[TheLastMiles.com] How did you get the "Amandla" gig?|
[Steve Khan] Through Marcus Miller. We had known one another a long time, and had played together frequently.
 How did the session take place?
[SK] My role on that track was easy. Marcus had an idea of what he wanted me to do. I made a few suggestions, and we did it. Most of what I played is still there. There are couple of things I did which are, in my opinion, undermixed - they are there, but not prominent. There are some power chords, some color effects, and some melodies that I played. It was a very thick texture with all the synthesizers and keyboards, but my guitars are in there. Miles wasn't even there at the session. When I recorded that stuff Miles was on the phone listening. I'd be sitting in the studio with percussionist, Bashiri Johnson - we were overdubbing together - and I could see Marcus through the glass of the control room holding the phone up to the speakers, and we all knew that Marcus was talking to Miles. Then, Marcus would say: "Miles says, 'tell Steve he's a motherfucker!'" It was very, very funny. But, it was still a great thrill to be a part of anything that involved Miles Davis.
 You had mixed feelings about this particular track because Joe Sample was involved?
[SK] Yes, to be sure! It was all tempered with some bitterness over Joe Sample's presence. I had worked on an album of his titled "SPELLBOUND" with Marcus Miller and Omar Hakim[who plays drums on the track, "Amandla"]. Tommy LiPuma was also the producer, and, without any sugarcoating, I basically got fired after one day of work. So I wasn't even certain that I wanted to play on any track that involved Joe Sample! It all makes my Miles story rather funny. You can be doing something that you've only dreamed about, and then, you find that it is not quite going to be what you wanted it to be. In this case, mostly because Miles was not even there.
 Some people have complained that Miles shouldn't have been making albums like "AMANDLA", which used a lot of electronics and overdubbing.
[SK] When it's somebody like Miles Davis, he doesn't owe anybody anything!!! He doesn't have to do anything the way someone, a critic or a fan, thinks he should do it. He is a great, great artist - Miles, John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman are probably the three most important artists of that era for our music, so any of those three owes no one a damn thing. If that's how Miles wanted to do it, who is to say, "No he can't!" to him? Even the great Quintet recordings, the ones that guys of my generation just worship, the recordings of the mid-1960s which featured Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock; a lot of those recordings are not really like we conjured them up to be. The more one learns about music, it is hard to escape the possible conclusion that much of that music sounded like recorded rehearsals - at least it appears to be so to me - there are so many little errors or unexpected liberties taken. Wayne Shorter's music is very orderly and structured, not really random at all. What Miles was doing then, with "AMANDLA", was some form of very sophisticated pop, R&B-oriented Jazz. It was not about stretching out for twenty minutes - he had already done all that one can do in that area. You can see why Miles dropped out for a time, because he had done everything - there was nothing left for him to do.
 Your name is missing from the credits of "AMANDLA." [The reason for the credit error was that during the production of the album artwork, Marcus Miller was phoned by somebody in the art department, and was asked about the musician credits. Several tracks were mentioned, and Miller explained that Steve Khan was not on all of them, only "Amandla." And so, this misunderstanding meant that Steve's name was inadvertently omitted from the credits for the title track.]
[SK] You never forget something like that, and believe me, it is really heartbreaking when something like this happens. When you have been a musician, especially of my generation, and you have moved to New York to seek out your dreams, you just don't really believe that you will ever play or record with Miles Davis. There used to be a joke amongst all the musicians, those with similar aspirations. We would all leave messages on each other's answer machines, each doing his best impression of Miles' raspy voice. After receiving such a message, everyone would alter their daily routine and say: 'Miles is gonna call, so I can't go out to dinner with you tonight'. Of course he never called, and it was all pretty funny. It was the same dream for everybody, so when that opportunity actually does come.....to have a cosmic disaster like having your name left off of the credits is pretty unbelievable, and devastating. I had tears in my eyes coming back downtown to my apartment on the subway that day. But, lucky me, there was a second run of the CD in the U.S., and my name is now properly listed there! "Down Beat" magazine, in their review of the recording, did list my name so that was very kind of them.
 What's your take on "AMANDLA" as an album?
[SK] In truth, I never paid much attention to any of the later recordings, the very period about which you have written. If I listen to Miles I listen to "SORCERER"; "MILES SMILES"; "NEFERTITI" and "E.S.P." I have some of the later stuff; most of it is only on LP, and I have never sought to purchase those recordings on CD, because I don't really care about them. I think the last of the post 'great Quintet' records that I still have an affection for is "BIG FUN"('72). I love the pieces "Ife" and "Great Expectations" - those were fantastic to me. All the recordings after that, even though he had some superb players like Steve Grossman, Dave Liebman, and Bob Berg, I just never cared for the music. I know he was trying to create something positive, but I stopped caring about it. I know Miles was very sincere, and always searching for something, but for me, as a fan of his, I just stopped listening. The groups and the music that Miles Davis had spawned, the brilliant players to whom he had been a father figure, went forward to take the entire Fusion Era in our music to new heights. John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra and Shakti; Herbie Hancock's Headhunters; Weather Report with Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul; the Tony Williams Lifetime; and Chick Corea's Circle and Return to Forever were groups that helped to shape all that was to come. It is as if, once you have played with Miles, you have a responsibility to go forward and create something important of your own. It is, of course, unspoken, but that's the sense you get from listening to these visionary players. Miles Davis influenced everything, but I think that as he got older, while not totally relinquishing control, he was happy to have someone in whom he trusted, like Marcus Miller, taking care of all the details so that he could just walk in and play.
There was something really beautiful about "In a Silent Way", but what is so funny to me is that what one now hears is really the product of Teo Macero's creative editing - turning it into an [A][B][A] form, born of the magical editing of sections, and long before copying and pasting was even possible. The repeat of [A] is the exact same [A] that began the piece! But it was the feeling, which they created in the studio, that was, for its time, quite revolutionary. In a way, it was almost religious in nature, because it was so rich in spirituality. But after that recording and "BITCHES BREW" and the aforementioned tracks from "BIG FUN", most of it started to become a big jumble for me. The music begins to enter into the area where you might say to yourself: "Geez, this must have been an awful lot of fun to play, but I wouldn't want to have to listen to it." There is a lot of music like that, where you find yourself thinking, "Wow, it must have been great to have been there, but I don't enjoy listening to it!"
 Why was the 1964-1972 period so special for you?
[SK] The music, for which I have the greatest affection, is very much caught-up in the fantastic decade of the 1960s. It was an amazing time for all young people; it was a time for great hope! Yes, youthful and foolish hope, a dream that we could all change the world, and for the better. Some of it had to do with the Kennedys, and the dream of Martin Luther King. This spirit showed itself in everything: the music, the art, and, the films. One sometimes forgets that. I recently purchased the DVD of "A DIFFERENT KIND OF BLUE" - which documents the performance of Miles Davis at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival. The concert to me is now much less interesting, but the interviews, because of what many of the players had to say, and their perceptions of what was happening, musically and sociologically, are fascinating and most revealing. Look closely at Gary Bartz, and on his vest you will see the Black Power insignia. It is so easy to forget what was happening historically, and, in the end, you just can't separate the music from those issues, especially not the music of Miles Davis. And this is what makes it so remarkable to me that, sometimes in life, the music comes to represent something that is so much bigger than just some guys playing. Miles Davis' music embodies that aesthetic. Jimi Hendrix represents something that transcends the moment too. After that music, it is hard for anything, even after another thirty years, to live up to it! At least, in my opinion. I feel lucky to have been alive during that time.
 Did any of Miles' guitarists impress you from the 1980s?
[SK] I think that the most profound music-maker was John Scofield. I also think that, in a curious way, Robben Ford might have been the best player for what Miles was trying to do at that time. This is because what Miles really wanted was a guy who played the blues. And you can't get much better than Robben Ford! One of the most profound things in the "A DIFFERENT KIND OF BLUE" DVD was that there was always a sense that none of the musicians knew exactly what was happening, what it was that they were doing. There was this sense of great insecurity - "Am I playing good? Am I doing the right thing?" And then, Miles' answer would be: "You're still here aren't you?" Dave Liebman expressed a profound personal realization when he said, while reflecting on his own journey with Miles: "A-ha, I get it. Coltrane's fast, Miles is slow. Wayne fast, Miles slow. I play fast, and Miles is slow." And so, the realization becomes that by playing differently, this is what Miles chooses to make himself sound so great, simply by his playing less. That quote captures what being a great bandleader is about: How you pick the people with whom you surround yourself. If you are the voice of the music, it is like putting the jewel, your own voice, on a beautiful satin red pillow, and that is exactly what Miles was so great at doing!
 What is Miles' legacy today?
[SK] That is a most difficult question to answer. For me, he is of that period where the important players were also bandleaders. Miles, 'Trane, and Ornette form the branches of this huge tree, and each one gave birth to that which will be with those of us who continue to play the music, and, those of us who listen for as long as there is music like this. I'll never forget the music of the great Quintet! Those recordings are truly the soundtrack of my adolescence. I would find it hard to live without knowing that this spectacular music had been around. However, it does depend on just where somebody walks in on "the movie." If someone comes in listening to "BITCHES BREW" or "WE WANT MILES", then that is what will be important to them.