Guitarist Steve Khan

Mike Brannon By

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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.


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