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Marty Khan Interview: About His Book "Straight Ahead"

By Published: March 22, 2005

MK: Yes, as I'd blame any predator. Any beast that must consume to feed its out-of-control imperative. But again, it's the syndrome that's really at fault not the symptom that thrives on it. Let's look at their recent fundraising campaign to build three halls in that big Columbus Circle boondoggle. $150 million dollars was raised—all to build a club in a city filled with clubs and concert facilities. Do you have any idea what $150 million dollars could do for jazz? Health care, pension funds, product distribution and marketing, establishment of artist-driven c3s and the professional training programs needed to make them work, and so forth? Even a fraction of that money could go a long way in addressing those issues.

And what does Lincoln Center do with that scratch? Real estate! I hear they're nice facilities. I mean, how nice can they be? And all these concerned funders, fans, celebrities and so forth plunk down their money to contribute to this, when there's so much need on the jazz scene? Then there's the collateral damage as other facilities try to replicate Lincoln Center, but aren't doing all that well. Just as other festival promoters emulate George Wein, but nobody has ever been able to replicate his empire. Just as no jazz musicians are going to be able to replicate Wynton's empire—as "BeatDown" Magazine recently referred to it.

But lots of mini-versions of all of the above are springing up. Little fiefdoms of exploitation, with their various spins that offer a distorted whiff of actual progress and systemic improvement.

SR: Is this only occurring in the area of live performance?

MK: No, it permeates everything. It's the American way, which until around 20-25 years ago was not prevalent in the world of fine arts and non-profit dedication.

Now the fine arts and funding world have bought in completely. Let's look at the Ken Burns mess. A filmmaker of dubious quality—pretty much exclusively a product of Public Broadcasting—and with no previous knowledge or even interest in jazz, gets millions of dollars to create the biggest film extravaganza on the history of jazz. A great opportunity for the art form, right? True recognition across the land in untapped areas, right? Huge new audiences of consumers who will buy concert tickets, fill clubs and make those CDs fly off the shelves, right?

You know what sold? Videos and DVDs of the series. Copies of the book connected with the series. CDs compiled to be marketed with the series. That's it. Not a blip on the chart for the artists portrayed, not even for Wynton, who was lionized by it while almost everybody but Pops and Duke were smeared.

Those Ken Burns Jazz—think Sherman and Atlanta when you hear that—CDs dominated the jazz charts. I contacted over 30 record stores in 15 cities to ask if people were buying any of the artists' own CDs along with the Burns compilations. The answer was always a resounding no.

Marketing, my man. Mass marketing. That's what made Burns. That's what's made Wynton. That's what we're up against. It's an empty promise of potential success to which not one in 10,000 will actually have access.

SR: So what's the answer? And is there one?

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