In a special issue of Japan’s Jazz Life magazine, they selected the 22 All-Time Greatest Jazz Guitarists. Of course, legends like Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, and Jim Hall were included alongside more recent giants George Benson, Pat Martino, Larry Coryell, and John McLaughlin. But right there, amongst contemporaries John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Mike Stern and Bill Frisell, was Steve Khan! It’s a testament to a large body of work which now spans more than 30 years.
Hard to believe this dream began at a rather late age with Wes Montgomery held as the model to which to aspire. Steve admits that, when he was a teenager, “I was a terrible drummer with no musical training. I had developed a love for the guitar, and when I was 19, I switched instruments. I promised myself that I would not make the same mistakes I had made with the drums, and studied hard in college along with private lessons from Ron Anthony.” During these years, Khan always found himself in fast company and, from such situations he learned, developed and survived. By the time he graduated from U.C.L.A., in 1969, he felt ready to make the move to New York City.
From this point forward, so much of Steve’s career is well-documented. In 1974, he performed in one of the first contemporary Jazz guitar duos with Larry Coryell. During this same period, he became a key member of the Brecker Brothers Band. His first recordings as a leader were a trio of well-received albums for Columbia Records titled: Tightrope (1977), The Blue Man (1978), and Arrows (1979). These recordings featured Michael and Randy Brecker, David Sanborn, Don Grolnick, Will Lee, Steve Gadd, Mike Mainieri and others. In 1994, Sony Music/Columbia released a CD compilation drawn from these three LPs titled The Collection.
In 1980, Steve began to make a great transition when he recorded a brilliant solo acoustic guitar album, Evidence, which paid tribute to his earliest Jazz inspirations, and served to establish him as one of the great interpreters of the music of Thelonious Monk. But it was his new quartet, formed in 1981, which included Anthony Jackson, Manolo Badrena, and Steve Jordan, that forged a new musical concept and direction. Together, they made three recordings: Eyewitness (1981), Modern Times/Blades (1982), and Casa Loco (1983). This groundbreaking group, which became known to fans as Eyewitness, and its recorded work, came to be regarded as amongst the most innovative of its time!
When the group needed a break, Khan joined Joe Zawinul’s Weather Update for its one and only tour in 1986. This was followed by an innovative duet recording with keyboardist Rob Mounsey. The Grammy-nominated CD was titled Local Color and was released in 1987. In 1989, Eyewitness was resurrected with Dave Weckl replacing Steve Jordan for the Public Access (1990) CD. Because of the powerful distribution of GRP Records, this became Steve’s most widely known recording after the Columbia Records years.
During the 1980s and through the mid-’90s, Steve contributed performances to various “special projects.” The first was in 1984 when he teamed with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen to interpret Thelonious Monk’s “Reflections” for the That’s The Way I Feel Now recording which was a tribute to Monk and his compositions. Steve’s unique medley of two George Harrison tunes graced Mike Mainieri’s NYC Records Come Together: A Guitar Tribute to The Beatles. Here he was accompanied by Marc Johnson, Peter Erskine, and Nana Vasconcelos. Special Olympics and the Holiday Season reunited Steve with the Brecker Bros. for a Salsa-styled interpretation of his father’s one Christmas song, “The Christmas Waltz,” which appeared on the Jazz to The World CD. In 1996 Steve teamed with vocalist Gabriela Anders, Rob Mounsey, and, New York Salsa All-Stars Ruben Rodriguez, Marc Quinones, and Papo Pepin to contribute “Don’t Worry Baby” (“No Te Preocupes Nena”) to Wouldn’t It Be Nice, a tribute to Brian Wilson.
During ‘91 and ‘92 respectively, Steve added two acclaimed straight-ahead Jazz recordings, Let’s Call This and Headline, which featured Ron Carter and Al Foster. Headline brought Steve back together with Anthony Jackson, Manolo Badrena, and Dennis Chambers on drums for three tunes. In 1994, that same quartet plus Michael Brecker recorded Crossings, which was dedicated to the memory of Steve’s late father, lyricist Sammy Cahn.
Recorded in 1996, Got My Mental saw Steve team with John Patitucci on acoustic bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums for the first time. Once again, his unique playing and arranging perspectives colored the works of Wayne Shorter, Ornette Coleman, Lee Morgan, and Eddie Harris, plus standards by Rodgers & Hammerstein, as well as Steve’s father with Jimmy Van Heusen. Steve reunited with Rob Mounsey in 1997 to record You Are Here. Like their prior recording, their music tends to defy categorization, but this recording seemed to sit comfortably between contemporary Latin Jazz and World Music Jazz and, in keeping with their prior work, Steve is only heard on acoustic guitars. One brand new dimension for You Are Here was the presence of Latin percussion virtuoso, Marc Quinones.
In August of 1998, Steve toured Japan as part of Dave Samuels’ “Tribute to Cal Tjader” Group. The tour was to have far reaching consequences as it was here that plans were made for Steve, Dave Samuels and Dave Valentin to become the co-leaders of the reformed Caribbean Jazz Project. Together, they recorded New Horizons (2000) and Paraiso (2001) for Concord Picante. These recordings served to redefine just what the role of the guitar could be in Latin Jazz.
After a nine year absence from recording as a leader, Steve entered Avatar Studios in May of 2005, reunited with John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette to record The Green Field. The return of long-time colleague, percussionist Manolo Badrena added a most welcome and familiar dimension. In addition to the six quartet pieces, the basic “trio” was joined by Ralph Irizarry (timbal) and Roberto Quintero(conga and percussion) for Latin treatments of : “Riot” (Herbie Hancock); the standard, “You Stepped Out of a Dream”; and “Nefertiti”(Wayne Shorter).
The year 2007 saw the release of the Grammy-nominated Borrowed Time. The recording was an extension of Steve’s work with both John Patitucci and Jack DeJohnette, and sought to fulfill the promise of The Green Field. Manolo Badrena was on hand again, as well as Ralph Irizarry and Roberto Quintero. All these players were joined by Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet) and tabla master Badal Roy for Steve’s very original “El Faquir” which seeks to blend Jazz, Indian and Latin genres with spectacular results. No less unique was Steve’s interpretation of “Have You Met Miss Jones?” and his own “Face Value” with both serving as tributes to Clare Fischer’s harmonies. These spectacular tracks featured old friends: Randy Brecker (flugelhorn), Rob Mounsey (keyboard), Ruben Rodriguez (baby bass and electric bass) and, Marc Quinones (timbal) and Bobby Allende (conga).
After encountering years of bootlegs and illegal downloads, Khan released the 2-CD set, The Suitcase in 2008. As was the case for the prior two CDs, the initial releases were on: 55 Records (Japan); Tone Center Records (USA) and ESC Records (Germany/Europe). Alongside long-time band mates, Anthony Jackson and Dennis Chambers, the trio was originally recorded by WDR for a live radio broadcast from Koln, Germany in 1994. With the superb sound quality and the spectacular performances, this CD has been being hailed as: “. . . a landmark contemporary Jazz trio recording!!!”
Recorded in 2010 and released in May of 2011, Parting Shot is Steve’s brand new recording, and it features Eyewitness veterans: Anthony Jackson, Dennis Chambers, and Manolo Badrena, alongside the tremendous Latin percussion team of Marc Quinones and Bobby Allende. Together they perform seven new compositions from Steve, and his interpretations of “Bye-ya” by Thelonious Monk, and both “Chronology” and “Blues Connotation” by Ornette Coleman. Recorded by James Farber at Avatar Studios, this spectacular sounding recording features performances by guest artist Rob Mounsey (keyboard and orchestrations), and Steve was honored to have both Andres Beeuwsaert (Aca Seca Trio) and Brasilian vocalist Tatiana Parra singing the vocalese section on Steve’s tune, “Influence Peddler.” This is the first Latin Jazz recording led by a guitarist in 50 years!
Throughout his long and distinguished career, Steve has found time to lend his talents to recordings by such diverse artists as: Miles Davis, Steely Dan, James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, Ashford & Simpson, Quincy Jones, Lou Rawls, Randy Newman, Eddie Palmieri, Gil Evans, Freddie Hubbard, the Brecker Brothers, Steps Ahead, among others (too numerous to list). He has also produced recordings for fellow guitarists Larry Coryell, Mike Stern, Bireli Lagrene, and Bill Connors, as well as pianist Eliane Elias. In addition, he has published four highly-regarded books: Wes Montgomery Guitar Folio, Pat Martino – The Early Years and Steve’s own innovative instruction books: Contemporary Chord Khancepts (1996) and Pentatonic Khancepts (2002), which is intended to serve as the linear adjunct to its chordal predecessor. While continuing to perform in clubs and concert halls throughout the U.S., Europe, Central and South America, and Japan, Steve has also become one of the most in-demand music clinicians and teachers.