The Blue Note and the Euro Menace
Perhaps there was little that the Blue Note’s proprietors could do about it (and they did notice; one of the managers apologized to me, shaking his head and sympathetically muttering “Unbelievable,” as I left the club after the set). Between the cover charge ($35), their multiple-course dinners, and the several bottles of wine they were consuming, the continental tourists were probably laying out a few thousand dollars for the 80 minutes or so of entertainment.
I am fully aware that, to some degree, people have always talked at jazz clubs. Listen to the Bill Evans trio’s Waltz for Debbie, recorded at the Village Vanguard in March 1961 (46 years ago!), which reveals the audience yakking all through Scott LaFaro’s astonishing bass solos. (I used to joke that, on a really good stereo, you can hear two guys in the second row plotting the Bay of Pigs invasion.) But last Friday night’s noisemakers at the Blue Note were much louder and more clueless than that.
And then it hit me: this may well be our fate in the 21st century, playing supine hosts to arrogant tourists from across the Atlantic, as they lord it over us with their mighty Euro (which has more than doubled in value against the dollar the past five years). Is this how they felt about American tourists in the latter half of the 20th century, as we lorded it over them with our almighty dollar and geopolitical supremacy? Are we in for a big, geocultural payback?
Meanwhile, would it be too much to ask jazz club owners to announce a “quiet policy” at the beginning of sets and, perhaps occasionally, to enforce it? They do this—at least the announcing part—at the Jazz Standard, which also has high cover charges. They also do it at the Village Vanguard, though they don’t need to; ever since the kitchen closed some decades back, the club attracts fewer high-rollers and more serious listeners, in any case.
The trio at the Blue Note was a marvel: guitarist Bill Frisell, bassist Ron Carter, and drummer Paul Motian—a fairly quiet ensemble, which made the noise all the more irritating. The music was terrific nonetheless: Frisell’s wiggy mix of jazz, bluegrass, and Twin Peaks wah-wah; Motian’s swirls and brush-bashings, which went around, through, aside from, everywhere but on, the beat yet managed to make it shine through; and Carter’s woody pluckings anchoring the ship.
Too bad the deck was so full of rowdy idiots.
(PS: The trio of Frisell, Carter, and Motian put out an eponymous CD last year on the Nonesuch label. It’s very much worth buying.)
December 10: Correction: Looking at the back of the CD box, I see that Bill Evans' Waltz for Debbie (which, by the way, featured Paul Motian on drums) was recorded in June 1961, not March. So the two guys couldn't have been plotting the Bay of Pigs (which had already taken place in April). I guess I'll have to revise the joke to say you can hear them plotting the Kennedy assassination (except that I don't believe that was a conspiracy).