Guitarist Steve Khan
“ Wes Montgomery completely turned my life upside-down, I had never heard anything like him... and later, I had never seen anything like him either. His tone, his feel, and how melodic his improvisations were have stayed with me as ideals to this day. ”
When Japan's Jazz Life Magazine took a poll of the 22 greatest Jazz guitarists, Steve Khan was on the list, alongside greats (on any instrument) like Wes, Martino, Hall, Django, Christian, Benson, McLaughlin, Metheny, Stern, Sco and Frisell.
As both player and sometimes producer, Khan's had the fortune to work alongside the likes of Brecker, Stern, Fagen, Zawinul, Sanborn, Erskine, Weckl, Anthony Jackson, Dennis Chambers and Manolo Badrena, to name only a few.
In addition to teaching, he has also released instructional texts of solo transcripitions of two guitar legends without peer: Wes Montgomery and Pat Martino.
Among Steve's current projects is a group called The Caribbean Jazz Project with Dave Samuels, Dave Valentin, Rubén RodrÃ-guez and Richie Flores with which they cover both originals and covers of Trane's "Naima" and Duke's "Caravan."
All About Jazz: How did it affect you, having a musical icon, Sammy Cahn, for a father?
Steve Khan: It's very hard to measure a response to this. In such a situation there will obviously be positives and negatives, and that is just in general. Then you take the two personalities: my father and I, and then you've got a whole series of other problems. On the positive side, I grew-up in a home surrounded by music, wonderful music, music of all styles and genres. But mostly we heard the wonderful "popular" music of the '20s, right through to the early '60s. Though, like all youngsters, I eventually broke away from this. In the end, I am so grateful for having been exposed to it all. Now, in my middle to later years I am often moved to tears when I hear certain songs from that period.
On the negative side, my father and I never really had a great father-son relationship and this continued right up until his death. And sadly with the repercussions of his passing the chasm still exists and will always be there. There are times, however, when I can enjoy some of his tunes. It is especially gratifying for me to see artists, whom I respect, covering his tunes. Recent versions of his standards interpreted by Keith Jarrett and Ralph Towner have been especially moving for me. My sister, Laurie, has often said that the "sound of the typewriter coming from dad's office was the soundtrack to our childhood."
How ironic it now is that I spend so much time typing at the keyboard of my computer!
AAJ: That's true. You'd mentioned Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Grant Green, and Jim Hall, as original influences. Briefly, what have you learned from each of your influences?
SK: I came to the guitar and a commitment to music very late, at least as these things were judged then. I began to play at 19 yrs. old. Today, because of all the educational material available, kids are simply "killin'" & "shreddin'" at 10 yrs. old(more or less!). Some of the first guitar music that appealed to me was by the Three Kings... B.B. King; Albert King; and Freddy King. I used to love to learn those Freddy King instrumentals. And, to this day Albert King remains my favorite of the three. But, I was also very drawn to the R&B of that time as well, all the great music from Stax/Volt; Atlantic; and King Records, which brought us most of the great James Brown recordings.
Wes Montgomery completely turned my life upside-down, I had never heard anything like him... and later, I had never seen anything like him either. His tone, his feel, and how melodic his improvisations were have stayed with me as ideals to this day. Both Kenny Burrell and Grant Green reached me with their bluesy approach to jazz, very "rootsy" and very soulful. Jim Hall reached me in a very different way. He possessed a kind of grace, a dignity, a gentleness and an alternative melodic sense which influenced so many of my peers. In the end, with all four of these great players, it's the "feeling" I get when listening to them playing and to try and put that into words is extremely difficult.
Later, I was influenced by George Benson and Pat Martino. Both of whom, in completely different ways, seemed to be the "sons of Wes." Special and individual extensions of something Wes had started. As they came right out of the organ trio tradition, there was also a 'bluesyness' and 'funkyness' which appealed to me.
After this, there was Larry Coryell, and when I heard Duster by the Gary Burton Quartet, this recording turned my life around again. Larry showed us all that, in a jazz setting, anything was possible on the guitar. And the jazz critics embraced him and thereby opened the doors for all of us who were to follow. Perhaps first amongst those was John McLauglin who ended-up blasting right past Larry Coryell. Perhaps it was because when Larry left Gary Burton to begin his career as a solo artist, he wasn't really ready to be a focused bandleader.
When John McLaughlin came along with the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra it demonstrated that a band, led by a guitarist, could change the way we all heard and made music. In truth, if one is to view the recent history of "jazz," it's apparent that some of the greatest strides in music making have come from groups led by guitarists. In another time, this would have been unthinkable, unimaginable. To some of the more stuffy jazz "historians," it IS impossible to accept!
In truth though, the greatest influence, on how I've now come to play and approach music, comes from pianists/keyboard players. I would have to mention(and in no particular order): McCoy Tyner; Herbie Hancock; Chick Corea; Bill Evans; Joe Zawinul; Larry Young; Keith Jarrett; and the gorgeous harmonies of Clare Fischer.
AAJ: All of them are originals, as are you. What makes a musician an original?
SK: This is so tough to answer. But firstly, I don't think one can try to be "original." One just has to follow their own voice, their own path and maybe, just maybe others will see you as "original." I think if you talk with any of the great players, they might all say that they're still playing things connected to their influences. Most great players are exceptionally humble. However, to try and answer the question a little more directly, I think one must somehow come upon a "personal vocabulary," a means of expression that is accidentally unique to that person. Usually, it comes to you over a great period of time, as if by accident, not by design. Sometimes it's born of what you can't do more than of what you can do !
AAJ: I just had the chance to interview Pat Martino not long ago and, for me, he's always symbolized the obvious step from tradition into the modern exploration of the sonorities and logic of guitar, music and its elements. Sort of a fearless, methodical type who ended up creating new sounds in jazz guitar and beyond, as a result. You've written a book of Pat's selected transcriptions. What is it about him that strikes you that much?
SK: All the Martino transcriptions, which became a book, were done during my college years at U.C.L.A. where I was trying to teach myself how to understand this great music, and how to play it. On Pat's earliest recordings for the Prestige label, what appealed to me most was his unrelenting time feel, his precision in execution, and a playing style just brimming with its own intensity and passion. Also, then when he was still playing a Gibson L-5, his tone was spectacular. For someone who was influenced by Wes, and who was cradled by those who cradled George Benson, his feel and attack were so different. Usually when players pick every note, it tends to sound very stiff in a jazz/swing setting but, and I still don't know why, Pat never sounded or felt like that to these ears.
AAJ: Metheny is much the same as far as originality stemming from tradition. It's amazing that, of all the guitarists there have been, fresh ideas and approaches continue to emerge. How do you think this continues to be true considering that we all use much the same elements?
SK: If what you're intimating is true, perhaps it's because we're living in a time where, for many of us, "everything" and "anything" is possible in music. And "improvised" music, whether or not it conforms to the rather narrow descriptions and rules of some, "jazz" has been freer to embrace all that is possible for decades now. The guitarists who've come along, more or less at the same time as me, simply reflect this attitude. As if to say, "I hear something, and that's what I'm going to try to do, and nothing is going to stop me from trying!"
AAJ: Wes is another guitar great whom you've published transcriptions of. Though he came up literally playing Charlie Christian solos on stage, he developed into a hard swinging, guitar innovator. How would you describe his contribution to jazz guitar?
SK: Obviously Wes changed how guitarists improvise with his usage of octaves and his incredible chord solos. But, I believe that more than these things, which most historians always point out first, he brought a kind of unbridled joy to playing. I've never seen anyone smile so much, radiate so much joy in music making as Wes. He was spectacular and he created beauty in all that he played. His touch was unlike anyone's. The gentleness of the flesh of his thumb against the cold metal of the strings. It's something to emulate no matter how one plays. In the end, everything comes down to touch! The smallest "stroke," that moment when both hands touch the instrument is where it all comes from. Great players all have a great "touch" on the their instrument.
AAJ: You've mentioned Michael Brecker a lot and besides playing together, you've done transcriptions of his solos. His harmonic thing is so effective...do you tend to learn the solos and/or analyze the implied harmonies as well?
SK: Michael and I have been dear friends and colleagues for over 30 yrs. now, having moved to New York City at virtually the same time. He's a great, great artist and has left a mark on our music and his instrument which few can touch or hope to achieve. The transcriptions of a couple of Mike's solos which appear at Khan's Corner at my website were done at the requests of various private students who wanted to try to understand just what Michael was doing. So, I tried my best to transcribe what he played and then to use it to explain various concepts in improvising.
Most guitarists whom I know and love, and respect would all die to be a tenor saxophonist or a pianist, but, try and try as we might... it's never going to happen. The mechanics are just too different, and it's a wind instrument possessing a truly vocal quality that the guitar does not have. Though in fairness, some of the great players who employ the best overdriven sounds, they get a pretty "vocal" sound from the guitar.
Many, many years ago when we would be playing together, during rehearsals or recording, I often asked Mike, "What was 'that' you just played?" This after hearing one of his characteristic 'journeys' from one consonant point to eventually landing at another. In those years, his answer was always the same. And I paraphrase him rather loosely, "It's nothing, it's Trane, b5 substitute....that's all!"
AAJ: The Mark Rothko extrapolation (seen at the Steve Recommends page of your website) and its possible application to music was very interesting. Are you a serious art fan?
SK: Well, I can only say that I appreciate all the other art forms and try to support them as much as I can. I am constantly humbled by the output of the great painters. It makes writing and recording a few tunes over one's lifetime seem like a very small feat. I love going to plays in the theater, I appreciate dance much more now than ever, and I love movies very, very much. I read much, much more than I used to.
AAJ: Metheny's mentioned that he's a fan of Paul Klee's work. Picasso painted guitars and Martino's mentioned that he'd sometimes compose new material from viewing a landscape. It's interesting this interaction with art of other mediums; that we look to find similarities, justification and inspiration in the work of others. Do you find yourself doing that, as well?
SK: Again, for the most part I find the work of great artists in all the other mediums to be humbling. But, at the same time, it's very, very inspiring. Inspiring to simply try to extract the best from yourself....knowing that you can only fall short of those you hold in the highest regard. In the end, it's the earnest quality, the sincerity of your effort that will possibly produce a work of enduring quality and beauty. However, usually just 'what' any work might be is determined by others(fans, critics, record business people, even your peers at times).
One must learn to view one's own work as simply a representation of "where we at a particular moment in time." Not much more, not much less.
AAJ: For those who don't know, you also do production work, and have produced some of Mike Stern's albums ( Time in Place & Jigsaw )...Can you talk a bit about how that went and what you did on those sessions and others like it?
SK: Mike Stern really doesn't need any "musical" help from a producer. He works very, very hard on his compositions and they are usually in great shape when the first rehearsals are to take place. As a producer for Mike, he needs someone to organize the "details" of a recording, and to be an objective voice of reason, a voice of calm. Simply put, that's what I try to bring to his projects. However, for me, production, most times, is not a totally enjoyable task because one is working very hard at putting so much time and energy into someone else's music. At times, for me, I find myself questioning... why am I not putting this energy into my own music? It's a tough question to have to come to grips with. Still I like working with other musicians and I very much enjoy the spirit of camaraderie which usually exists.
AAJ: What are your philosophies on sideman work, teaching, touring, recording and producing?
SK: On sideman work: Here, you are often a craftsman. Do your best, give your best effort to make someone else's vision come into being. It requires great selflessness and thinking of the "team" first.
On teaching: Sometimes I feel as though I learn more from the students than they learn from me, but, their questions and their abilities are very inspiring to me. It's important for me to find the way to communicate with each of them and share the information I might have.
On touring: Wow, the travel is brutal. Usually not at all how people outside of music perceive it. They all think it's just One Big Party. When traveling, I try to always stay calm and follow my own regimen as to what works for me. Doing things which keep me sane. I spend a great deal of time alone, relaxing and trying to make certain that, when the evening comes and it's time to play, I will be able to fulfill my responsibilities to the group. Then it's back to my room, and prepare everything, including getting as much sleep and rest as is possible, so that the next day's travel is not so stressful.
On recording: A most unnatural process. I have learned to just try to "be in the moment"... you're just capturing where you happen to be during a particular small time period of your life. It's a brief reflection of all that you are in that moment. Relax, relax, relax, deep breaths... then play hard, play tough, play with love and feeling, hear melodies.
On producing: At least where producing your own recordings is concerned... be responsible to the music and the compositions first. But, be sensitive to the moods and needs of the other players. Listen to what they say and what they need, because you need them !!! And, you need them to perform!!!
AAJ: Can you give an outline of your compositional process... and how it's changed over the years?
SK: I don't know that I have a specific process. I don't know that one should. I do know this. I am not a person who seems to "stockpile" tunes. I seem to need to know that when I write something, it's going to have a place to be, a place to exist. That is to say, I need to know that it's headed to a recording. However, I do keep an active sketchbook, and when I 'hear' something, I jot it down. Often times I find that these 'disconnected' fragments are, in reality, somehow connected.
My pieces tend to be born of "mood" or "attitude"... I don't know where this comes from but often I hear/feel something rhythmic which leads me to a sonority which captures the mood/attitude set by that particular rhythm. The composition ends-up writing itself in a sense. You know when it's done.....but, letting it go is sometimes very difficult and the tinkering can go right up until, and during the recording.Usually, I feel that everything I write sucks! But, I get over that feeling enough to have the courage to submit it to the players and hope that they don't feel that way about it.
AAJ: Do you use the guitar exclusively to write?
SK: I suppose that I do! But, it is always my hope that what I write does note sound like something a guitarist wrote, or something obviously written for a guitar. But, I also write by just "hearing" things that come to me apart from any instrument. Melodies floating around in my imagination.
AAJ: Do you approach acoustic and electric projects very differently?
SK: Believe it or not, no ! I enter such things with the same attitude and intensity. However, one must always try to simply play what's right for the piece of music at hand. And this changes everything! The difficult thing for me is getting a headphone sound from the engineer that makes my "touch" on either instrument feel comfortable and natural.
When I feel too self-conscious about what I'm hearing and how I'm hearing it (myself), I have a hard time playing either instrument! That's when recording becomes absolute torture! I have this experience often as a sideman but it's happened to me on my own dates too.
AAJ: Can you discuss the Thelonious Monk project That's The Way I Feel Now with Donald Fagen?
SK: I believe that this project was recorded during '83 and it came about because producer, Hal Willner (of Saturday Night Live fame and other 'quirky' jazz-related projects), wanted Donald Fagen to participate in a tribute to Monk. Donald and I had known each other reasonably well from working together on both Aja and mostly Gaucho.
Donald is obviously a huge jazz fan, especially the older music, and he was really taken with my 1980 acoustic guitar recording, Evidence , which contained an 18-minute Thelonious Monk Medley. So, we discussed what we'd like to do, and that was to try and capture the "romantic" side of Monk's music.....and, it can be VERY romantic. We chose the tune "Reflections" and I spent some time working on an arrangement, an approach to it.
For this, it was very enjoyable working with Donald, who is obviously one of the great songwriters of this, or perhaps any, generation. Sadly, like so many things I've done, this recording has been out-of-print for many years now and I feel lucky that I even have one CD copy of it.
AAJ: Can you talk a bit about the evolution of your Eyewitness group through its personnel changes, etc.?
SK: Unless something changes, Eyewitness (as it ended up being called by the Japanese during our first trip there in '82) is, without question, the best group and the most important music I will probably ever be a part of. Special, in part, because none of us had the slightest idea of what we were doing or where it was all headed. It was a glorious accident.
It's impossible to put into words just how much I gained and learned from working with Anthony Jackson, Steve Jordan, and Manolo Badrena.... three of the most unique voices and musical minds ever created. But, at times, three of the most difficult and exasperating people I've ever worked with. I am forever grateful to each of them. From them I feel that I learned to just "let the music come to me"... to not feel as though I have to force things(force something to "happen") ... to not be afraid of doing something different from what I expected or wanted.
The original group tried so very hard to make a go of things, but from a business perspective, we just couldn't succeed outside of Japan, though we did play in New York several times. It was a struggle to play Boston once ! And we didn't even have enough money to stay overnight!
In the U.S., we had already recorded three times before the first LP was released here. It was very frustrating. Japan was the only country where the recordings came out in chronological sequence. Eventually we all just gave-up. After 3 yrs. of inactivity, I re-listened to some of our rehearsal tapes(from Steve Jordan's loft) and realized that I couldn't let those four tunes die on old rehearsal CSTEs. So, I decided to again take my own money (I had also paid for Casa Loco out of my own pocket) and get us recorded somehow. Steve Jordan was off doing other things and I consulted with Anthony and Manolo and we decided that Dave Weckl would be the best choice for what was to become Public Access.
Shortly after this recording Dave was a fixture with Chick Corea... and the success of his career is well documented now. His contributions to that recording are simply awesome. His solo on "Mama Chóla" is one of the great drum solos ever recorded. Since that time, Dennis Chambers has been working with us and it's been spectacular, musically and personally. He recorded three tracks on Headline and did all of Crossings. I love Dennis as a friend and as a musician. As for the future, I just don't know. I only wish that I knew... and knew something! I do know that whenever I get asked to record again as a leader, the first thing I will do is ask if I can record with Anthony, Dennis, Manolo and probably Marc Quiñones added too.
AAJ: How about the duo situation with Rob Mounsey?
SK: Rob Mounsey is simply one of the great, great musicians! His talents embody all that a true "musician" should aspire to. He's a brilliant player, composer, and arranger and his gifts are a perfect compliment to mine. He brings out and adds things which I don't possess. On our co-composed pieces, one can always tell which melodies came from him....and which came from me. His are always much more singable! Our two recordings, Local Color and You Are Here stand as unique pieces of work. I am very proud of them both, and feel very fortunate to have been able to work with Rob so closely. I can't express just how much I've learned from him, and continue to learn.
Both recordings have a "world music jazz" flavor to them because, like so many musicians, Rob and I listen to music from all cultures and all countries. For me, of course, my great love has always been Latin music, Salsa, and the folk music of the various countries from the Caribbean and Central and South America. It is this feeling and attitude I sought to bring out by having percussionist Marc Quiñones join us for You Are Here.
As an accompanist, Rob understands just how to "put the jewel on a beautiful satin pillow." Sadly there are few others who can do this in my experience. He's allowed me, my acoustic guitars, to be "that jewel" twice now and I feel very, very lucky! He has talents I only wish others will get to hear the full scope of someday.
AAJ: What was the inspiration for Got My Mental ? That's such a great band with DeJohnette, Patitucci, and percussionists Don Alias, Bobby Allende, Marc Quiñones, and Café!
SK: The "inspiration" was simply that I was afforded a chance to record by a label from Japan, and I sought to find a combination of players which none of my guitar brethren had used before. I love Jack's playing just too much to labor on any one part of it, and John Patitucci is simply one of our great, great bassists and musicians period. They both made things easy... I don't know of two players who come to play with better attitudes than either of them. They both play hard and tough.
I am not one who likes to do more than 1-2 takes anyway... one cannot blow out a great drummer like Jack by demanding take after take after take. I try to be mentally prepared to get it on the first one, if not that, the second... no more! That's what all my practicing in private is for. We only had one short rehearsal before the date!
I love playing and exploring what I like to call "odd-ball" standards(things I listened to during the mid-'60s)... I had been preparing these tunes for quite some time... as the date drew near, I knew that I wanted to include the Latin element as well, and so these great percussionists were added for mood and the "sabor" (the flavor).
AAJ: What are your current road and studio rigs?
SK: I've been playing my Gibson 335 (from their early '80s Heritage Series) for nearly 20 yrs. now, and when I travel that's the ONLY guitar I take out with me. Simple as that. Acoustically, when it's steel-string, I use my Martin MC-28. And when it's nylon-string, I use a Yamaha APX-10. Both are set-up with an "electric guitar feel" for my left hand. On my electric guitars, I've been using Dean Markley SLP strings for years now with the high E string being a .009 gauge. I guess this means I'm a wimp! I like the elasticity of the feel of those gauges. However, I think one does sacrifice a certain "richness of tone" which lighter gauge strings... and I pay the price at times when I hear certain notes, attacked a certain way, on my E and B strings. It can really drive me crazy!
My "rig" has been the same for years now... more or less. Because of a very serious back injury (a slipped disc, from too many years of basketball at the local YMCA at 6 A.M. w/out warming up or cooling down properly!), I have been using a Walter Woods stereo amp/pre-amp because of its great power and light weight. I have two sets of matched speakers but I am almost never able to afford to take them on the road. They are both Marshalls. A pair of 1x12" cabinets and a pair of 2x12" cabinets.
Obviously I like to throw as much sound as is possible so the bigger ones are my favorites. Prior to this, most of my recordings after '84 were done with two Pearce G-1 heads. I wish I knew more about the real inner-workings of amps (like Allan Holdsworth or Scott Henderson... two brilliant players with tremendous sounds!), because when an amplifier offers even ONE mid-range control I am lost. And, I often hear this "honking" sound in the middle register.....and then, I have to send out an S.O.S. to the engineer to help me get rid of it!!!
The main "pedal" (effect) which is the "key" to my sound is an old Ibanez DCF-10 (Digital Chorus/Flanger 9v pedal). The sound is incredible to me because it's the only pedal of its kind (at least to my knowledge) where, when you play single notes, they sound unchorused... and then, when you play a voicing, suddenly it (the sound) opens up and the chorusing appears rich and lush. There are also two Ibanez delay pedals sent left and right (for ping-pong effect) and finally a Lexicon Alex Reverb unit. It's all very simple, but functional.
Oh, I forgot there's also an old Ibanez Tube Screamer in the Ibanez pedal board which houses 5 of the pedals mentioned, but they stopped making this unit long, long ago. I guess they couldn't compete with the one made by BOSS. Bassist Mark Egan is the only other player I've seen who had one. Finally I use an Ernie Ball stereo volume pedal.
I do have a very serious 'rack' which Bob Bradshaw built for me (when I was with Joe Zawinul's Weather Update, foolishly thinking that this group would stay together!)... but, stupid me, it's the size of a refrigerator and I haven't had the money to cut it down to about 8-10 spaces where I could actually USE it again. There's just too much crap in it to discuss here. But I do absolutely love my Soldano 3-stage pre-amp. I yearn to use those sounds again someday.
AAJ: How was it playing w/ Zawinul for Weather Update?
SK: Working with Joe and Weather Update (which consisted of Victor Bailey on bass; Peter Erskine on drums; and Robert Thomas, Jr. on percussion) was one of the great musical and personal experiences of my life. But also, one of the great, great disappointments! It all came and went during 1986, just after Weather Report, then really just after Wayne Shorter had finally decided to go it alone. Joe had recorded Dialects as a solo artist, and the last Weather Report CD, This Is This had just been released as well. I decided to join this group, and with great hopes. Hopes that we might actually be a band for many years to come. But our 7-week tour (four in Europe and three across the U.S.) turned out to be our maiden voyage and swan song all in one!!!
The truth is, in my opinion, we were not a very good band. Fundamentally because we did not have a very good book of music to play then, and Joe insisted that we not do any of the "old" Weather Report music. The rest of us wanted to do a lot of it because we knew that, what we did have, was not going to be truly competitive with the best music out there then. On the U.S. tour, where we shared the bill with an incarnation of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra (then with Bill Evans on sax; Jim Beard on keyboards; Jonas Helborg on bass; and Danny Gottlieb on drums), we were pretty much blown off the stage each night because John's presentation was much more organized and together. The pace of their set was beautifully done, and we were a raggedy-ass mess by comparison. It was some sad shit believe me! Though in stark contrast to what I'm saying, I run into people here and in Europe who thought that the band was great! Go figure!
Joe had come to hear "Eyewitness" when both groups were on tour in Japan during '83. That he was so knocked out by our group's music and approach was such a thrill I couldn't believe it. For him to sit there through two long sets of keyboardless music was amazing. However, I don't think he wanted a "clean" guitar sound for his group... and we had a lot of conceptual disagreements.
In the end, Weather Update was so loud that I found myself drifting back towards a sound and style of playing I had long since abandoned. Not long after the tour, as things turned out, when Joe disbanded Weather Update and started the Zawinul Syndicate, Scott Henderson was the guitarist, and I don't think that Joe could have made a better choice! Scott is one of the great guitar voices and has just the right blend of grit and blues to go with his own jazz vocabulary. I think it also should be said that Joe initially wanted John Scofield for Weather Update, but, John wisely chose to stick with his own music and to develop being a bandleader himself.
But, and bless his heart, Joe is a most difficult man to work with... and anyone who has "served time" with him would tell you the same. However, he is one of the most uniquely gifted musical minds ever and it was an honor to have worked with him. My best musical memories are simply jamming at sound checks... and, at times, just standing next to him at sound check while he played duo with Peter Erskine. Wow, the two of them sounded, to use contemporary horrifying slang, "stupid ridiculous good!" When Joe sits down at his keyboard rig, within a note or two, you know instantly who is playing and setting the mood and tone.
I would not use this word without great care, but he is truly a genius! One of the great things I learned from Joe comes from the following story. As our tour began in Europe and remember this was just after the demise of Weather Report, there were actually some very serious "press conferences;" and, the jazz writers wanted to know everything. What happened to the "old" group and what was to be the direction and purpose of this new group. Of course, Joe was asked some pretty ridiculous questions too. Here's a rough sample:
Reporter: Mr. Zawinul, what do you think about "rock?" Joe: I don't think about it! Reporter: Well, who do you listen to? Joe: I listen to myself !
When I first heard this, I suppose I thought to myself, "geez, what an arrogant asshole!" But, believe it or not, I used to actually think about this response often. And, somewhere, during the middle of the tour, I realized: Wow, this is why he is who he is! Yes, it's a great thing to have an open mind, and to listen to all the music that's out there, but in the final analysis, if you don't hear Your Own Music, the music which exists Inside of You, then you will never "hear" a damn thing of substance. And, you will never have a musical personality or style. When you look at Joe's body of work, it is rich with personality and style. So, the lesson is: Listen to yourself! Hear your own music!
Beyond all the arguments, and there were many, we came away from it all with a deep and lasting warmth, and a great respect for one another. When my father died in '93, and I was away in California performing with one of my trios at the time, amongst the first messages of sympathy on my answering machine at home was Joe's voice saying beautiful things. For this, and many, many other moments, I will always love Joe and treasure my times with him.
AAJ: That's really moving. Sometimes you never really know someone until they have a chance to be there for you in a way you never thought they could. What's coming up for you in the near future?
SK: For now, the present and the future is tied to the Caribbean Jazz Project which features the brilliant Dave Samuels (vibes and marimba) and Dave Valentin (flute)... we've been joined by Rubén RodrÃ-guez on bass; and Richie Flores on congas. For the newest recording, PARAÍSO (Concord Picante) we used Luisito Quintero on a hybrid timbales kit and Dafnis Prieto on drums... alternating tracks between them. I don't think anyone would want to try to predict what will happen, but I do know that this is a tremendous group and the potential to do wondrous and new things in Latin jazz is all there. I am just hoping for the best, but prepared to accept whatever happens.
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