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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

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 produce—a 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 touring—and getting really well paid. How does that factor in?

MK: Sure. All-star aggregations doing tributes. The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and some Marsalises—don't get me started—a 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 Marsalis—and 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 $1000—if 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?

MK: This may surprise a lot of people, but no, I don't. It's a symptom of the problem. Just like Bush isn't the problem in politics. He's a symptom of the problem. A malaise of ignorance, indifference, greed and whatnot that poisons the atmosphere and allows these damaging organisms to thrive.

When Lincoln Center was first conceiving its jazz program nearly 20 years ago, everybody was saying to me "Isn't it great? This is going to put jazz in a great position." Yeah, bent over and spread wide. I told anyone who would listen that it would polarize funding, undermine touring and zombie-fy jazz. I said they'd find some mediocre technician to ordain as visionary and we'd all be paying for it for decades to come. And no, I don't own a crystal ball (laughter).

SR: But you don't blame them for polarizing funding, touring or making the music a museum piece?

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