Steve Khan: Reflections on the Making of "The Green Field"

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I felt that, because I would have with me these three great percussionists: Jack DeJohnette; Ralph Irizarry; and Roberto Quintero, this was too good a moment to waste. And so, I composed this small vehicle for the freedom of their expression. I also added a double-time section to the end, modeled after "Four Beat Mambo" and this is where the guitar is featured. But, my approach here was to use the guitar, again in conjunction with the Korg DVP-1, to create a psychedelic "Latin Big Band" feeling using short phrases to shout over the insistent rhythms which Ralph describes as the Puerto Rican rhythm of "Bomba coming from his cowbells. The usage of this approach, this musical device was born in my brief time playing alongside Joe Zawinul in Weather Update in 1986.

It's hard to describe the joy we all felt in performing this piece. And, it's incredible how Ralph's timbales solo inspires Jack's drum solo!!! Check that out!!!

People often ask me, "Why is it that you grant so much freedom to drummers and percussionists on your own recordings?" The answer is rather simple, I appreciate what they do very much, and I have always understood that a band, any band, only can go as far as their drummer will take them. And so, I simply allow things to happen around me. Drummers and bassists seem to enjoy making music with me because the texture is so "open......"and this means that there is room, space, for each sound to exist with a sense of its own purity!

"Sanctuary/Nefertiti" (Wayne Shorter) (7:56)

Wayne Shorter's "Sanctuary" has always been a very special piece to me, since I first heard it on Miles Davis' Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) many, many years ago. It took forever to understand any number of things about it. Several years ago, when I was on tour in Europe with the Caribbean Jazz Project, we played an outdoor concert in, I believe, a small town in Italy, and after we had played, we were taken to dinner by the promoter, but we could still hear the sounds of Wayne Shorter's group playing as the music filtered through the streets to our ears. I felt that I had heard a familiar melodic grouping, but, I wasn't certain. And so, upon my return home, I e-mailed John Patitucci and asked him if they had opened their set with "Sanctuary." And, he wrote back that, "Yes!" that's exactly what it was. And so, I asked him if I could see Wayne's chart to this tune.

More than anything, I was fascinated by what Miles and Chick Corea had improvised out in front of the piece on the original recording. Was that part of Wayne's composition too? Well, what John sent me did not answer that question at all. I was really confused. And so, having recently given my sister Laurie a gift of The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions (Legacy Recordings, 2000), I phoned, and asked her if within the CD booklet, it said anything about that "Intro....."the answer surprised, shocked and stunned us both. Believe it or not, it stated that, for some time, before the recording, in live performances, Miles and Chick had played an improvised duet out in front of "Sanctuary......"and that duet was on "I Fall in Love too Easily" which was, of course, written by my father, Sammy Cahn!!! And so, I knew that I would then have to make a small medley, combining this piece with the ever-mysterious, "Nefertiti," which I had already decided to do as a slow, romantic cha-cha-cha, featuring the Latin rhythm section.

We recorded "Sanctuary" on the first day with Manolo Badrena, knowing that he would sing the melody, in vocalese, doubling John's bass expression of same. This also came out beautifully. As the statement of the melody concludes, Ralph Irizarry's 'avanico' leads us into the arrangement of "Nefertiti," which also features a tremendous timbales solo from Ralphy!!! Ralph's timbales solo is an absolute gem. I wish everyone could have seen Jack's smile of admiration, as he witnessed this kind of artistry.

"Eronel" (Thelonious Monk) (5:25)

Everyone knows of my great reverence and respect for the music of Thelonious Monk. I often try to find what is romantic—located deep within his compositions. "Eronel"—'Lenore' spelled backwards—has a very romantic side to it, and I enjoyed playing this very much with John and Jack. I especially wanted something to feature Jack's unique and brilliant brushwork.

The rhythmic feeling I was going for here was actually something I had heard Roy Haynes play on Chick Corea's version of "Pannonica." At times, it feels as if Roy is alluding to a 6/8 Afro-Cuban feel on the brushes, against what is clearly a 'swing' feel, felt 'in two.' I'm not certain just how much of this feel is alluded to on our particular version.

"You Stepped Out of a Dream" (Gus Kahn-Nacio Herb Brown) (5:36)

Another one of my favorite standards! During my earliest years in New York, during a time when Don Grolnick, Will Lee and Christopher Parker actually all lived in the same building in Greenwich Village, we often used to get together to play, before, after and during our rehearsals as part of the Brecker Brothers Band. And, one of the tunes Don always loved to play, on Fender Rhodes, was "You Stepped Out of a Dream. But he had a particular approach to the chord changes which appear in "A2 of the tune, and I always loved them. So, sometime ago, when I was creating a play-along for myself to use at various clinics, I did this tune, but in the keyboard style of Clare Fischer. And with Don Grolnick's changes. I didn't believe that I could actually cover all that harmony on guitar, but after some study, I realized that I could do it and so, with the addition of Ralph and Roberto, it is given a special Latin treatment.

"The Green Field (El Prado Verde)" (Steve Khan) (18:07)

The explanation of this piece of music requires far more time and patience, but I hope that it is worth the time and effort. Here is the story......

I was having a discussion about death with an old and dear friend, Venezuelan singer/songwriter, Frank Quintero during his stay at my apartment with his wife, playwright, Indira Páez, over one of my delicious omelettes, and I said something like this......

..."When one is in their 20s, as we look ahead, far into life and the future, as we can see it from that perspective, the green field which lies ahead of us seems endless, and so full of possibilities. But, as one grows older, sadly seeing your parents pass away, seeing one's friends and contemporaries die around us (sometimes even those considerably younger), the view of the green field changes. Suddenly, it is a much shorter green field, and the opportunities that remain must be guarded and treasured in a far different manner, and, from a perspective of greater maturity and wisdom. At least we can hope for that.

Clockwise from top left: John Patitucci, Steve Khan, Jack DeJohnette

Like anyone else, perhaps, I fear a prolonged and/or painful death, but, death, in and of itself, I do not fear. I don't know that one never gets to do, nor accomplish all that they would like, but, for my part, I have led a rich life, often times filled with beautiful and wonderful people. If it were all to end tomorrow, I could never feel cheated by any thing, nor anyone, for I know that I have been a lucky man, and will leave behind my good work, and even some good deeds.

The piece of music is also something which I've had laying around on various strips of paper for quite some time now. That was the basic "A section of the piece. While that was laying dormant somewhere, I was also composing what now stands as the "B section. Suddenly, I realized that these two seemingly unrelated pieces of music were actually part of the same piece. Both tied together by, what I envisioned as, Jack DeJohnette's relentless ride cymbal pulse, with percussive colors added in by Manolo Badrena. Initially, I thought that John and I would play all the melodies in a 'floating' style over the pulse. But, as it turned out, that didn't feel right for the "A sections, and so, those melodies were played in time. The only other piece of music that reminds of this is the title track from Ralph Towner's CD, Batik (ECM, 1978). Which, by the way, was only 16-minutes long!!!

When we performed this piece, I had no idea how long we had been playing, but it felt right to the four of us. When we went in the control to listen I was stunned to learn that we had been playing for 18:07!!! I've had some long tracks on my recordings (many which have been over 10 minutes long!) over the years, but none this long. I have done everything in my power to preserve the integrity of what we played, especially the artistry and energy of a Jack DeJohnette on something like this. On the other hand, one can never overlook the same form of artistry which emanates from Manolo Badrena. How does one explain exactly how to play a piece of music like this? It is impossible, simply because one either has an instinct for it, or not. More than anything one must not be afraid, not afraid of the space, nor of the energy. One thing feeds the other!

If one is wondering, "Exactly what is Manolo saying in some of those moments, those episodes?" Well, I can only tell you one thing. I know that at two points in time, he does say the word: "Sounds in English!!! And, if you think that you heard the word "Peace too, you did!!! The rest of it, I have no idea.....but, I know this, it is not in his native Spanish!!!

So, from all of us, to all of you, we are thrilled and proud to share this performance with those of you who can find the time to listen.

Visit Steve Khan and Tone Center on the web.

Related Article

Guitarist Steve Khan (2004 interview)

Photo Credit

Richard Laird
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