Next in our series of interviews with some of Central Ohio’s finest jazz musicians is saxophonist and bandleader Michael Kahn. Kahn, who moved to Columbus from Florida in 2010, has performed and toured in various settings around the country. He has worked with artists including The Temptations, The Four Tops, and The Shirelles, and has opened for acts like Stan Kenton, Maynard Ferguson, The Beach Boys, The Everly Brothers, The Righteous Brothers, Chubby Checker, Buddy Guy, Dion, and Najee. Kahn currently leads the Michael Kahn Quartet as well as a brand new project (see below), and also plays with bands in various genres around the area. Kahn was kind enough to answer our series of questions – keep reading for more information on his background and his current projects.
When and why did you start playing music and jazz?
Michael Kahn (MK): Playing music for me was never not an option. While I’m grateful to them now, at the time I don’t think I was back when I was 6 years old and my mother and father forced my sister and I to take piano lessons. Next was guitar lessons at age 9 which was also a bit of a drudgery. But by the time I was 11-12 years old and in 7th grade, I started playing the saxophone and from that point I never wanted to stop. 🙂
My mom and dad were both musicians and my brother had a rock band that used to rehearse in our basement when I was around 4 years old. My mother was a talented opera singer and had a scholarship to the Philadelphia College of Art. She also had her own radio show for a short period in time back in the 1940s – The Susan Lane Show – where she had the opportunity to sing commercial tunes of her day. My father was also a musician (clarinet and sax) and although he gave it up when he was drafted into the military, he hung on to his tenor sax and one day (at age 11) I decided to take it out and try playing it while I was on the phone with a good friend of mine who was playing his new alto for me – over the phone. I think he was playing “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” – ha. I started playing jazz music when I was 13 and had the opportunity to take lessons from a friend of my father’s who was a professional jazz musician.
Who are some of your main influences in your playing/performing?
MK: Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon were my two main influences. I spent many an hour listening to and transcribing their solos. This was back in the early 70’s back when there weren’t as many books and of course no online content either like there is today. And then came Freddie Hubbard, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Hank Mobley, Stanley Turrentine, and Joe Henderson with Stanley being out in front lately – ha. Seriously, I really am digging on all things soul jazz. That sound with the Hammond B-3 and Drums grooving is really fun to listen to and play. Dave Stryker has a relatively new recording entitled Messin’ with Mister T dedicated to Stanley Turrentine that is off the charts too! There’s 10 tracks on the CD and Dave is using a different tenor player on each track. Each one a world class player in their own right.
What is your fondest musical memory?
MK: I have a few very fond memories including getting a gig for Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines when I was 17 and had just graduated high school. Next was having an opportunity to work with the Dave Stahl Big Band when I was in college. Dave was a lead trumpet player extraordinaire who worked with Buddy Rich and Count Basie and he had accumulated a bunch of great big band charts from these bands. While I was with Dave we got to play and perform with some great artists like Gerry Niewood, Art Davis, Al Grey and Rufus Reed. Dave also got a few of us a gig one time as the backup band for the Temptations where we had an opportunity to share the stage with them for a couple of shows at the Strand Theatre in York, PA back in 1980 – both got standing ovations which was pretty cool. And finally, while working as a sideman for a major concert event in what is now called Pro Player Stadium in Miami, FL – I got to perform with a band that was the opening act for a host of famous R&B/Rock bands that included: The Four Tops, The Everly Brothers, Chubby Checker and the Beach Boys – there were approx. 25K screaming fans in attendance that day. If having to choose the fondest memory though I’d have to say it was the cruise ship gig since it my first chance to work full time as a musician when I was just out of high school.
What are you listening to today? What’s on your playlist?
MK: Horace Silver, Stanley Turrentine and Freddie Hubbard along with some Jazz Crusaders, Stevie Wonder, Coldplay and Joe Henderson. I really enjoy listening to just about everything that XM Sirius Real Jazz Radio plays and whenever I get a chance listen to both WUCF – Central Florida Jazz and more… and WBGO Jazz (NYC) via some apps that I have on my iPhone.
What inspires you about the Columbus Jazz scene?
MK: When I first got to town back in 2010 getting to hear and sit in with Bobby Floyd was a great experience. The JazzColumbus.com website was a great find as well and I was relieved by the fact that there is a jazz scene here in Columbus. And the Jazz Jam Sessions at the Park Street Tavern on Tuesdays led by Pete Mills these days are also a blast. Pete is a great musician and gracious host. I have also had the opportunity to study with Pete on occasion and previously was able to take some lessons with Bryan Olsheski as well – who is another awesome saxophone player and great all around guy as well.
What are you working on currently? Any new projects, exciting shows or releases?
MK: Currently, I am working a few gigs with my quartet and am also pleased to announce a new project with another great bunch of musicians here in Columbus as well. For now we are calling it The MKQ/Soul Jazz Project featuring Josh Hindmarsh and we have Dominic Baer on organ and James Gaiters on drums. For those not immediately familiar – soul jazz is a development of jazz incorporating strong influences from blues, soul, gospel and rhythm and blues in music for small groups. We recently recorded some tracks that can be heard on the below websites and are hoping to get some gigs in and around Columbus in 2017.
Where can local audiences see you play in the near future?
MK: The Michael Kahn Quartet is scheduled to perform at Dick’s Den on Thursday, December 22nd at 10pm with Robert Mason (piano), John Allen (bass) and Andrew Richard (drums). We love performing at Dick’s where we have the musical freedom to explore a lot of different types of jazz including Straight-Ahead, Blues, Latin Jazz, Hard-Bop, Funk and some of our own jazzy interpretations of some contemporary tunes as well.
Also, at the end of this month I’m working as a sideman with trumpeter and Louis Armstrong impersonator Dean Simms at The Blue Note Bistro in Dayton OH on December 30th.
In addition, folks can listen and keep up with us on the below links: