Yammering through jazz night.

thThe other night we went to hear a local jazz quartet. Or, rather, tried to hear them, being bracketed on either side by people who decided to talk during the music.

To my left were a couple of women who looked barely old enough to drink. They yammered for long, squealy stretches about jobs and friends, and the photos on their smartphones, and the Facebook updates they were posting.

To DF’s right were two women whose voices were audible but whose words I couldn’t quite make out. Thankfully, they left toward the end of the first set; at that point DF told me they’d spoken in detail about how best to avoid the locals during bike trips to other countries.

You go all the way to Guatemala or Sierra Leone and you want to AVOID the locals? I thought. Why did you even go? And why are you HERE when you obviously don’t care about the music?

We’d each paid a $10 cover and we had a tough time enjoying the John Coltrane tribute. And although I’m not a musician, I was plenty steamed about what I saw as disrespect to the four men onstage.

Right now, I’m plenty steamed at myself for not saying anything.

A place to listen

Oh, I thought about it. My plan was to say something like:

“I’m sure you don’t realize how loud your voices are, but they’re interfering with our ability to hear the music. Could you continue your conversation somewhere else?”

or maybe,

“I can hear you, or I can hear the quartet – and I’ve paid to hear the quartet.”

When you talk in a movie theater they ask you to leave. If you so much as whisper during live theater the people sitting nearby glare at you. And don’t even think of unwrapping a cough drop during the symphony; the ushers might slap it out of your hand.

Yet I hesitated to say anything to these chatterboxes because I kept thinking, “This is a bar. People talk in bars.”

But this wasn’t a singles bar with a DJ, or a bar with a howling live band and a floor full of gyrating dancers. It’s a tavern oriented toward folk music and spoken-word performances, with jazz one night a week.

Which brings me back to the performers: In a town this size it’s well-nigh impossible to make a living as a jazz musician. Those guys almost certainly have day jobs and then rehearse for hours to deliver intricate, deeply felt music. (I know nothing about the genre but I was fascinated by the saxophone in particular.)

Most of us leaned forward, rapt, as they played their hearts out. Here and there, though, people chatted as though they were sitting in their living rooms. In other words, even if we’d changed seats we probably would have been bugged by conversation.

Please be quiet

Maybe it’s a result of people being accustomed to talking through TV and movies at home. Possibly they were multitasking, i.e., catching up with friends while taking in a little culture. Perhaps they’re just inconsiderate, self-centered jerks.

Or maybe I’m hypersensitive and unrealistic. Did my $10 expenditure give me the right to say something? What about my personal conviction that if someone is playing music you ought to listen?

Again, we’re not talking about a local rock band covering Top 40 hits so the bar can sell gallons of beer to dancers who’ve worked up a sweat. You expect people will try to talk over the band as they try to get to know each other. But since that requires yelling – and since no one can out-shout an amplifier – such conversations tend to be short, to be conducted during breaks or even taken outdoors.

This was jazz. This was music for your head and your heart, not your feet and your gonads. It was performed to make us listen, think and feel. Damned hard to do that when someone is burbling about her awesome! new job.

Readers: Next time, should I politely say something? Or should I just ask the waitress to slip them a mickey?

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  1. I like your second response.

    Those girls remind me of ex when we traveled from Memphis to Toronto. He insisted on eating in KFC.

    I go to a local coffee shop where musicians play–open mic is for anyone and then there are professional musicians on other nights. People talk during those and it does not seem out of place. However, most of the conversation is in low voices and mostly is about the music. There is no charge for these nights.

    Jazz somehow evokes a scene of rapt listeners. I would probably just purse my lips and put a finger to my lips, like I would for a six-year old. While sitting in a waiting room on Tuesday, I tired of a loud-talker all way across the room. Finally, I did put my finger to my lips and the woman started whispering. There will never be an end to the host of rude, loud people.

    How do you avoid the locals?

  2. Talking in a bar with a live performance is fine. Talking loudly nonstop, to the point where other people are irritated, not fine. I’d have asked them to please lower their voices. If that didn’t work, ask a waiter/ bartender to help. Sounds like this bar is aiming for a calmer atmosphere, I’m surprised no one else said anything.

  3. I have had the same problem in a variety of venues. And since I don’t want to be confrontational I usually just send glares in their direction. It never works.

    And, honestly, I’m not sure people will quiet down even when you ask them to.

    • Donna Freedman

      I have occasionally asked people in movie theaters to please be quiet so we could hear. Only once did someone become confrontational. She actually said, “I’m not talking that loud!” As though talking in any tone were OK in a theater.
      My low-voiced reply, “I’ll tell you what: Let’s get a manager in here and let him decide.”
      She subsided, grumbling.
      On the other hand, I once interviewed a movie critic who was punched in the face for asking someone — at a movie preview! — to please take the conversation elsewhere. I’d just as soon not cause a ruckus like that. Or get punched in the face.

  4. Surprised they were not texting or chatting on the phone also…Touchy for the management. They had also paid their $10. You might take it up with the management after the fact and ask if they can actually have a “let’s respect the artists” policy. Then they will be able to enforce behavior more conducive the the music lovers. ie-you were told to shut up when you came in here! Beginning to think politeness has disappeared as a societal value.

    • Donna Freedman

      The young women next to me were smart-phoning away, it’s true…I thought about asking the manager next time we go, or maybe writing a letter before that, and asking that someone make an announcement like the one you suggest. Not sure if it will work, but what the heck.
      And yeah, the fact that they’d paid too led me to believe they’d just say, “Eff you! We’re in a public place and I can do whatever I want.”
      Double sigh.

  5. People were talking through jazz events in bars 20+ years ago when I lived in Anchorage. Having just come from Chicago, where people took their jazz seriously, I was horrified. But I’m guessing it’s considered the norm at this point.

    • Donna Freedman

      DF says that the Anchorage jazz bars he went to 30-plus years ago were full of people who dressed nicely and sat, rapt, as the musicians played. Sigh.

      • Lordie, don’t get me started on “dressing decently”. I long for the days when 7/8 of the breasts didn’t have to be hanging out at the local grocery store.

  6. Several years ago we went to a concert and the group in front of us were from a local radio station (had gotten their tickets free) and obviously drank their dinner. After not being able to hear the singer over their loud and obnoxious behavior, I finally asked them to shut up and told them that those around them paid a lot of money to hear the singer. I got a round of applause from people in my section and they finally got up and left. I have never done anything like that before but by golly I wanted to hear Vince Gill!

    • I spoke up at a movie theater, telling teens to be quiet so I could hear the movie. The eight of them who had been jumping over seats and engaging in loud horseplay, talked back to me. About a half dozen adult voices, including men, backed me. Those teens did not say another word the rest of the night. The power of many can cause people to shut up and be respectful.

      In school I felt the same way and shushed (finger to lips and “shhhh”) freshman who did not know to be quiet during a lecture. Others, including professors, agreed aloud, so the students who ignored me or talked back instantly became quiet and remained that way for the rest of the semester.

      Donna, the management might have been willing to refund the money to these two women in order to satisfy locals who were upset by the rudeness visited on them by snobby women. I think you are right about contacting the management personally or by mail.

  7. I think it’s okay to converse a bit at a bar with live music so understand why the neighboring tables did so. I think it’s okay to ask them to speak a little quieter if it’s too disturbing.

    • Donna Freedman

      If it had been quiet conversation I wouldn’t have minded. The problem is that they pitched their voices to be heard over the music — which meant that we heard it, too, and we came to hear the music, not somebody’s chitchat.
      Next time I’ll politely ask that they turn it down a notch, using the “you probably don’t realize” gambit to give them the chance to say, “oops, sorry.” And if they say “hell with you — I paid the same cover,” what will I do? Maybe just make sure I have bail money with me.
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

  8. About a dozen years ago, my DH surprised me with tickets to see Gato (king of latin jazz), and when we arrived at the junior college theater, it was a black tie event… complete with tinted-windowed limos. Imagine our surprise when folks all around us chatted away during the concert. Imagine everyone’s shock when Gato left the stage mid-set, not to return. Eventually the piece was finished by the rest of the band, and the announcer came on stage to tell us “Gato has left the building.” Not to return. End of concert. One that cost over $100 for 2 tickets. I couldn’t blame him, though. The audience was rude.

  9. Donna, you are far kinder than I am. I would have, politely, leaned over and asked if they could please lower their voices or take their conversation elsewhere – or if they looked like they could take me, I would have found a manager and asked them to say something. As you pointed out, this wasn’t Top 40 Night, this was a smaller establishment where people congregate to hear the music. If they weren’t that into it, they could have taken their $10 cover and found another bar.

  10. jestjack

    ….$10 EACH…$20… for a cover PLUS DRINKS…I feel faint… Only to be harrassed by a couple of “Barbies” on smart phones…No Thank You.

  11. This happened to me years ago. I was so happy to be able to attend an acoustical concert of my favorite artist, who, at the time was still in the Top 40 indie charts. We picked out our seats hours before the concert started. Right before start time, a bunch of younger adults gathered all around us. Just as the singer ascended the stage and began playing, the young people started talking. Loud. About where they had been that week, where to go after the concert, etc. Finally, DH turned around and asked them to pipe down since we couldn’t hear the singer over their talking – and we couldn’t. At all. They did quiet down, but seemed upset. This was almost twenty years ago and I bet they still don’t get it.

  12. Melissa

    I recently went to a mall in the small town I live in and they were having a childrens exhibit with vendors from schools and products geared toward children. I walked in with my 6 year old daughter for whom I just purchased a pink balloon and was immediately asked if I would take the balloon outside and put it in the garbage but not pop it. Apparently there was a young child with severe latex allergies. I agreed to put the balloon in the car and woman (not the child’s mother but a friend) proceeded to tell me that this child had been hospitalized previously due to exposure to latex. I was certainly sympathetic as my own daughter is disabled and has been hospitalized repeatedly for life threatening illnesses. Even so, the request was a little bizarre. I told the woman that I would put the balloon in our car and my daughter could enjoy it after we left the mall.

    My point is, I’m sure a compromise could have been worked out – but you have to speak up. Your talkative “neighbors” would probably have toned down there conversation if you had asked. Worst case scenario, they may not have liked it but they probably would have understood.

    • Well, I understand the need to be considerate to people with disabilities. But if a mom has a kid with a latex allergy THAT severe, what’s wrong with her that she brings the kid to a place where latex balloons are likely to be sold?

      There’s a difference between a reasonable request and an unreasonable one. IMHO, this one was a bit over the line.

  13. If possible,try to arrive early and sit closer to the stage.That way
    you can redirect the talkers and say “if you go over there,you won’t
    have to shout at each other”
    You can also try,”I don’t mean to be rude,but that’s my cousin up there playing,isn’t he good?”
    Personally,I love Jazz,but some people view it as background music
    and might talk even louder if you ask them to quite down.

  14. ohhh absolutely: turn to the offenders and politely say, “Will you please hold it down?” No need for any explanation, no need to apologize, no need for subterfuge. THEY’RE the ones who are being rude, not the people around them who would like to hear the music they paid to listen to. And deep inside, they know it.

    People around here do that all the time. At Chamber Music, I’ve noticed some concert-goers have perfected the turn-around-and-glare gambit. Works every time.

  15. You sound like your scared to say something to anyone except your husband.. people in general need to learn to appreciate when to listen and when to chatter…. I would have said…excuse me … your speaking so loud that I cannot hear the music… This is Jazz…I came to listen and enjoy the evening… thanks…
    this would have had an effect.. not rude .. just informative..

    • Donna Freedman

      As noted in the article, I hope to say something to that effect next time. The thing is, they also paid the $10 cover so they’re within their rights to talk even if it’s inconsiderate.
      Incidentally, he’s not my husband.

  16. Katherine

    Just as I tell my children, you can’t control evil, stupid or crazy. But you can tell one who is rude “I’m sorry, I can’t hear the wonderful music over your conversation.” Or like I tell my co-workers and/or sometimes “Please use your inside voice”. And smile.

    Stay frugal, my friends.

  17. Well … I think there is actually a difference between the listening experience one should expect at a concert versus a bar with live music.

    I understand the frustration, but a bar exists to sell drinks (and to some extent food), and people drink more when they are talking. So the bar is not going to enforce quiet time during the performance, and it’s not really fair for the clientele to expect that.

    At a concert, one pays admission specifically to sit and hear music. A cover charge at a bar may go to pay the performers, but the performers surely comprehend the difference between appearing at a bar and giving a concert.

    Just an observation: I’m a ballroom dancer and can testify that there are almost NO public venues for ballroom dancing, because when most people are dancing they are not drinking.

    • Donna Freedman

      I agree that it’s the drinks, not the cover charge, that make money for the bar (and, I hope, for the band!). Still, I’m going to try the courteous route — and having paid their cover charge the same as I did, future yammerers will have every right to tell me to take a flying leap.
      Gordon Lightfoot once said that coming up in the bars in Canada was like getting paid to practice. He considered it a major feat if he could make someone look away from the hockey game on TV….


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