John Wheatcroft takes an in-depth look at the tech­niques and con­cepts of a mu­si­cian who helped bridge the gap be­tween jazz and rock.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

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.


NEXT MONTH John ex­am­ines the stun­ning chord melody play­ing of the leg­endary Joe Pass

Steve Khan and his 1982 dot­neck ES-335

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