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Interviews

Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

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 jazz—and 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 audiences—the 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?

MK: No, it hasn't. Grants and funding are just one aspect of the c3 picture. The vehicle by its very nature is ideal for the creative artist, educator, composer, whatever. There are so many advantages and so few disadvantages. Everybody thinks that there is so much complexity and time consumption involved in operating a non-profit. And the world of jazz advocacy perpetuates that thinking. The reality is that the amount of time and work that needs to be put in can be entirely devoted to issues of career development, professional activity, investment and return, and all of the other elements that are supposed to be involved in achieving the artist's goals. The non-profit simply provides the best environment for that growth and development. It's the ideal structure to utilize team management. It enhances the potential for outside participation, the non-profit term for investment. It streamlines the artist's personal accountability regarding his or her financial activity. It offers a wider angle for visibility, in addition to the attention that the artist receives directly. It also allows the jazz artist to be taken more seriously, especially by the fine arts world. And it opens doors for funding potential that is not accessible in any other way.

Ultimately, it is the single most valuable resource toward self-empowerment. And that's why it's so discouraged. It is antithetical to the plantation mentality and paternalism that has always been the true backbone of the jazz industry.

SR: The book goes into extreme detail about the 501(c)(3) from set-up through reporting requirements. Are you really qualified to provide the information in such explicit detail?

MK: Conceptually, yes. From a purely legal standpoint, not entirely. That's why this chapter was written with the assistance of Lenny Easter, one of the foremost attorneys in the non-profit field and a professor at New School University. Lenny has been my non-profit guru for 25 years. He's set up hundreds of non-profits, including more than 50 through our organization Outward Visions—which he incorporated back in 1980 when he was Director of Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts. He fine-toothed every line of that section, making all of the appropriate changes, clarifications, warnings and whatnot, like the great lawyer he is.

That's also why that part of the book reads a little drier, I'm afraid.

SR: Why didn't you just refer the reader to other books in the field, as you did for music publishing and self-booking?



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