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Marty Khan: Outward Visionary

By Published: July 5, 2011
AAJ: It appears that your efforts with Straight Ahead and the renewed step forward to push collective action got a ball rolling in Tucson with your current work and your increased push into education. Do you feel this is the best path towards reforming the current system?

MK: I do, despite the fact that things didn't progress as I had hoped here—but more on that in a bit.

Within the book, a lot of people are going to be looking at the more explosive text, but Part IV, which comprises more than one third of the book, is about constructive activity. It covers musicians' working together, utilizing the 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation, economic development, locking down deals, et cetera. The section emphasizes the point that you can't work by yourself, and even the earlier sections of the book talk about the team and the importance of team activity.

So, the methodology: I had written the book to benefit the world of jazz education. Look, no matter how hard it is to play this music, it's even harder to make a living at it. So I decided to write a book that would be an appropriate and relevant text to be used in application of these concepts.

It didn't work out as I'd intended, because the now-defunct IAJE [International Association of Jazz Educators] and the jazz education world are handicapped by the same problems as Jazz at Lincoln Center and the world of foundations. What they really want is to be able to say to their students, "Here's what you need: three parts paprika, three parts cinnamon in a cup of tea. Stir it up, drink it down, and you'll be a success." Instead, my book said, "OK, now that you've worked hard on your music, you'll need to work ten times harder on your career." And that just isn't good for the jazz education business.

A lot of schools do have the book, but only a few use it as a text, and its methodology of action is not being applied. You have an education business that's launching 6,000 new musicians onto a scene where there's steady work for maybe 60 of them, and that's absurd. Of course, the IAJE collapsed under its own weight, and it was replaced by another well-intentioned organization that hopefully won't be structured the same way. The structure of most educational organizations is inherently wrong. I feel that education is key to fixing these problems, as it always has been. If institutions were offering business education, many of those musicians who otherwise would be failing as musicians would be in a position to provide business services to those who stay with the music, and then you might have 3,000 of those 6,000 being employed as artists or professionals serving the artists.

Here in Tucson, Professor Kelland Thomas, who headed the University of Arizona's Camerata Program during the years I've been involved, saw the value in what I taught and in my writing, and in January 2010 invited me to participate in more depth than just as a lecturer. When he told me about what he had in mind, I said, "It sounds like you want a collective." The class comprised about 40 students, nearly half of them interested in the business side of things, and the rest being aspiring musicians, some of whom are beginning to recognize that they may not be able to be successful musicians and will have to apply themselves to the business side.

So I said, "OK, let's find projects by which all of these people can work together to accomplish certain goals. Let's form some ensembles and related projects, and have the other people manage and develop this as an actual business and performance element." They were able to do this in a manner in which they had the freedom to create what they wanted, but had the discipline and support of professionals to shape their work into something. As a result of our efforts, the program began to launch the careers of certain musicians and professionals after the first year.

Unfortunately, with the budget crisis deeply affecting education here—and everywhere for that matter—and with Dr. Thomas' decision to focus on other things that took him away from Camerata, whether or not these programs continue is up in the air, along with whether or not I will be able to remain involved with it. But the program is there for use if the new director so decides.

In any case, this is how I met Rahe, who was an outstanding student and artist, as well as a person of clear focus and vision. The connection we made with her reminded me of the connections I made with some of my favorite artist-clients back in the early days. I said, "This is somebody who has a different outlook on things," and so we created a new model for the university to do business on behalf of its students. Essentially, her project, the CD Out of the Box (Outward Visions Music, 2011), became a model for universities to do business with their students.

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