Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"
I'm a 100% unadulterated advocate for the musician and a major proponent of artists' self-empowerment. But that demands that the artist attain a certain level of knowledge, understanding, sensitivity and objectivity. There is no easier prey than a willing victim. There is no greater respect that you can give to someone than to be honest and straightforward in dealing with themwith the proper courtesy and humanity of course.
But bullshit is bullshit, slimebags are slimebags and self-serving, thieving weasels need to be called just what they are.
SR: That sounds like a bit of a segué. (laughter)
MK: Yours or mine?
SR: Your call.
MK: Let's talk about the world of jazz advocacy. (laughter)
SR: OK. You're really hard on jazz advocates, funders and the fine arts world in general. You seem to despise them more than record execs and clubowners. Why?
MK: Because they should know better and they try to make it seem like they do, as if they act responsibly and for the general good of the musician and the art form. The worst part is that this area should offer the greatest hopes of the holistic and systemic change that is so essential to the jazz economy. Instead we just get a new variation on the same ol' same ol'.
Look, decade upon decade of empirical evidence tells us what to expect from record execs, clubowners, festival moguls, hustling managers, duplicitous agents and so forth. If I'm hiking in the desert and I'm not careful enough to notice a rattlesnake's warning, or how to avoid their likely hangouts, I deserve to get bit. But if I encounter a fellow hiker, out there because he loves the desert, I have a right to not expect to be held up at gunpoint. I also have a right to assume he's not going to be stupid enough to spill my water supply or lurch into me so I get thrown into a cactus or rattlesnake lair.
Too many folks posing as advocates are cheap hustlers or clueless muthas who can cause enormous damage with misinformation, misrepresentation or the willingness to lie shamelessly in order to promote themselves or pick up some funding money. We've had 15 years of misguided, poorly-conceived and myopic funding programs that have tossed millions of dollars of facility-based funding into trickle down programs for jazz artists who are too far down the line to get much trickle. They stroke the funders and fine arts denizens, call them visionaries, and toss around worthless ideas that supposedly enrich the music, but do nothing for those who've dedicated their lives to playing it.
SR: That's a pretty harsh assessment. You can't possibly believe that all activists and advocates are that way?
MK: No, of course not. I know many, many honest, dedicated and hardworking activists who give selflessly of themselves. But these are not the ones who have the ears of funders. And many times they're too busy trying to stop the bleeding with band aids to come up with the large-scale ideas that are needed. Or even more so, to play the silly little mind games and ego-massages that are necessary to get the ear of some foundation official with the money to spend.
Funders and fine arts folks are incredibly ignorant about jazzand most of them are quite comfortable right where they are about it. They're more comfortable with the appearance of caring than actually doing so. They choose to surround themselves with jazz advocates who won't challenge or disturb their notions. That's why Lincoln Center is so attractive to them. Big buildings, big salaries, big audiencesthe American signs of success.
The jazz economy has big problems. Big problems demand big solutions. Big solutions demand hard work and heavy commitment. All that stuff stands in the way of posturing and hanging out. Slap another coat of paint on the sucker, douse it with perfume and call it progress.
Does that sound too angry and bitter and contemptuous? OK. Let's look at a simple example. All of the fine arts use 501(c)(3) non-profit corporations as their economic backbone. All of the major funding is given to 501(c)(3)s. Most of the major presenters, jazz societies, educational institutions and advocacy organizations are c3s. Yet none of them has tried to familiarize or assist jazz musicians in establishing or working within c3s. Mention it to any of them and they laugh. "Yuk Yuk. Jazz musicians running a non-profit. Yuk, yuk, yuk. Holding a board meeting? Ha Ha Ha."
You think classical composers, choreographers, dramatists and so forth are any more qualified to do so? Puh-leeze. It's just that they know it's the only way to play the game.
Then of course you have the other knuckle-headed response. "Well I don't make any money. I may as well go non-profit." Yuk, yuk, yuk.
SR: You refer to the 501(c)(3) throughout the book, recommending it heavily. But funding is getting harder and harder to get. Has this altered your thinking on the importance of utilizing one?