Andy's Jazz

Andy’s Jazz. Wandering in Chicago.

Dinner. Steak Salad.

Nearing the end of my Chicago trip, my friends and I decided we wanted to hit up a jazz bar, so…that’s what we did. One of my friends learned how to play bass guitar on his own, and had begun dabbling in some improvisation, and the other, well, he was my stand partner in wind ensemble back in high school when we were both rockin’ the clarinets like no one’s business. The last brave adventurer, who was not present for this small excursion (b/c of work), played the pipa. (If we all had gotten together, we probably could’ve started a band). For my taste in music, I tend to lean on the clarinet jazz pretty hard, when I’m not in the mood for crazy dance music or mellow stuff.

Steak salad, with an...alien UV glow.

The three of us weren’t crazily hungry, but rather, were craving a breather from the heat and all the walking. We ducked into Andy’s Jazz, ordered some appetizers, and sprawled out.

Music and food have always been connected. Recently, I’ve been listening to Food is the New Rock (it’s a podcast). It’s interesting to see the similarities in procedure and thinking when it comes to the tendencies of chefs and musicians. The process of creating a meal and presenting it is highly similar to the way musicians write pieces and perform; both are grueling crafts and lifestyles that are difficult to master and nearly impossible to perfect. The congruence between the two are obvious, but there’s enough difference in that both fields can still inspire each other.

Tailing off the back of all this podcasting, I wondered how much auditory sounds contribute to our perception of a particular meal. When I speak of these “auditory sounds,” I am referring to the “internal” noise of chewing (namely the vibrations through your jawline). Things we might consider: the clink of silverware, background music, proximity of other guests, traffic, nature… Is it too quiet? Too loud? Food is the New Rock certainly touches on some of these topics with vigor (and humor). I highly recommend their podcast.

Research in the sector of “chewing audio” is almost laughable; but what I did find does confirm that an encompassed eating experience certainly utilizes much more than taste.

If we take a textural quality, such as “crunchy,” and pose the question, “how is it that we’re able to sense when something is indeed, crunchy?” We can surmise that one can’t smell crunchy, nor is one able to see crunchy very well either (if we imagine that we have virgin eyes and don’t know what fried wontons or crisp apples are). Surprisingly, taste alone also cannot automatically confirm “crunchy” either (the taste of apple could be baked apple or apple crisps).

Hearing and touching though, are able to denote crunchy.

**A sense of touch **provides sensory input that suggests the hardness of a particular food and provides dynamic feedback of how subsequent jaw force manipulates the architecture of food. This allows our brain to determine a baseline of crunchiness and manipulation.

In terms of audio input, I found that I couldn’t multi-task on the vibration of my jaw and the jazz at the same time. When I was chewing and listening to my jaw split the turgid plant cells in my salad, I wasn’t hearing much of the jazz. If I focused on the jazz, my cognitive processing switched over to the onstage performance. I still knew in the moment that I was eating a salad, but I wouldn’t be able to recall the vibration in my jawline. The studies by Christensen and Zampini performed interesting experiments to determine how crispy a potato chip was based on a subjective auditory intensity scale. The study by Zampini proposed that there was a proportional relationship between the intensity of the “crunch” and/or an amplified frequency of about 2-20 kHz (an amplified frequency in that range mimicked the intensity of an audible “crunchy” texture).

This raises a potentially interesting thought. Could a particular residual frequency from speakers or live music significantly alter the experience of a meal? How loud and how close would the sound waves have to be? Bass booster? Head right next to the speaker? Noise-cancelling headphones? How would headphones change the dynamic of the meal?

Interesting, no?… Now there’s some food for thought.


  1. Christensen, C.M. Relationships of Chewing Sounds to Judgments of Food Crispness. Journal of Food Science. 2006.46 (2): 574-578.