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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

MK: You're talking about some of those pieces I wrote for the Pariah's Diatribes at the BirdLives website back in 99-00, right? Nah, it's a new day, man. There was an enormous amount of anger and frustration that had built up for a lot of years in those pieces.

SR: So have you softened your positions on those issues?

MK: Not at all. Just my methods of expressing them. I think folks got too caught up in the ferocity of the words. Those pieces were written in cold-blooded calm, a steady hand and an even voice. But people read them as screaming assaults. I got the feeling that they pictured me running around the desert naked, taking bites out of cacti and strangling rattlesnakes in between paragraphs.

SR: That's a pretty sobering image.

MK: We should recommend it to AA (laughter). Seriously though, I feel that people were just getting off on seeing the targets get blown up without paying attention to the real message. It's like folks who are into the avant-garde just for the screamin' and honkin', without trying to understand the context or absorb the spirituality, or to be able to differentiate between who can really play and who's just screamin' and honkin'.

SR: So you feel those articles were ineffective?

MK: Oh, no. They were effective. They just didn't accomplish what I'd intended. I've even heard from people who've told me how I launched personal attacks on this person or that one. But there weren't any. I would ask them for specific examples but nobody could ever give me one.

I think that some people reacted to those articles in the way I'd hoped—by thinking. But some of them may not have liked what they ended up seeing in the mirror I was placing in front of them. So they projected their own thoughts into my words and blamed me for where they ended up. I recognized that confronting these issues in that manner was like using fire to kill cockroaches. You may get rid of them but you'll probably end up burning down the house.

SR: So do you regret having written them?

MK: No, not in the least. It was a learning process. It was the first public writing I'd ever done, and I stand by every word of it. But there's a more effective methodology—and that's the approach I've taken with the book. Truth is Truth. But Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce could hammer home the Truth much more effectively than some fire and brimstone preacher.

SR: There's a lot of funny stuff in the book, but I wouldn't call it a funny book.

MK: No, it's not. I use humor, but I also use numbers, logic, anecdotal examples, historical perspective and whatnot. I tried to make it an enjoyable and easy read, even if the concepts are challenging and the message strong. From the reaction I've gotten so far, it seems to have succeeded in that.

SR: I agree with that. But it's also somewhat overwhelming in its scope. I don't mean that in a negative way, but it covers so much territory in great detail. Do you really feel that one person can write as authoritatively as you do on so many aspects of the business?

MK: If that person has the direct experience in all of those aspects, sure. I'm not the biggest or most prolific manager, record producer, concert promoter, etc. But my credentials in each of those domains are considerable. To be honest, I can't think of anyone who can claim as much experience across-the-board as I can. Plus, the experience is all hands-on, and primarily in the eye of the hurricane, New York City.

SR: But you've been in Tucson, Arizona since 1994. Doesn't that make you something of an "outsider" now?

MK: I've always been an outsider. Angles of perception like mine don't exactly get you a good seat at the jazz-business-as-usual sushi bar. Not with the jazz daddies in the record biz or with the "advocacy" side either. And what exactly may I have missed being out of New York these past 10 years? The new state-of-the art, specially-designed-for-jazz Lincoln Center Mausoleum? Being out of the fray, but still heavily involved, informed and aware of what's going on, has provided me with a certain objectivity which I've tried to bring to the book.

SR: I noticed that while you are quite candid and forthright, you portray many of the professionals and business people somewhat sympathetically, or at least with understanding.

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