Mr. P.C.'s Best of 2011
Jazz is a finite resource, right? So when people write long compositions or take long solos, aren't they stripping the planet? What will be left for our children and grandchildren?
Saxophonists Against Future Exploitation
Of course there are the jazz depletion deniers who say we can always find more. They want us to mine the music of remote aboriginal tribes, for example, then distill it and extract essential elements of jazz. Pentatonic scales, maybe, or out of tune vocals. But that's a short-sighted approach that simply postpones jazz music's extinction.
Rather than plundering the planet, we could do much better by modifying our behavior. We really don't need saxophonists who spit out hundreds of notes per minute; instead we can develop more note-efficient players able to coast on a whole note or even rest for measures at a time. And in the place of modern composers writing wasteful extended works for big bandliterally thousands of notes per piece!we can go back to the sensible and economical model of lead sheets for trio.
But conservation alone won't be enough; we must turn to alternative, renewable sources of jazz. These, of course, are colleges and conservatories, which efficiently convert tuition dollars into vast numbers of jazz performers and composers able to crank out low-grade jazz in tremendous quantity. There's no end to the number of programs our planet can accommodate, and no limit to the number of notes their graduates will produce.
Problem solved! Anyone who tells you otherwise is in the pocket of the jazz industry ("Big Jazz"), a greedy monolith that squandered the abundant jazz resources in flusher times, and is now desperately clinging to its last vestiges of power.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
My fiancé does nothing but play Jazz all day and all night. He says he's playing "Monk," but it sounds crazy and you can't even dance to it!
I've finally gotten sick of this and told him that he has to choose between me and the music. After all, he'll never make any money playing that weird crap. We're going to need lots of it (and good credit too) for the down payment on the house with the picket fence, and lord knows that our future children are going to be spoiled and very expensive.
Should I leave him? Or should I stay and try to mold him into my adolescent fantasy dream man?
Dear Jazz Widow:
Whoa!!! Have you even asked your fiancé whether he might have a plan for the family's financial future? Jazz musicians can be surprisingly resourceful when it comes to money. For example, he may already have scoped out a lucrative job that perfectly complements the modest income he makes playing "weird crap." And while the work itself may be somewhat degrading, he's confident that over time you'll get used to it.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
Okay, here's one for you: Last week I played a gig in a bar with a quartet. Part of the deal was free dinner, so I said what the hell and ate a greasy burger and fries. Thusly was my piping lubed, and before long my bowels sent out an urgent cry of distress. I hustled into the bathroom, sat down and produced an enormous stool. We're talking more torpedo than Tootsie Roll; a real plugger.
So I wiped and flushed, and suddenly a torrent of water and soiled toilet paper came gushing back at me. I jumped back and managed not to get any on me except my shoes and the bottom of my pants. Meanwhile, the floor is soaked, the toilet is full to the brim, and the giant stool remains nestled in the bottom of the bowl. It's clearly not going anywhere, and no amount of flushing will change its mind. It's become a freaking porcelain-framed art installation.
Then I hear the drums start to play a samba beat, which is our bandleader's way of summoning us. What can I do? If I go to the bandstand I'm leaving a disgusting mess, and my wet footprints will mark me as the culprit who abandoned ship. If I stay and try to clean up, not only will I be late, but I'll get more on me, plus with the stool in blocking position inside the toilet there's really no path to victory. I could ask the bartender for help, but that's most embarrassing of all because she's a really hot chick who might kind of dig me.
What would you have done, Mr. P.C.?
Do you really think that just because the bartendress is a "hot chick," she's never suffered a "plugger" emergency of her own? You've so thoroughly objectified this poor hot woman that you can't even imagine her curvaceous body launching a titanic turdyour lascivious dreams would be shattered!
Anyway, it might comfort you to know that the stopped-up, gushing toilet crisis is a lot more common than you think. A businessman preparing to lead a Powerpoint presentation, an actress minutes before the call to places, and even a politician in his makeup chair before a televised debate are just a few of your kindred spirits out there, pluggers being the great equalizer.
Speaking of politicians, this particular issue brings out a strong partisan divide. Democrats, motivated by a sense of equality and commitment to community, roll up their sleeves and take the plunge, though they inevitably wind up covered in shit (as Democrats so often are). Republicans, motivated by a love of liberty and commitment to the free market system, quickly flee the restroom to get back to work, leaving the shit behind for others to clean up (as Republicans so often do).
Now I'm not one to wear my politics on my sleeve, but if the Green Party were in power, this whole mess would have ended before it began. How? Two words: clivus multrum, the loveable, futuristic composting toilet. Nothing says "Let's end two-party politics as we know it" better than old Clivus. And nobody could possibly describe Clive's festering allure more poetically than Sharon Olds, whose poignant ode is almost too beautiful to bear.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
I like to have lots of sex after the gig and talk with my wife afterwards... if there's a telephone nearby. Is it wrong to call collect?
Yes, it's very wrong. Collect calls are a terrible waste of money. And as you know, this isn't going to be a short call.
Because while the gig is still fresh on your mind, you need to tell your wife all about it and get the reassurances you've come to depend on. Catalog the injustices for herthe singer who cut off your solo, the drummer who played so loud you couldn't hear yourself, and the pianist whose dissonant voicings made your lines sound all wrong. Share your insecuritiesthe fact that you didn't get to solo on every tune, the changes you couldn't remember on "Lush Life," and the strange way the bassist said goodbye to you.
Your wife has always been there for you, John, and hopefully always will be. But calling collect puts unnatural pressure on both of you to keep the conversation short. You may be left with some nagging doubts about your performance, and she may feel that she didn't adequately console you; not exactly the formula for a happy marriage.
I'm surprised you don't know better, unless maybe all that sex has clouded your thinking.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
I've recently become aware of an alarming situation. A good friend of mine, who is otherwise a fine musician, appears to have become trapped inside his saxophone. His solos have become a series of fast technical flourishes followed by a high screeching sound, tune after tune, night after night. Unfortunately, he seems to be surrounded by a fairly large crowd of enablers, which only aggravates the problem.
I've tried to talk him out, but I think he's been in there too long and is now wedged in pretty good. I feel terrible for not having noticed this sooner and done something about it. Is there anything that can be done at this point?
R.U. Happ'nin, Detroit
What a great friend you are! So many saxophonists get stuck inside their horns, and all too few have caring people like you eager to rescue them.
Let's start with the essentials: First, make sure the pads aren't closed. If your friend got stuck honking a low Bb, his air supply is drastically limited, and you need to immediately change the fingering. Also, be sure to lower him food and water at mealtimes. While this compounds the urination/defecation issue, it's nonetheless critical to his survival.
The next step is to lure him out of the horn, and although it takes some planning, it couldn't be simpler. All you need to do is organize a party with your city's best sax players, and have them bring along their favorite mouthpieces. The mouthpieces alone might not be enough to retrieve your friend, but the chance to talk about them with other saxophonists will be irresistible!
Now comes the intervention. Fortunately, a city the size of Detroit should have a twelve-step program tailored to recovering musicians, and your job is to get him to a meeting as quickly as possible. Drive your car up to the front door of the party, and yell from your window, "1953 Selmer Super Balanced!" He'll come running, along with all the other saxophonists, but of course you'll have already told them the plan. Once they push him inside, just slam the door shut, roll up the windows, and whisk him off.
The twelve-step program itself is quite simple. Each day, the facilitator plays one note of the chromatic scale, and the entire session is devoted to the note's intrinsic beauty and spirituality. The recovering saxophonist learns that glossing over the note in a fast run, or shrieking it out as if mortally wounded, is disrespecting a deity. By the end of the twelfth day, the saxophonist will be fully reverent of all twelve chromatic tones, and thus of music itself.
Of course, like methadone to a heroin addict, the treatment that is the saxophonist's salvation may become its own addiction. You're likely to find a recovering saxophonist cloistered in a small practice room, misty-eyed, working on "long tones." This morbid exercise replicates the life cycle of a solitary note: The saxophonist gently births the note, lovingly raises it to maturity, sustains it as long as possible, thennow clinging to it protectively, breath running shortbrings it to a soft landing, only to sadly acknowledge its mortality. Should your friend go this route after treatment, there is nothing more you can do; rest easy knowing you've at least brought him to a better place.
P.S. Saxophonists in smaller cities who lack direct access to a suitable 12-step program should be directed to Overplayers Anonymous.
Dear Mr. P.C.:
On my steady gig, I'll be trying really hard to play well. You know, being in the moment, trying to come up with ideas I've never played before, treating jazz with total respect. Right in the middle of all that I'll hear the drums start to sound like something is wrong. When I look over, the drummer is making kissy faces at some cute woman in the audience and showing off for her with all these fancy but totally inappropriate fills. It totally destroys my concentration. What should I do?
Drummer Ruins My Sanity
I understand why you're so upset. Instead of singling out and objectifying a "cute" woman, he could perform a real service by flattering a less attractive woman, particularly a geriatric or grossly misshapen one. Or he could deliver an even bigger blow to chauvinism by "making kissy faces" at the men in the audience, especially the more macho guysthe ones pounding beers and looking hatefully toward the bandstand.
But think about it, DRMS: At least he's accompanying you, taking part in your journey. During his solos, you don't even play! Instead, you disengage from the music, silently counting "one, two, three, four, one, two, three, four..." while worrying about what you'll eat during the next break. I can only imagine what you'd be doing if you had his arsenal of gadgets at your disposal: Swiveling around on the drum throne (Look how tall I am! Now look how short I am!), twirling the sticks (Take coverI'm a nunchuck Master!), and wearing the ride cymbal on your head (Quick, someone find me a rice paddyit's a coolie hat!).
Your drummer may have his faults, DRMS, but you have to give him credit for engaging the audience. And I've got some great news: You can take his approach to a whole new level, combining audience outreach with social activism! Best of all, you can do it during his solos, when you're normally nothing but dead weight on the bandstand! Here's how: When he starts to solo, turn to the people in the audience and leer at them suggestively. Butthis is the keyleer only at those who are least accustomed to it, and would therefore most welcome it: The disadvantaged, the disenfranchised, and the disfigured.
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