Last night, I went with Janelle down to Smalls to hear the Gilad Hekselman Quartet. With Gilead (guitar) was Orlando Le fleming (bass), Ari Hoenig (drums), and Joel Frahm (t. sax). Now I'll be honest, I'm not always that into guitar, but I had never heard Ari before and I always enjoy hearing Joel. So I decided that despite how incredibly tired I was from this long week of teaching (more on that soon), I would go ahead and cough up the $20 to hear the show.
We got there at the end of the first set. As we descended the stairs and turned the corner into the bar, we were immediately hit with an insane amount of notes coming out of Joel's sonorous tenor, as well as an insane amount of... talking! Aghast, I scanned the room and sure enough, everyone in the back of the bar was chatting away, completely oblivious to the incredible music that was being created at the front of the room.
As the night went on, this obnoxious behavior continued. Even during extremely sensitive parts of the music, when it was just Gilead picking out a beautiful, melodic arpeggiation, the crowd at the back continued to talk, laugh, and be completely disrespectful. I was not the only one annoyed as several times members of the audience banded together in loud "Shhh"s and evil stares.
I found myself shifting through several emotions as I listened. First, I would become entrapped by the music. It was a really good set. Gilead's compositions were beautiful and it never came close to the smooth jazz line that I often begrudge guitarists for getting too close to. Ari was completely and pleasurably out. I found myself focusing on his playing all the time (even during the sax solos!) trying to anticipate where he'd go next. I just had to try not to look at him too often as, I'm sorry to say, his facial expressions reminded me at times of Steve Martin's portrayal of Ruprecht, the "clinically-barking brother," in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels ("you've been banging on your pots again, haven't you" ...hee hee). Joel, as always, sounded beautiful. I truly love his tone and his ability to not always play the million notes he is capable of all the while carefully inserting his deep-seated blues licks where appropriate. Janelle and I both agreed it was fun to hear him in this non-standard vein and that it was his playing that added a certain element, an aesthetic grounding almost, to this group that would skillfully avoid time, off in their own practice rooms, just to spontaneously (so it sounded) come together and land precisely on 1.
As I became absorbed in the music and my listening became more acute, I continued to pick up the ridiculous amounts of talking in the back. I simply cannot stand talking during live music. I find it to be one of the rudest activities possible. I consider it such an offense that I literally spend the first 10-15 minutes of each music class I teach (with the exception of band) having the kids practice "formal listening." Every class I remind them of the difference between "casual" and "formal" listening and we discuss when it is appropriate to talk or sing along to music and what we should be listening for when practicing "formal" listening. I take it very seriously and lower grades when students talk or act up during the formal listening.
The patrons at Smalls clearly had no understanding of "formal" listening. Try as I might, I just could not mute them out and became incensed by it. How dare they come to a jazz club and spend the whole time talking. I mean, this was not some cafe with recorded music in the background. They had to pay a whopping $20 to even get through the door! And come to think of it, so had I! Now I was getting mad at the establishment. How dare they allow this talking! I did not pay $20 to hear people talk! It certainly made me more appreciative of the clubs that enforce a no talking policy.
Not that this behavior is limited to expensive clubs. It's everywhere. At my elementary school's Spring Concert the talking amongst the parents was insane. It was so bad by the end that Francesca, the director of the Chorus and Advanced Keyboard Program literally stopped her performance and addressed the audience, requesting them, in essence, to shut the hell up.
Why is this such a problem? Why do people pay $20 to sit in the back of jazz club and talk? Why do they willingly attend live music just to not listen? And why must those who are listening be disrupted by these barbaric offenders?