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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

MK: Unquestionably. But that's really the point of entry—the raison d'etre, if you will. Taking a page from the masters who inspired me, there's a message of spirituality and humanity within those structures of aesthetic enjoyment and compelling rhythms. I stress those same elements in the book.

SR: I suppose the key is in the title, particularly the parenthetical - Straight Ahead: A Comprehensive Guide to the Business of Jazz (Without Sacrificing Dignity or Artistic Integrity).

MK: As the great line in Citizen Kane goes: "It's no big thing to make a lot of money—if all you want to do is make a lot of money."

But you've got to live, got to eat, got to support the family and address the responsibilities. The money that Trane got paid allowed him to bring his message to that many more people. It's all reciprocal, and symbiotic. It's all about balance and order. The book is intended to display that balance, to offer the reader an opportunity to establish a personal circumstance of business sense and artistic integrity that is productive and realistic, and under one's own control of self-empowerment.

SR: Does that mean that this book is specifically designed for the uncompromising artist and isn't necessarily useful for the musician who's just looking to make a living or achieve big success in jazz?

MK: No, not really. For the musician who's looking to get a solid grasp of the business to pursue it in the standard manner—manager, record deal, gigs, bigger manager, better record deal, more and better paying gigs and so forth in an increasing spiral—all of the essential information is contained. How to get the most out of management relationships, record deals, performing opportunities, etc. There is a great deal of information about marketing, promotional and career development strategies that are ideal for the business as it's always been, is, and always will be.

But for the artist to whom the music is first and the career an essential and hopefully lucrative by-product, the contents of this book are absolutely indispensable.

As for those who take the information and spirit in which this book is intended, and use it to exploit or cause damage, I put a Sicilian curse on them. (laughter)

SR: Warding off Sicilian curses for the moment and getting back to your previous statement about your primary intentions of offering a new method of doing business, do you feel that's practical for the older musician, or is the book primarily intended for younger musicians and students?

MK: Man, you've hit a raw nerve there. It's very painful to me, but I feel that this book will probably not appeal to older musicians, and even to many younger musicians who are already in the trenches. It really pains me to say this, but if I have a widespread reputation for one thing, it's for being a straight-talkin' mutha*****. (laughter) Seriously though, man, I wish I was wrong about this. There are so many people for whom I have enormous respect—and even love in some cases—who just won't or don't want to think about this stuff.

And realistically, if you've been playing professionally for 20, 30, 40 years, accustomed to looking for a manager or agent to execute the basic one-two punch of getting a record deal and gigging—or vice versa—it's got to be awfully daunting to consider reassessing and designing a new strategy. Set up a non-profit, take charge of your own career, market your own product? It's a helluva lot easier to take whatever comes along and bitch about how tough things are. Playing the music is challenging enough. Self-empowerment? Everybody claims to want it, but I find that it's usually just a position cats take in-between record deals and when gigs are thin.

And I can't fault them either. I mean, you see some punk with no credentials, no vision, not even any real peer respect sucking down big bucks, critical hosannas, artsy fartsy acclaim, commissions, awards and whatnot. How do you argue with the logic that says "If that no-playin' blah blah blah is makin' 20 grand a night, I should be makin' 40!" Or even 10 for that matter. But that logic just doesn't compute. Not today, man.

What cats fail to realize is that this isn't about them, or even about the musicians who are getting those gigs, those deals, that visibility on the hustle. You think Lincoln Center is about Wynton, or even about Jazz? It's about real estate my brother. It's about that 2.1 billion dollar building in Columbus Circle with its 450 luxury condos!

Wait, wait, wait. Coach needs to call a time out. My game's a half-court game now. Hard D, ball movement, open shots and solid rebounding. No more run and gun—even if I'm hitting all net on the wild 3s. (laughter)

SR: Before we call that time out, let's follow that last line of thought a little longer. You've written some very hardcore negative articles about the jazz and fine arts business in the past. Is this book along those same lines?

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