I have been wanting to write this for years.

I know that my notions of having a good time differ from other people’s.  I might be excessively focused on the live musicians improvising in front of me.  Jazz invites me to a wondrous trancelike state.  This is my problem, and I happily admit it.

But I wonder if anyone can explain this phenomenon.

In a club or a bar where musicians will be playing, people arrive, happy to be there, sit down, and begin animated chat before the band starts.  The music begins; the people continue talking.  When a song concludes, they applaud wildly, they shout WOOHOO!

The band starts to play; the people talk.

When the band concludes, the people leap to their feet, applaud rhythmically, demand encores.  Their displays of enthusiasm for the music are louder and more fervent than anyone else’s.

Obviously their multi-tasking operates at a more sophisticated neurological level than mine, because they can talk and listen at the same time.  But I wonder how much of the music they have actually heard?

May your happiness increase.

P.S.  If any readers want to explain to me how alcohol loosens inhibitions, I do understand.  And if anyone wants to call me a wet blanket, a party pooper, a spoilsport . . . . I admit to being those things and I have been called far worse.  But I don’t understand the phenomenon.

20 responses to “IT’S A MYSTERY TO ME

  1. Joseph P. Veltre

    You must be have been at the Ear Inn last night, huh?

  2. No, I was minding my business in California! The phenomenon is widespread, and I accuse no one location on the planet — especially not The Ear Inn, where I have had some of the most joyous musical times of my life.

  3. As a professional musician I’ve battled with this phenomenon for many years…..I don’t think there is one simple answer; I do, however, think, that music, generally, is so ‘available’ to everyone, from muzak in stores and lifts & aeroplanes as they taxi (!) to the ease in which people can download and buy all kinds of music from virtually anywhere on the planet and, it being so easy to access, whilst having a great many advantages (admitedly to myself in terms of my music being available easily) actually cheapens music. I have been performing on more than one occasion when people came up to me having enjoyed the music and had no idea that ‘real’ instruments were used to create the music they just heard. Sad, but true. People expect music at all times, whether they are talking over it or not, and this may be one reason why performers have such difficulty earning a reasonable salary for their work…….but that’s another matter! Keep up the good work!

  4. Joel Richard Albert

    For a silly moment, I thought I had written this piece. At the same time I confess to an occasional transgression, sitting in the audience while surrounded by chatter annoys a lot. Curiously, not so much when on the bandstand. Except when the vocalist is trying so hard to please.
    My best story so far is being bombarded with loud conversation emanating from the bar during a marvelous set last year. Turns out the famous cornet player had finished his solo, left the stage and headed to the bar for a drink while others were taking solo turns and gabbed his head off at elevated decibels ’til it was his perfectly timed turn to remount the stage and jump in for the stirring out chorus. Name/event omitted out of respect for playing skills. But, geez man, some respect for your colleagues & paying fans!
    (Michael: would like to reprint as per usual)

  5. Judy Sadowsky

    Thank you so much for writing this. I have wondered about this for years and sometimes been very annoyed by it. Myself, I go to these venues to listen to and enjoy the music. But sometimes I miss some of the music due to the noise. And I do feel it is not respectful to the band. It is widespread for sure as I live in another country and it is rampant here as well. Too bad, these people don’t realize what they are missing!

  6. Jim Adashek

    I have experienced this annoying phenomenon myself. I believe these people are not listening to the music. It is simply wallpaper for their conversations. The mystery is why they bother to clap at the end of a song. Perhaps it’s a reflex that makes them feel they are part of the scene. As much as it bothers me, their purchase of food and alcohol is what keeps the establishment in business; not people like you and me who nurse one drink for two hours while we soak up the music. Cheers! Jim

  7. Yes . . . although sometimes I buy food and (gasp!) even have two drinks. But don’t tell my very menacingly severe cardiologist, please.

  8. Melissa Hamilton

    I have, on occasions too numerous to count, turned to the offenders and said, “Why are you applauding? You didn’t hear one note!”

  9. For the last 16 years i have played backround music for an italian restaurant. piano and clarinet, while people are eating and talking. we play light jazz and swinging ballads. like you say , when the song ends you may get an isolated applause and you figure they dig it and you play to those people.But it has been my experience, although they are doing the talking and eating, they are really listening to the music. as people leave the restaurant they have too come by the bandstand where im playing, and they say how much they have enjoyed our music. I would say something like” I didn`t think anyone was listening” They would reply “Oh yes , we were listening” ….i get that a lot, so it doesn`t bother me that much that you can hear people talking. After all we are not there too give a concert, but too entertain and make there dinner that much more enjoyable………….

  10. sergio guerreiro

    this is really a worldwide spread.phenomenon, Quite impressive comments, specially from Pete Neighbour and Jim Adashek.
    One curiousity: Portuguese Fado (singers and guitar players ) require absolute silence. I saw more than once, they simply stop playing and shout to the stupids: “shut up or go away”.
    Did somebody see some similar reaction at a jazz scene?

  11. Well said Michael. People do the same thing to me when I try to share a recording with them. As soon as I press play or drop the arm on the turntable they think thats their cue to start talking. As so often happens I just get frustrated to the point that I turn it off in the middle of the song and kindly explain to the talkative sunvabitch that one cannot talk and listen to music intently simultaneously. Other times I let it play to the end anyway. When the song is over they they say they enjoyed it. Its one thing to talk when a recording is being played but to talk when its been shared is very disrespectful.

  12. Sandy Leaman

    I agree with you absolutely Michael …. I like to sit and listen to the music and have been known to be “rude” enough to actually cup my hands behind my ears to block out conversation around me and in order to hear the nuances of what is being played. I am very disparagingly called “jazz police” – well I really don’t care. I go along to listen to the music, not other peoples conversations.
    I really enjoy your blog. You must find this problem very frustrating because there are times when the audience “participation” is very loud on your live clips.
    Many years ago I was at a concert by Segovia and he stopped playing when somebody in the auditorium coughed during his performance.
    Keep up the good work.
    Sandy in Geelong, Australia.

  13. Ah, the perennial issue. Seems to me that it’s perfectly OK for people to converse in a restaurant, however good the band, ditto in a pub or club or any other location where people go for primarily social (as opposed to musical) reasons. Going back to the twenties, history tells us that people flocked to hear Oliver, Armstrong and the other greats in order to dance and romance, not to sit or stand in respectful silence. A concert hall, theatre or arts center is a different matter of course, ditto most jazz festivals, but musicians must surely know all this before they accept an engagement (that’s why I choose not to play in restaurants or at weddings). My own listening solution, when a young fan, was to arrive early and get a seat right in front of the band wherever possible; my solution as a musician has been to avoid venues where crowd noise/indifference is an issue, but then as a semi-pro I have been able to indulge myself in this respect, and i realise things are not so simple for the professional…..

    Best wishes from a very damp England!

  14. jOhn P. Cooper

    Rah rah to Jazz in clubs!

    Concerts have their place, of course, but I have long grown partial to sitting and drinking and be with people at table and sitting in chairs.

  15. I write a small clarification here. Although I am usually silent when the music is playing — thinking it both miraculous and sacred! — I don’t expect others to be mute for hours at a stretch. A well-placed YEAH! is always welcome, as is applause for a soloist. And I spend more time in jazz clubs than in concert halls. What I was noting was (to me, at least) a kind of hypocrisy: we haven’t been interested in the music enough to stop talking but we know how audiences in jazz clubs — cool people like ourselves — are supposed to behave, so we carry on wildly at the end of songs for a moment or two and then go back to talking. Maybe, as the genial and optimistic Joe Licari suggests, they have been listening all the time, but I suspect that many people find it difficult to give two simultaneous things their full attention. And, as Mike Durham points out, the audiences at the Lincoln Gardens were hardly silent. But I would guess (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever) that their conversation might have taken the music into account more than it seems to do now. Listen! You might hear something . . . .

  16. John Cooper

    Many of the club dates I went to were at The Derby in Hollywood where the band was a once a week attraction and dancing was also wide-spread. There were only a few tables near the band and dance floor and your comments could be heard by musicians and singers – for better or for worse. The bar was behind us and there was chatter, but I don’t ever remember it getting too, too noisy. Most of the time the band seemed to be getting a kick out of the energy and enthusiasm coming from the dancers and the music fans that would come there each week. Everyone realized that it was not “a concert” and that drinking, dancing and socializing were the order of the night.

  17. Thomas P. Hustad

    I have no answer, but just a simple observation. Some people come to listen and others come to be seen or to socialize. Both groups spend money that helps to keep the club afloat. Ruby Braff told me that he learned that when he played louder, the conversation volume escalated in response. So, he said his only solution was to play softer. He also accepted that there would often be conversation creating a constant hum, but only becoming terrible on occasion. Perhaps the following story from the early ’80s would interest a few of your readers? I recently had occasion to share this with someone else, and perhaps it relates to your posting, Michael.

    My wife and I attended a late ‘70s performance featuring Scott Hamilton and Warren Vache’ in Indianapolis. This was just at the start of their growing fame when they were becoming known following the release of their earliest two Concord Jazz LP recordings.

    Visualize several tables pushed together to form a long table seating perhaps 12-16 people. It ran perpendicular to the raised bandstand in a club at the Hyatt Hotel. That extended table was filled with loud people who talked constantly during the first set. The table may have touched the bandstand at one end. It occupied most of the center space in the small room. The people seated there were celebrating something and were not there for the music. Other tables, mostly 2’s and 4’s were scattered around the room. My wife and I were at a two-top seated close to the stage to the left of the musicians. At one point Warren politely spoke into the mike while looking directly to the loud group, “Would you please try to be a bit quieter, for you don’t know how hard it is for us to concentrate up here.” After a few moments the group left without paying their bill. My wife and I invited Scott to join us at our table and that is when we learned that the manager was sticking these young musicians with the bill. I asked Scott if he would permit me to circulate among the table and ask for donations to offset that charge. I am sure I would have been successful, for many in the audience applauded and some cheered when the loud people stood and left. Scott said something like, “No. We don’t want to risk being seen as troublesome this early in our careers.” I mentioned this occasion to Scott through email a few years ago when discussing Ruby, and he said he remembered. So we talked about Hawk and Ben and then when their break was done and they resumed playing. It was a joyous evening.

  18. Kathy Knoke

    There’s such a huge difference between concerts and music in bars or restaurants. Most people go to bars with friends in order to visit and talk, as well as to enjoy the music. Being extremely loud enough to ruin other people’s enjoyment of the music is not polite, but low conversation should be expected. If you want silence – go to a concert.

  19. The noisy people are going to be noisy whether they applaud or not, so it’s just as well they are applauding the band, no?

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