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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

MK: Because those are written for lawyers and law students. This was written with the jazz musician and jazz professional in mind, and is focused on their particular needs and the related application. And it's all in question/answer format.

SR: You use the Q & A format a lot in the book. Are these questions that you get asked a lot?

MK: The only questions I've been asked a lot are: Can you get me some gigs? Can you get me a record deal? (laughter) I'm only half joking there. In reality, the 190 or so questions in the book are the ones I should be asked. Unfortunately too many musicians—and a surprisingly large number of professionals—don't have sufficient knowledge of the business to even ask some of the most basic questions. It's stunning sometimes.

SR: Like what, for instance?

MK: Like what's the difference between an agent and a manager? It's amazing how many musicians don't really know the difference. That makes it hard to even ask the more important questions, such as how do you balance a relationship between an agent and manager; how do you judge reliability and competence issues; the balance of responsibilities in dealing with promoters, record companies, other musicians and so forth. There are just so many issues involved in career development and the day-to-day activities of the professional life that slide by as the artist waits for the phone to ring, or chases down that elusive "yes" answer that delivers the necessary sustenance of income production. So I ask and answer the questions that musicians and professionals need to understand—whether they realize it or not.

SR: You've mentioned the book's value for professionals who aren't musicians a few times. So Straight Ahead isn't just aimed at musicians?

MK: Since I feel that this book will be used extensively on the educational level—in fact, we recently published a Teacher's Guide with Suggested Assignments from which I hope to develop a college level course in conjunction with Larry Ridley and the African-American Jazz Caucus of the IAJE. It's aimed at two types of student musicians: the ones who will become professional musicians, and the ones who, failing to do that, will become managers, agents, promoters, record execs and all of the other possible roles that will keep them involved in the music.

SR: I've heard you say many times how jazz professionals are all failed musicians. It's one of the very first points that you make in the book. Isn't it the same in all of the arts?

MK: No, not really. Sure, theater professionals probably acted in plays in high school and college. Editors and publishing house employees are also writers. Lots of kids study instruments in grade and high school, leading to an interest in the music field. Plenty of dance professionals first connected to the art form by taking dance classes. But there are so many areas of learning they can pursue to build upon those interests—arts administration, lighting design, technology, publishing and all sorts of business-oriented classes. There are also so many agencies and service companies related to those art forms where a young professional can work their way up a corporate ladder. In jazz study, it's all music-related; performer, composer—that's about it. The professional elements just aren't available in jazz education.

And the commitment demanded by the musical expression is so huge. Plus, I'm sure you've noticed that the passion for jazz, once it takes root, is quite intense; so, that commitment toward musicianship tends to remain with the individual. It's emotionally important to stay connected in one way or another. And since it's an emotional thing, all kinds of strange and twisted elements can be brought to the table. Think about it. Essentially this means that most, if not all jazz professionals assume their roles by default, not aspiration. That creates a pretty bizarre reality. It may be the only profession in which that situation exists. Now, combine that emotionally-charged condition with the musicians' usual tendency to draw a line in the sand of exclusivity and insider acceptance that's reserved only for other musicians, and which the professional is not allowed to cross, and you have a pretty volatile result.

SR: That's a pretty intense notion. You feel that this line exists?

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