John Wheatcroft takes an in-depth look at the techniques and concepts of a musician who helped bridge the gap between jazz and rock.
Steve Khan helped bridge the gap between jazz and rock. Martin Cooper explores his style.
Steve Khan is a wonderful American jazz and fusion guitarist with a super-impressive resume, including Steely Dan, James Brown, Billy Joel, George Benson, Billy Cobham and Joe Zawinul’s Weather Update. Steve and his contemporaries, players such as John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Mick Goodrick, were that first generation of genuinely cutting-edge players to truly bridge the gap between jazz and rock music.
As well as producing a significant portfolio of releases as bandleader, Khan – like Mick Goodrick – has contributed to the body of knowledge for the jazz guitarist by producing a number of books that are essential reading for the studious player (see Track Record).
The son of legendary lyricist and songwriter Sammy Cahn, the man responsible for such Rat Pack classics as Ain’t That A Kick In The Head, My Kind Of Town and many more besides, Khan changed the spelling of his surname to distinguish himself from his illustrious father and dismiss any accusations of nepotism.
Steve’s musical journey began not with the guitar but with the drums. However, by his own admission he was a terrible drummer with little in the way of musical training. When at age 19 he decided to switch to guitar he made sure that he corrected the error of his ways and undertook a period of serious study under the tutelage of Frank Sinatra rhythm ace, Ron Anthony.
He made such rapid progress that when he moved to New York in his early 20s he was soon working with jazz greats and fusion pioneers such as Larry Coryell and The Brecker Brothers. Word spread fast and soon Steve began to release records under his own name. Many consider the classic line-up to be his 1981 quartet, featuring Anthony Jackson on bass, Steve Jordan on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion.
Like many players from his generation, Steve has a fluid and legato approach to the instrument. Unusually for a jazz guitarist, he strings the instrument light and plays with a delicate although expressive and articulate touch. He has a wonderful rhythmic command and is equally at home as both a soloist and accompanist. His harmonic vocabulary is sophisticated and intelligent, with an almost piano-like approach to comping and his sound is warm and full of beauty. His compositions reflect this knowledge and his playing always suits the song. If you’ve not checked him out then you’re in for a treat, as guitarists of all ability levels and from practically any style would definitely find something that they could take from his playing to improve their own.
There are nine musical examples for your perusal this month, each showcasing a particular approach, concept or technique found within Khan’s style.
Examples 1-7 are intended as musical excerpts, motifs, and lines that typify how Steve might react in an improvisational situation, whereas examples 8-9 are more exercise derived. A healthy balance of both of these areas provides the ideal conditions for you to make optimal improvements, so don’t delay – jump straight in.
THAT’S THE GOAL; JUST GET A LITTLE BETTER EACH DAY. ONE NEVER GETS THERE. FOR MOST OF US, IT’S AN ENDLESS PROCESS OF SMALL STEPS AND SELF-TORTURE Steve Khan
NEXT MONTH John examines the stunning chord melody playing of the legendary Joe Pass
Steve Khan and his 1982 dotneck ES-335