Mr. P.C.'s Guide to Jazz Etiquette...
Inspired by the cutting edge advice of Abigail Van Buren, the storied bass playing of Paul Chambers, and the need for a Politically Correct doctrine for navigating the minefields of jazz etiquette, I humbly offer my services.
Dear Mr. P.C.: What do you think about the whole transcribing thing? Studying the best players, transcribing their solos, and learning to play like them. I thought jazz was supposed to be an individual expression. -- Trying to Be Myself Dear Trying: Look, when you transcribe a solo and try to play Coltrane or Bird's exact lines, you never do it as well as they did, right? Well guess what: those imperfections are the very individual expression" you're looking for--they're your sound! Obviously, this offers enormous opportunity for musical growth. ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: What's up with singers who count off tunes so quietly that not all the guys in the band can even hear it? Then half the band starts up and the other guys kind of flail their way in. It amazes me because it would be so easy to fix, but they act like the numbers are some dirty little secret or something. -- Singers Have Hard Heads Dear SHHH: Okay, let's say you're a vocalist--do you know what the hardest part of your job is? The fact that everyone ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: Why is it that whenever I go to a jam session, the best players are the meanest? Does that mean that I have to become a jerk if I want to get good? --Still A Nice Guy Dear SANG: Sounds like you're buying into some very common but misguided notions of best." Just what is it that you admire about these jerks"? That they play comfortably and melodically at any tempo? Negotiate chord changes effortlessly? Phrase naturally at all dynamic levels? What you don't realize is ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: I was playing at a club in town, a pretty fancy place, the gig all the guys in town want. On the break a pretty woman in the audience came up to me and complimented my playing. So far so good! But then she asked if I play professionally--right in the middle of a gig! What should I have said? John G., Denver Dear John: You should be flattered! Obviously she was attracted to you and just wanted to make sure you have some other, more viable source of ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: When is it okay to sub out a gig if I get called for a better one? -- Holding Out, Eagerly Dear HOE: Here's the problem: If you take the better gig, who's to say that you won't get called for one even better than that? And so you begin a destructive cycle that knows no end. It becomes an addiction--there's always a better gig around the corner, and the gig you have is never good enough. You lose your ability to live in the present, and soon your ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: What do musicians mean when they say they're using space" in their solos? --John H. Dear John: Obviously if they're using" space, they're doing something to it. And in music, pretty much the only thing you can do to space is fill it with a bunch of notes. Of course, space is infinite, and even Coltrane's sheets of sound" approach couldn't fill it completely. Defeated, Trane devoted his later years to an interstellar approach that celebrated space as his worthy adversary. Coltrane's early space-filling efforts have been heavily imitated ...Read More
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 ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:Why do guys want to play tunes really fast? Like, I'll call It Could Happen to You," but instead of having a nice swinging groove they want to play it at 280 beats per minute or something. Then they say it's an east coast" thing, which I guess is supposed to mean I can't understand because I always lived on the west coast. Why do people play faster on the east coast? Nice and EasyDear Nice: They just are faster--how do you think they got three hours ahead of us? Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:Why does it seem like the better the music is on a gig, the less it pays? - AidenDear Aiden:Well, obviously, better music is more fun," and therefore less work. The less work you're doing, the less you should get paid.What part of that don't you get"? All I can think of is that maybe better music somehow isn't more fun for you; you prefer music that's artless and laborious. But then, you see, since you actually like soul-crushing music, it isn't work for you, so you still don't ... Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:Is it really important to play fast on your solos? Michael T., St. LouisDear Michael:Actually, it's more important to look like you're playing fast. This is the video era, and the people who demand note athleticism are the same ones who'd rather watch music than listen to it.How can you look ultra-speedy? Break a sweat. Tap your foot spastically. If you're a horn player, turn bright red and gasp for air between phrases. Above all, end your lines clumsily, like a fast player desperately targeting the downbeat as his ... Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:I bought an acoustic bass guitar that you can also plug in and my son and I have been playing a lot of pop songs together taking turns on the bass and guitar. I know this is a stereotype that upsets bassists and I'm sure it's hard to play really well, but... it does seem pretty f'ing easy to play the root or maybe a little more and sound okay. It's also very fun. Andrew Dear Andrew:Well, you're half right. Playing simple roots on the downbeat can be easy, but it's not ...Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:I hate it when people add all those extra chromatic chord changes on I Can't Get Started," like in bar three starting on a B minor seventh. What a pointless pain in the ass! I Can't Keep GoingDear ICKG:You know those speed bumps they put on some roads? Sure they're annoying, but they keep traffic at a safe speed and prevent possible injury. Well, the chromatic changes on I Can't Get Started" serve the exact same purpose! The first two measures--with their easy changes at a slow tempo--enable unchained guitarists and ... Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.: Sometimes when I quote tunes, I get stuck on them, and forget what I was playing to start with. JeffDear Jeff:Getting stuck" on a quote means you believe, at some important unconscious level, that the song you're quoting" is better than the one you've been playing. If your music is to be a true expression of the song within you, it would be dishonest to return to the lesser tune. You need only follow your heart and stay the course.There's just one possible complication: What if you accidentally ... Read More
Dear Mr. P.C.:My teacher told me to practice with a metronome, but then I was getting ahead of it sometimes, and behind it sometimes. Where can I get a metronome that works? Beats MeDear Beats:Don't be so quick to blame your metronome--you may have accidentally hit its jazz" setting. That deliberately miscalibrates the time in order to simulate working with an actual jazz drummer.Unfortunately, the classical" setting is no better. To simulate the experience of working with a conductor, it strikes each downbeat well before you're expected to play.Even ... Read More