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All About Jazz: The web's most comprehensive jazz resource


Guitarist Steve Khan

By Published: March 25, 2004

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 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!"

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