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Jerry Hahn


Teraesa Vinson

December 2004
Feature Articles

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Artist Interview

Hometown guitar hero Hahn returns to acclaim


By Tom Ineck


Jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn has come full circle.


Jerry Hahn today [File Photo]Born Sept. 21, 1940, in Alma, Neb., Hahn grew up in Wichita, Kan., but his early musical talent and ambition took him far from home. He recorded and toured with saxophonist John Handy, vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonist Bennie Wallace, bassist David Friesen and many others over the years, but earlier this year he returned to Wichita to be near his children and grandchildren. At age 64, he says he made the right decision.


“It definitely feels like home,” Hahn said in a recent phone interview. “When I used to visit, it didn’t feel like home. But now that I’m living here, it’s just been great.”


Hahn has a new solo guitar recording on Bop Wire Records, and he recently packed the house for a trio engagement at the Blue Room in Kansas City, Mo. He will visit Lincoln, Neb., for guitar workshops Feb. 22-23 and a trio performance Feb. 24 at P.O. Pears, co-sponsored by the Berman Music Foundation and Dietze Music House. He will be accompanied by KC veterans Gerald Spaits on bass and Tommy Ruskin on drums. 


While still in grade school in Wichita, Hahn seemed destined for bigger things. At age 7, he was taking lessons on a lap steel guitar that belonged to his family, and soon he proved a natural on the instrument. Largely self-taught, he turned to the more conventional six-string guitar.


“There was always a guitar hanging around, and I just picked it up on my own and started playing it,” he said. “My teacher’s son also played steel, and he had a band. I joined the band when I was 11, playing a regular guitar.”


A western swing outfit, the Bobby Wiley Rhythmaires toured small-town Kansas and played live every day on KEDD,  Wichita’s first TV station, a common practice in that medium’s infancy. Hahn began playing rhythm guitar, but switched to lead after the other guitarist quit.


“I just picked things up, as I went along,” he said. He names Barney Kessel as an early influence, along with Howard Roberts, Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow. After several years with the Rhythmaires, he began appearing in area jazz clubs. Still just 16, he lied about his age in order to get hired. The balance between his professional life and his formal education was tenuous.


“When I was going to high school, I was working a gig where I was working five hours a night five nights a week,” he recalled. “I’d get four hours of sleep after the gig and four hours between school and the gig.” Understanding his desire to become a musician and seeing his apparent musical talent, his folks didn’t object.


“They just let me do it. That’s what I wanted to do. Of course, my school work wasn’t that great. I just made sure I was taking pretty easy classes. If I didn’t get my work done in school, it just didn’t get done.”


Work was plentiful, but Hahn yearned for something more. At 21, he and his new bride headed for San Francisco, a musical hotbed that he called home throughout the exciting ‘60s. He played at some of the legendary rock venues such as the Fillmore, but more frequently at jazz clubs like the Blackhawk, The Jazz Workshop and the El Matador.


Within two years of his arrival, Hahn had joined the trail-blazing John Handy Quintet alongside violinist Michael White, bassist Don Thompson and drummer Terry Clarke. The band scored a hit with its live recording at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival, and followed up with a brilliant 1966 studio recording. It was a break-through experience for Hahn.


The Jerry Hahn Quintet released "Ara-Be-In" in 1967. [Photo by Chris Strachwitz]“It was fantastic. I started working with a group that went on to enjoy some real success and record a couple of albums for Columbia. That was the first band that I was ever in that got national recognition.”


Hahn’s debut as a leader was a 1967 session called “Ara-Be-In,” featuring violinist Michael White, saxophonist Noel Jewkes, bassist Ron McClure and drummer Jack DeJohnette. He toured with the Fifth Dimension in 1968, and in 1968-‘69 recorded three LPs with vibraphonist Gary Burton (“Country Roads,” “Throb” and “Good Vibes”). In 1970, he launched the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood.


An eclectic quartet with Mike Finnigan on Hammond B-3 organ and vocals, Mel Graves on bass and George Marsh on drums, the Brotherhood released a promising debut on Columbia and toured behind it to great acclaim. Before the term “jazz-rock fusion” was coined, Hahn and his colleagues were already practicing it.


“I had a trio with George Marsh and Mel Graves, and we were all jazz players, but we had some other influences. We had some rock influences, also. But then we brought in Mike Finnigan, who played B-3 and just sang great.” Finnigan, who had been living in Wichita since the early 1960s, moved to San Francisco at Hahn’s behest, bringing with him material written by former bandmate Lane Tietgen that had never been recorded.


“It was just a combination of this expert, seasoned jazz musicianship along with this great-sounding Mike Finnigan voice with this great material and Mike playing Hammond B-3 organ. We thought we’d just throw all that stuff together and stir it up and see what came out!” Hahn readily acknowledges the band’s contribution to contemporary music, noting that German jazz authority Joachim Berendt described the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood as one of the “trailblazers of rock-jazz integration.”


"Miles (Davis) gets most of the credit, but we were right there beside Miles at the exact same time,” Hahn said. “It was the same type of a thing. We were borrowing from all different kinds of influences and styles and putting them into another context, and had a unique sound.”


But, as with so many great ideas, the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood lasted only a year. The rigors of the road took their toll, but Hahn blames something more insidious for the band’s premature demise.


“The reason why that band didn’t stick together was our management was crooked. I knew this, and I wanted to change, but I couldn’t get an agreement with everybody else. So, I left and the band broke up, and then everybody found out I was right.” Columbia allowed the band’s sole recording to go out of print, and the company retains ownership of this valuable collector’s item.


“I’ve actually talked to them, trying to buy it, but they don’t want to give it up,” Hahn said. “They still have all the masters stored somewhere up in New York.”

After the breakup of the Brotherhood, Hahn returned to Wichita, where he founded the guitar program and taught for 15 years at Wichita State University. He also began writing a regular column for Guitar Player magazine that inspired a popular jazz guitar method book published by Mel Bay.


Jerry Hahn at the time of his 1995 release "Time Changes" [File Photo]Anxious to play fulltime again, he moved to Portland, Ore., where he plied his craft for seven years before relocating to Denver in 1993. Later that year, he recorded “Time Changes,” for Enja. His first release in 20 years, it featured bassist Steve LaSpina and drummer Jeff Hirshfield and guest appearances by saxophonist David Liebman and pianists Phil Markowitz and Art Lande. He also performed and recorded with legendary drummer Ginger Baker, who was raising polo ponies on a ranch 30 miles from Denver.


He soon returned to the Pacific Northwest to start a jazz guitar program at Portland State University, where he stayed for eight years. Earlier this year, he decided to come back to his hometown, where he is close to family and is finding ample employment playing in area clubs.


“The one thing I like about Wichita is I’m working with the same guys all the time,” he said with a tone of amazement in his voice. “I’ve got five steady gigs here. I’ve got a steady working trio every Friday and Saturday night, I do a solo on Thursday and I’m working with another band on Wednesday and another duo on Mondays.”


It helps that Hahn’s reputation preceded him, a case of “hometown boy makes good.”


“When I came back, it’s like the city opened up its arms to me. I’m doing a little teaching, but not much, and I like that just fine. I like the idea that I’m playing all the time, and whenever I go out of town my chops are together.”




Brotherhood had lasting impact on listeners


By Tom Ineck


An hour-long interview with guitarist Jerry Hahn for a story in this issue of Jazz (see above) has sparked a few memories of my first encounter with Hahn’s wonderful musicianship. Please indulge me as I reminisce.


Jerry Hahn circa 1970 [Photo by Chris Strachwitz]It was July 1970. A guitar-playing friend, Mike Barton, and I had just graduated from high school in Lincoln, Neb., and we were anxious to see the world, or at least another state. We headed to Colorado, where we hitch-hiked from Boulder to Denver and back again, eventually getting arrested and jailed for sleeping in a post office lobby one chilly night on the outskirts of Boulder.


While in Denver, we learned of a concert to be held that evening, featuring English guitar rocker Terry Reid’s band. It was part of a two-night stand July 10-11 at a big barn of a place called Mammoth Gardens.


Built in 1907 as Mammoth Roller Skating Rink, from 1935 to 1962 it served as Mammoth Gardens Sports House before being turned into a concert venue for a short stint from 1969 to October 1970. Since 1999, it has been hosting music concerts as part of the legendary Fillmore Auditorium chain.


I recall that it contained huge stained-glass windows and a raised stage set up in the center of the auditorium. In that summer of 1970, The Who, Santana, Iron Butterfly, Procol Harum, Johnny Winter and Leon Russell were among the headliners who graced that stage.


Opening for Reid that memorable night was the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, a now-legendary fusion quartet that recorded one album for Columbia Records, and then quickly faded from view after a few months of touring.


Mike and I were very rock-oriented, though we had been introduced to a little jazz by our late teens. But nothing had prepared us for the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and its exciting marriage of jazz technique with the soulful vocals and Hammond B-3 of Mike Finnigan. As Hahn explains in the above story, he and bassist Mel Graves and drummer George Marsh were steeped in jazz, but also brought other influences to the band. Finnigan’s rock and rhythm ‘n’ blues contributions created a new equation, an early example of jazz-rock.


John Hammond of Columbia Records had signed the outfit, and its first and only record, “The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood,” soon hit the streets. Ralph Gleason raved about the album in The San Francisco Chronicle, and the quartet landed tours with Chicago and Frank Zappa, in addition to the Denver appearance with Reid.


Well, the Brotherhood’s Denver show knocked our socks off, making the Reid performance anti-climactic. All of the guys in the band had long hair and wild clothes, not at all conforming to the stereotypical appearance of jazz musicians. Hahn, Graves and Marsh were stretching the music to bold new places, while Finnigan anchored the band from the Hammond organ and belted out the bluesy vocals.


Mike Barton with the western swing band The Midwest Ramblers in 1978. [Photo by Tom Ineck]We later caught Reid in a daylong outdoor festival near Boulder, headlining with a local band called Zephyr, featuring a young guitar firebrand by the name of Tommy Bolin. But it was the genre-busting sounds of the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood that I remember best. According to Hahn, another teenager was in the audience that night hearing Hahn for the first time, and the experience would have a profound influence on him. It was Denver native Bill Frisell, today a popular and prolific jazz guitarist whose fusion style owes much to Hahn.


My friend Mike Barton went on to play guitar in numerous rock, country and western swing bands in Lincoln and Austin, Texas, including Kooter Brown, Jon Emery and the Missouri Valley Boys and the Midwest Ramblers. He was best man when I wed in 1977, but he’s gone now—taken by a heart malfunction at age 25 in 1978. Thanks in part to the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, those younger, wilder days—on our own, far from home, and hungry for new experiences—still survive him in my fading memory.



Artist Interview

Singer Vinson belongs to exclusive club


By Tom Ineck


Singer Teraesa Vinson belongs to a very exclusive club. She is among the very few working jazz musicians who have advanced degrees other areas and have actually worked within their disciplines before turning, or returning, to music.


After two years in New York City, she has just released her debut recording,Teraesa Vinson [File Photo] “Opportunity Please Knock.” But first she became a doctor of psychology.


A native of St. Louis, Mo., Vinson was drawn to music at an early age, taking classical piano lessons and participating in numerous choral groups. Her maternal grandmother was a talented pianist and jazzophile with an extensive record collection and friends who included Rosemary Thigpen, the wife of drummer Ben Thigpen and mother of Ed Thigpen, drummer with the legendary Oscar Peterson Trio.


Vinson also appreciated the importance of an education beyond music. Her parents instilled the Midwestern work ethic that is largely responsible for her successful pursuit of academic excellence. Always a bookworm with many different interests, she eventually studied psychology, earning a bachelor’s degree at Spelman College in Atlanta and a doctorate at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where she taught for a while after graduation.


“I taught a lot of things on humanistic theory, and I spent a lot of time with students who were sort of in-between, trying to figure out what they wanted to do with their lives. I kept telling them, ‘live your dream’ and ‘follow your bliss.’ After a while I thought, ‘Wow, I really need to practice what I’m preaching’.”


Through a long process, studying in Gainesville with vocalist Brenda Bayne and later displaying her talents in New York City’s competitive open-mike venues, including regular sessions with pianist Lafayette Harris at Harlem’s famed Lenox Lounge, Vinson has managed to overcome much of the stage fright that for many years prevented her from performing solo.


“It’s still hard. During the recording (April and May) I wasn’t doing any performing because I was really focusing on trying to get that done. But even those few months of taking off, and not making myself get up there and do it, took its toll.” Now that the gigs are more frequent and her self-confidence is on the rise, facing that roomful of strangers is getting easier, she said.


Inevitably following her bliss, Vinson moved to New York in 2002. At age 30, she maintains a day job as an administrative assistant for J.P. Morgan while developing her career in jazz.


Bayne introduced Vinson to the music and improvisational magic of singer Sheila Jordan, who later proved a major influence on the young vocalist and even arranged a couple of the tunes on “Opportunity Please Knock” (To read a review of the CD click here).


“She’s so open,” Vinson said of Jordan. “She’s in the city maybe two or three days a week and it’s just packed with students who come there. She gives everybody so much time, and she’s so encouraging.”


Her fascination with choral music led to work with the New Horizons Jazz Ensemble and the Barry Harris Jazz Ensemble. She still attends occasional classes with Harris, developing and practicing the essentials of vocal harmony.


“One thing I would like to do in the future is be part of a very small ensemble, a very tight harmony group, maybe three or four people. It keeps you fresh, it keeps your ears on the ball and it helps you when you’re doing solo work, too, because it helps you with alternate ways of singing the melody and different ways of listening to something.”


As in other areas of the country, finding jazz work in New York City remains difficult after the devastating events of 9/11, she said. Jazz artists who used to be booked six nights a week at no less than $75 a gig are now forced to take jobs paying much less. Clubs that once hired quintets have scaled back to duos or trios, while others have either abandoned a live jazz policy or permanently closer their doors. Out of necessity, Vinson and others have resorted to performing in restaurants, coffee bars and other non-traditional jazz venues.


“New York is the center of the jazz universe and it would be nice to have more opportunity.” New Jersey, she said, provides some employment opportunities for musicians who live there or who don’t mind the drive from the city.


Vinson doesn’t rule out returning to the classroom some day, perhaps balancing a part-time teaching career and a singing career simultaneously.


Meanwhile, her colleagues at J.P. Morgan have formed a solid fan base for her live gigs and her first CD. “They buy lots of drinks and the whole floor has bought my CD.”


Shifting to a discussion of her first studio experience, she praised her veteranTeraesa Vinson and band at East Side Sound in New York City [Photo by Butch Berman] bandmates for their professional advice, their group arrangements and their stellar performances on the CD. Rather than another version of “Autumn Leaves” or “Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise,” they persuaded her to settle on a mix of the familiar and the unfamiliar, including the Artie Shaw tune “Moonray,” the pop song “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” the Alec Wilder composition “While We’re Young” and the title track, a plea for equal rights by Oscar Brown Jr.


Among the more familiar melodies given a new treatment by Vinson are “What a Difference a Day Makes,” “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes,” “I’ve Got the World on a String,” “The Song is You” and “Young and Foolish.”


“When I listen to jazz, I like to listen mostly to instrumental music. When I listen to a lot of vocalists, and then go to learn the song yourself, you’re so ingrained in the way that person has done it that it’s really hard. It’s easier to listen to Bill Evans’ version of ‘Young and Foolish’ or his version of ‘Night and Day’ and then go learn the song straight from the chart, and find out how you want to do it.”


I admitted my own preference for “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” a tune that remains underappreciated despite renderings by Bonnie Raitt, Nancy Wilson, Kevin Mahogany and Freddy Cole.


“That’s probably the one I feel most proud of,” Vinson agreed. “I knew that I wanted to do something with it because it’s one of my favorite pop songs. It’s a really moving song that always has gotten me.” As the band began to arrange and rearrange it in rehearsals, it began to take on a new life, exactly what Vinson had envisioned, and better.


Vinson considers herself fortunate to have had such a high-caliber group of musicians on her first recording, including pianist Carlton Holmes, bassist Nicki Parrott, drummer Dion Parson, guitarist Tom Dempsey and tenor saxophonist Ron Blake. Past experience with each other gave them the sound of a true band, rather that a group of strangers straining for compatibility.


“For your first recording, it’s really good to have guys that have worked together a lot. They already have the rapport, and they can already anticipate each other’s movements, and you can just sort of step into that.”


With the first CD under her belt, Vinson is ready for the next step, broadening her audience in live performances at home and on the road.




"Boy wonder" Toby, 15, bound for dog heaven


By Butch Berman


Thanksgiving may for awhile be a little bittersweet for me as I lost one of myBoy wonder Toby at home [Photo by Butch Berman] best pals the day before. I know it’s all good, though. That’s what Toby would want me to believe.


At the ripe old age of 15, my bearded collie buddy had to be put to sleep. I think he just hung in there for me the past year or so, as you could see him weakening daily—but only in body, not in soul. When his once-sturdy pins finally gave out, we talked it over and I finally gave in to let him go.


On his last night before passing over he had a great massage from Suzanne, the doggie therapist at Kenl’ Inn, got well groomed there as well, hung out with me, his old running mate, Sherman (a Springer spaniel turning 19) and Muggles the cat. We munched on BBQ chicken wings and reveled on how we had been so fortunate to spend so many wonderful years together. Not a bad way to go out for any living creature.


I inherited Toby, like Sherman, from one of two different romantic relationships that didn’t make the long run, but led me towards better days. My spirituality, the Berman Music Foundation and these two cherished pets were all products from those “failed” unions.


Toby may have been the late Jimmy Hoffa reincarnated. A tough little fellow who liked to take charge, fight first and ask questions later, dug the ladies, and watching wrestling on TV while imbibing some of my best claret over the years. He truly was “one of the guys.” When my beloved Lab, Ben, was around, those two terrors plus Sherman could totally tear it up. Thankfully, with maturity they settled down to become my love posse and lifetime companions. Lassie and Rin Tin Tin are gonna need protection now that Toby is bound for dog heaven. If I were them, I’d call in King Kong.


Toby also had a huge heart, and you could actually see him worrying about stuff, besides being the ultimate protector. A complex, but genuine little character who embraced life with deep passion, and like his daddy (me), he loved his food maybe most of all. Yeah, memories are made of this kinda stuff. Isn’t it grand?


God bless you, Tobester.



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