When Japan's Jazz Life Magazine took a poll of the 22 greatest Jazz guitarists, Steve Khan was on the list, alongside greats (on any instrument) like Wes, Martino, Hall, Django, Christian, Benson, McLaughlin, Metheny, Stern, Sco and Frisell.
As both player and sometimes producer, Khan's had the fortune to work alongside the likes of Brecker, Stern, Fagen, Zawinul, Sanborn, Erskine, Weckl, Anthony Jackson, Dennis Chambers and Manolo Badrena, to name only a few.
In addition to teaching, he has also released instructional texts of solo transcripitions of two guitar legends without peer: Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino.
Among Steve's current projects is a group called The Caribbean Jazz Project with Dave Samuels, Dave Valentin, Rubén RodrÃ-guez and Richie Flores with which they cover both originals and covers of Trane's "Naima" and Duke's "Caravan."
All About Jazz: How did it affect you, having a musical icon, Sammy Cahn, for a father?
Steve Khan: It's very hard to measure a response to this. In such a situation there will obviously be positives and negatives, and that is just in general. Then you take the two personalities: my father and I, and then you've got a whole series of other problems. On the positive side, I grew-up in a home surrounded by music, wonderful music, music of all styles and genres. But mostly we heard the wonderful "popular" music of the '20s, right through to the early '60s. Though, like all youngsters, I eventually broke away from this. In the end, I am so grateful for having been exposed to it all. Now, in my middle to later years I am often moved to tears when I hear certain songs from that period.
On the negative side, my father and I never really had a great father-son relationship and this continued right up until his death. And sadly with the repercussions of his passing the chasm still exists and will always be there. There are times, however, when I can enjoy some of his tunes. It is especially gratifying for me to see artists, whom I respect, covering his tunes. Recent versions of his standards interpreted by Keith Jarrett and Ralph Towner have been especially moving for me. My sister, Laurie, has often said that the "sound of the typewriter coming from dad's office was the soundtrack to our childhood."
How ironic it now is that I spend so much time typing at the keyboard of my computer!
AAJ: That's true. You'd mentioned Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Jim Hall, as original influences. Briefly, what have you learned from each of your influences?
SK: I came to the guitar and a commitment to music very late, at least as these things were judged then. I began to play at 19 yrs. old. Today, because of all the educational material available, kids are simply "killin'" & "shreddin'" at 10 yrs. old(more or less!). Some of the first guitar music that appealed to me was by the Three Kings... B.B. King; Albert King; and Freddy King. I used to love to learn those Freddy King instrumentals. And, to this day Albert King remains my favorite of the three. But, I was also very drawn to the R&B of that time as well, all the great music from Stax/Volt; Atlantic; and King Records, which brought us most of the great James Brown recordings.
Wes Montgomery completely turned my life upside-down, I had never heard anything like him... and later, I had never seen anything like him either. His tone, his feel, and how melodic his improvisations were have stayed with me as ideals to this day. Both Kenny Burrell and Grant Green reached me with their bluesy approach to jazz, very "rootsy" and very soulful. Jim Hall reached me in a very different way. He possessed a kind of grace, a dignity, a gentleness and an alternative melodic sense which influenced so many of my peers. In the end, with all four of these great players, it's the "feeling" I get when listening to them playing and to try and put that into words is extremely difficult.
Later, I was influenced by George Benson and Pat Martino. Both of whom, in completely different ways, seemed to be the "sons of Wes." Special and individual extensions of something Wes had started. As they came right out of the organ trio tradition, there was also a 'bluesyness' and 'funkyness' which appealed to me.
After this, there was Larry Coryell, and when I heard Duster by the Gary Burton Quartet, this recording turned my life around again. Larry showed us all that, in a jazz setting, anything was possible on the guitar. And the jazz critics embraced him and thereby opened the doors for all of us who were to follow. Perhaps first amongst those was John McLauglin who ended-up blasting right past Larry Coryell. Perhaps it was because when Larry left Gary Burton to begin his career as a solo artist, he wasn't really ready to be a focused bandleader.
When John McLaughlin came along with the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra it demonstrated that a band, led by a guitarist, could change the way we all heard and made music. In truth, if one is to view the recent history of "jazz," it's apparent that some of the greatest strides in music making have come from groups led by guitarists. In another time, this would have been unthinkable, unimaginable. To some of the more stuffy jazz "historians," it IS impossible to accept!
In truth though, the greatest influence, on how I've now come to play and approach music, comes from pianists/keyboard players. I would have to mention(and in no particular order): McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock; Chick Corea; Bill Evans; Joe Zawinul; Larry Young; Keith Jarrett; and the gorgeous harmonies of Clare Fischer.