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Hahn goes solo in his teaching gig
The guitarist and jazz-fusion master still picks up group work while training students

When guitarist Jerry Hahn was working with rock legend Ginger Baker in Denver, most of his jobs took place in a polo field.

Baker, of course, had long since made his name as the drummer for the 1960's power trio Cream, with Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton.

"They charged people $10 a carload," says Hahn, an acclaimed jazz-fusion pioneer who has returned to Portland. "They'd watch polo and have picnics, and then we'd play jazz.

"Ginger was in the polo matches, too. When they finished, Ginger would jump off the horse, jump behind the drums, and we'd play jazz."

Hahn is glad Baker is taking music more seriously these days, in asmuch he appeared in New York last week with Baker's group. Hahn also played on Baker's new CD, Falling Off The Roof, which features the eclectic Bela Fleck and the jazz great Charlie Hayden.

Though he's settled in Portland again - he lived here from 1986 to 1993 - Hahn is in perpetual motion. He moves quickly, with a bounce that belies his 50-plus years. His eyes are wide behind the lenses of his glasses. Like his music, his face is lively and open.

Those qualities helped Hahn become one of the most influential guitarists in the 1960's and 1970's, when he played and recorded with the John Handy Quintet, vibist Gary Burton and the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood.

His fusion of blues and country sounds with bebop and free playing served as a springboard for innovators such as Pat Metheny and Bill Frisell.

Hahn continued to influence other musicians, even after he left high-profile touring for the tranquility of Wichita, KS. He wrote a monthly column for Guitar Player Magazine in the 1970's, and his three-volume set on guitar method is an important instructional resource today. At Wichita State University, he established bachelor's and master's programs in jazz guitar.

Though he's playing regularly in Portland nightclubs these days, a teaching job brought him back to town. Hahn began developing curriculum and teaching in Portland State Univeristy's new Plectrum/ Jazz Guitar program, with classical guitarist Bryan Johanson.

"This is really important to me," he says. "I'm in a position to build a guitar program and get plugged into a university again.

"I like the academic environment," he says. "For one thing, it keeps you busy during the daytime." He laughs. "And I'm associated with a faculty who are on a high level as musicians and educators. It's inspiring."

Teaching takes time from performing and composing, though, a tradeoff that kept Hahn in Wichita for 15 years. But the world didn't forget him, and when the John Handy Quintet came calling last year, he was ready for the reunion gig that resulted in a double CD, Live At Yoshi's Nitespot.

He'll join that group next weekend in Los Angeles, and he still enjoys playing "outside." But the Kansas native, who got his start in a western swing band, thinks he's at his best in a simple guitar trio. On his 1996 CD, Time Changes, we can hear the meticulous craftmanship that distinguishes all his work, no matter what the setting.

You wouldn't call his sound warm, exactly, though its burnished partina of restraint creates a human glow around the electronic pitches. More sweet than hot, no matter the fleet intracacy of his uptempo romps, it's a western sound, honed in a quiet world.

"No, I never quite made that move to New York," he says. "I'd rather live in a nice place like Portland. I feel very comfortable here."

Jerry Hahn
(316) 648-8271

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