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Overdue Ovation: Steve Khan

From session ace to Latin-jazz innovator

Photo of Steve Khan
Steve Khan

On a shelf in the living room of Steve Khan’s cozy apartment on New York’s Upper West Side, there’s a row of boxes. Inside the boxes are big stacks of manila envelopes. They contain the individual charts for every piece Khan has recorded in his 40-year career as a bandleader, organized by album. No PDFs converted from Sibelius or Finale files here; Khan wrote them all by hand, one for each instrument on any given session.

“If you can keep a chart to three pages, that’s ideal,” says the 70-year-old guitarist with the trademark mustache. He flips through the bass parts for 2016’s Backlog (Tone Center), the most recent in a chain of releases on which he’s established his voice in harmonically advanced, guitar-centric Latin jazz. “To me,” Khan says, “giving the guys you’re playing with a set of charts like this is a sign of respect, so they’re not coming into a project with no idea what’s going on. Some players appreciate it.” He pauses and grins. “Some may think I’m a control freak!”

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Originally Published
Mac Randall

Mac Randall

Mac Randall has been the editor of JazzTimes since May 2018. Prior to that, he wrote regularly for the magazine. He has written about numerous genres of music for a wide variety of publications over the past 30 years, including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The New York Observer, Mojo, and Guitar Aficionado, and he has worked on the editorial staffs of Musician, LAUNCH (now Yahoo! Music), Guitar One, Teaching Music, Music Alive!, and In Tune Monthly. He is the author of two books, Exit Music: The Radiohead Story and 101 Great Playlists. He lives in New York City.