Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"
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 interestsarts 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, composerthat'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?
MK: Unquestionably. I can say that from 35 years of direct experience and skilled observation. I'd say that the vast majority of musicians with whom I've interacted generally view the manager and agent - including myself - as something between a necessary evil and a thieving mutha...... And my personal reputation is actually one of considerable integrity. That stuff can really wear you down, make you bitter, and even create a willingness to become the exploiter. And these are the folks who represent the musician. Imagine what goes on with record execs, clubowners and promoters, who are clearly perceived as the enemy, despite all the stroking, ass-kissing and even groveling that goes down. That's what years and years of exploitation will producea sense of self-protection that has a lot of paranoia in tow. You band together and circle the wagons. But survival is necessary, so you posture, cajole, hustle or compromise to get by. A synthetic environment evolves that is absolutely antithetical to the principles of Truth, Humanism and Spirituality that are the core of the music. Eventually the economy and the essence of the art form itself begin to deteriorate.
SR: That's a pretty bleak picture you're painting, man.
MK: Look around. The economic environment and the music itself are in complete turmoil. No touring, no record sales, no vibrant scene, no new leadership, no innovative directions, no public visibility, no new audiences. And schools are spewing out legions of new musicians into the mix with little opportunity to express their art and get paid. It's a mess, man.
SR: But there are groups touringand getting really well paid. How does that factor in?
MK: Sure. All-star aggregations doing tributes. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and some Marsalisesdon't get me starteda few other big names sucking down enormous fees. Look at the Great Depression. The general illusion is that everybody went broke. But the reality is that all that happened was a major shift in the distribution of wealth. All the money that was lost by the multitudes went into the hands of the few.
Let's just look at Tucson, for example. In the 2003/4 season, our monolith facility, The University of Arizona presented three jazz artists on their series. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Branford Marsalis and Wynton Marsalisand that guy for the 7th time in the 10 years we've been here. Don't get me started! (laughter) The lowest paid of them was Branford at $17,000. The next jazz gig in town pays around $1000if you can get it . Mostly they're door gigs or under $100 per man. No economy can thrive in such a polarized environment.
This situation is being replicated all over the country, and actually being fortified by the various funding initiatives that are primarily benefiting presenters and leaving musicians out in the cold. It's tragic.
SR: There seems to be a feeling among many of its critics that everything wrong with jazz today is Lincoln Center's fault. Is that your view?