurity, neediness, superficiality, and fear—above all, fear.

Fear of what? Creativity, wit, and failure; the failure risked by stepping out on a limb, which terrifies them. Far less threatening to use buzzwords that were made popular by millions of others just like them, none of whom like jazz one bit.

What does this have to do with your question? These same hollow, humorless people are the ones who book those outdoor gigs, and they have a lot of weapons at their disposal: "jazzy," "jazzily," "all that jazz," "jazz it up," "close enough for jazz..." these are not people you want to anger! The best thing you can do is just play the gigs, dress for the weather, and try not to provoke them.

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

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