The Blue Note and the Euro Menace

As further evidence that the American empire is on the decline, I submit the 8:00 set Friday night at the Blue Note on West 3rd Street in New York City, where three front-and-center tables of Europeans—twenty young to middle-aged, professional-looking men and women, who all seemed to be part of the same tour group—made more noise at a jazz club than I think I’ve ever witnessed. Shushing and shaming, from me and others in the audience, had but short-term impact; they’d quiet down for a few minutes and listen to the trio on the bandstand (more about them, in a moment), but then got back to the main business of yakking, chuckling, and generally treating the whole proceedings as the soundtrack to their merry Manhattan vacation and us poor jazz fans as mere props in the spectacle.

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).

Paul BAsinski's picture

One rude group of Europeans does not the end of an empire make.

Tony T's picture

It couldn't have happened to a more-fascinating trio! Wow! Legends, too! Quite an irony since foreigners are usually some of the most respectful and attentive listeners when it comes to Jazz. The Frisell-Carter-Motian CD is indeed wonderful! Frisell alone is a sonic marvel; top-notch skull-candy! Happy Holidays, Fred! You have excellent taste. PS: Why no blog with ST?

Shawn Wurster's picture

Fred!!Just wanted to say I (and many of my audiophile friends) loved your recent Slate article "In defense of Audiophiles" Ahh, I wish I could write as fabulous as you do each week not to mention on such interesting subject matter!I do want to follow up with you on some of your Blogs regarding Keith Jarrett, Paul and Carla Bley and a few others. I have studied jazz and in particular "Third Stream" jazz for over 25 years now and have an interesting perspective on both Jazz and the art of high-end audio as well being an audiophile for about 25 years as well. It was nice to see that Stereophile produced an article on "Third Stream Jazz" back in October I believe that I actually sent in a "letter to the editor" note on alas, not sure it will be published or not. I thought it was very relevant to the article published in Stereophile regarding the subject matter. Fortunately, each year, ECM and others are producing fabulous Third Stream Jazz and the genre is a

Peter Gough's picture

I end many of my listening nights with Sonny Stitt's gorgeous reading of 'Blue and Sentimental' from a Japanese pressing of his Boston 'Hi-Hat' recordings.At one point some jerk exclaims, 'Hellooooooooo!'.Always takes me right out of it!

BeeJay DeeJay's picture

Excuuuuuuse me but not all Europeans are like that. Mind you, here in Europe they would have been thrown out. Period.

Ken's picture

I'd have been furious not just at the yakkers but at the management, for taking your money when they refused to ensure a decent listening environment. Still, there are yakkers and other boors in every performing arts audience it seems. They are complained of often on the ballet site I read. Can you imagine a woman bringing a baby to a ballet performance? Unfortunately I don't have to imagine it.