Jazz, Jobs and Jones

Some people think I have one of the best jobs in jazz. Getting hounded by musicians and publicists, being yelled at by writers and being corrected by readers have their own sorts of rewards, to be sure, but my vote for the person with the best gig in the biz is Ashley Kahn, author of this month’s cover story on Elvin Jones and the new book A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album (Viking).

After a career spent tour-managing everyone from Greg Osby to Britney Spears, Kahn made an about-face and went from music-biz insider to music journalist with his book Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece (Da Capo, 2000), an engrossing, thorough account of one of the few jazz records that has transcended the genre and appealed to a mass audience over a long period of time. A Love Supreme is another.

Kahn’s work on these books means he’s been able to play detective, archivist and music journalist in the process of creating two definitive volumes about two timeless records. Obsessively detailed tomes about individual albums are not Kahn’s only publishing interest-“If I get to the point where I’m doing a whole book on Frampton Comes Alive, shoot me,” he says-but he admits that these sorts of projects offer a fair share of eureka moments that make them hard to resist. While researching the book he found the “original, wrinkled [photo] print that became the well-known A Love Supreme cover-presumably wrinkled after years in the hands of John’s children,” but Kahn was also surprised to find out “how Coltrane was quite hands-on with his career, affecting how, when and what he recorded, when it was released and in what form. Unlike my assumption that he was somewhat buffeted by the whims and decisions of his record company, Coltrane was truly and consciously involved with his career.”

Also while writing A Love Supreme, Kahn connected with the somewhat elusive Elvin Jones, which led to the drummer scribing the intro to the book. When Kahn interviewed Jones for JazzTimes, he listened to the new deluxe version of A Love Supreme with the drummer. It must have been somewhat surreal, listening in silence with the man who drove the legendary session. Kahn responds: “What was I thinking? Basically what a lucky SOB I was to be the person who brought this newly minted, fresh version of A Love Supreme to Elvin!”

Best job in jazz.