6 January 2016


I wonder whether any of you are as irritated by 'background music' as I was recently?

I was having a meal in a smart Spanish restaurant here in West Bridgford, Nottingham, with eight other people. The food and drinks were excellent (and pretty expensive). This was a classy place.

But in the background - constantly - there came the sound over loudspeakers of 'music'. The recording did not seem to be of music played on musical instruments by real musicians. I guess it was computer-generated. It sounded like this:

doum doum doum doum doum doum doum etc. - over which was played a two-bar riff as if plucked on a single string and repeated ad nauseam.

When the 'track' ended, it was replaced by another, almost identical. And so on all the evening.

I found it so irritating that I thought about asking the management to switch it off. I wondered whether everybody else was as annoyed by it as I was.

I looked around the restaurant. Neither my party nor people at other tables appeared the slightest bit troubled by it. And I have to admit it was not being played so loudly as to prevent people from holding conversations.

So I could not be so curmudgeonly as to complain. I did not even mention the matter to the friends at my table.

But here's something interesting. After we left and were outside in the street, I tried this question on the eight people who had been with me: Did you hear any background music being played in the restaurant?

Six of them said I can't remember or I didn't notice!

Only two answered Yes. So I asked them whether they could describe what the music was like. They both said they could not remember.

Very interesting. I could draw some conclusions from that. For example, in our noisy world, people are accustomed to and expect background noise to which they need pay no attention. But I am sure you can draw plenty of conclusions for yourselves.

I apologize if you are saying 'What has this to do with traditional jazz?' Nothing really. I just wanted to get it off my chest.

However, if you would like to hear something relevant to jazz and the topic of 'background music', I can tell you I had an email from a clarinet-player about how disheartening it is to be booked to play at a venue where you find the audience consists of a large number of noisy people who are more interested in the football match being shown on the large TV screen at the back of the hall than in your music.

I expect we have all experienced such a gig from time to time. You have to try to keep your spirits up. If nobody is taking any notice of your music and it is being treated merely as a 'background noise', regard the gig as an opportunity to try things out and rehearse some new tunes.