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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

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Im a 100% unadulterated advocate for the musician and a major proponent of artists self-empowerment. —Marty Khan - Author of "Straight Ahead"
Marty Khan, author of Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity) is widely considered to be one of the most knowledgeable, creative, committed and visionary professionals in the jazz business. A co-founder and Director of Outward Visions, Inc., a not-for-profit arts and education service organization founded in 1976, and 35+ year veteran manager, consultant, strategist, non-profit specialist, producer and passionately outspoken activist, he has worked extensively with artists like George Russell, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and World Saxophone Quartet along with non-jazz artists like Alwin Nikolais and John Zorn. He also conceived and directed The Coltrane Project of Philadelphia (1994-97). He has helped set up and/or consulted with over 100 not-for-profit organizations across the United States, has lectured on arts and business at numerous educational institutions and developed and participated in seminars created to better inform artists and arts professionals on how to avoid the traps and pitfalls of the arts business. As a freelance writer he has written many articles about the fine arts and jazz business as well as the music itself under his name and the nom de plume George Lane. He is also writing a book of short stories that take place in the jazz environment.

In Straight Ahead Khan has created a book that contains indispensable information and advice for anyone looking to pursue a career in jazz on either the artistic or professional sides. With its emphasis on maintaining artistic integrity and personal dignity, Straight Ahead provides a clear-cut and pragmatic methodology for those musicians who desire to place their music above all else. For those who are more interested in the pursuit of career success and economic productivity, Straight Ahead offers extensive and invaluable information that will be referred to countless times during the pursuit of their career goals.

Steve Rowland: Straight Ahead is clearly the first book of its kind. Besides covering every aspect of business, it also conveys a deeper sense of what Jazz is all about. So, why did you feel compelled to step back from your normal business activities to write this book?

Marty Khan: For two primary reasons.

The first is because, like many of us "old-school" types, I've become increasingly distressed over what's been happening to Jazz over the past 20-25 years. Not just how its economy has become so polarized, and how it's become so trivialized and marginalized throughout society, but also in the attitudes and blurred vision of the musicians themselves. Especially in terms of the younger ones, upon whom the future of the music ultimately depends.

The second is to repay those musicians and individuals who reached out to me when I was learning the ropes.

SR: Who are you talking about?

MK: A lot of people. My musical teachers, Bill Barron and Sam Rivers. My "philosophical and sociological" teachers like George Russell, Makanda Ken McIntyre, John Carter, Lester Bowie, Betty Carter, Sonny Fortune and a lot of other artists for and with whom I've had business relationships. But also many musicians I met in clubs as a kid in my mid-teens who simply took an interest in a young fan, eager to learn. Arnie Lawrence, Jaki Byard, Robin Kenyatta, Marion Brown, Tony Scott and countless others, famous and obscure. I didn't have to chase and bug them to pay attention to me. They would approach me, obviously wanting to help me understand things that their elders had shown them. And not just musicians, but record store clerks who would approach me when I was browsing through the bins—not to sell me something, just to hip me to stuff. And deejays like Ed Williams, Alan Grant, Father O'Connor. Older fans, even some club owners and bartenders, and even business guys like Jim Harrison. It was like a vocation, a calling. Passing on an oral tradition. Cultivating a new member. I was blessed to come into the music during the final stages of that golden age.

SR: And you feel that's over, that you can't find that anymore?

MK: No, not completely. You can still find it in some places if you try hard enough. But I didn't have to find it. It found me.

SR: So how does your book intend to address that?

MK: I'm trying to renew that spirit. That passionate commitment to the profound values that are embodied in the legacy of this music. Those principles of love, spirituality, exploration, dedication, innovation, evolution and the steadfast desire to communicate it to the audience and other artists, in those same traditions of Duke, Bird, George Russell, Miles, Clifford, Monk, Mingus and in its most perfect form, Coltrane. And in everybody who they profoundly influenced.

SR: So, from the outset you intended it to be more than a guide to business?


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