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Guitarist Steve Khan

By Published: March 25, 2004

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.

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