Jerry Hahn stuns local jazz critic

Jerry Hahn is among the world’s finest musicians. There is a nebulous list of revered living players that music students share, and Jerry has played with many of the cats on it, including Dave Liebman, Steve Swallow, Gary Burton, John Handy, Randy Porter and Nancy King.

On weekdays, Jerry teaches guitar at Portland State University, but he also still plays out. Friday and Saturday, February 6-7 he appeared at The Brasserie Montmartre under the name The Jerry Hahn Trio.

Having spent fifty years as a professional guitarist, Jerry is no longer too keen on relentless self-promotion. But people still call him and ask him to come play. The Brasserie books him a few times a year, and Portland bass legend David Friesen employs him regularly in his duos and trios.

Jerry has a list of preferred local sidemen and, this past weekend, he employed a few of them for the Brasserie gig. Scott Steed played upright bass both Friday and Saturday. On Friday, Todd Strait played drums and, on Saturday, William Thomas played drums. Thomas brought a smaller-than-usual drum set on Saturday due to an unfortunate back injury, but he still sounded great. Jerry was happy with the drumming as well. True to form, the bass player also played beautifully.

It is a shame that there are not more chances to see these musicians playing together, but the local music scene cannot provide enough compensation to make frequent gigging worthwhile. Jerry Hahn has paid all of his dues, and does not want to spend any more of his time “beatin’ the pavement and workin’ for the door.”

Recently, he played downtown at the Burlingame Pizza House with Lewis Tain on organ and Gary Hobbes on drums. Anyone there that night, whether on or off the bandstand, can vouch for the fact that the music was fine. The players were promised the whole door as their pay, but with skimpy attendance and two bands to pay, they ended up walking away with almost no money. Live jazz is not prized enough by the Portland community to provide many well-paying jobs and, consequently, Portlanders do not have many opportunities to see live jazz.

David Friesen is one musician who spends a lot of time hustling gigs, and this provides the public with ample opportunity to listen to Jerry (not to mention David himself) make some fine music. Also, on March 21, you can catch Jerry with two other local guitar greats, Dan Balmer and John Stowell, at the Guitar Summit at the Old Church. Dave Captein will be playing bass, and the four musicians will comprise a variety of duos and trios.

At his Friday show, Jerry felt confident because he had exercised. Other jazz musicians also find that a good workout gets them warmed up for a gig. Before celebrated tenor player Michael Brecker and his band play a show they sometimes play three or four hours of basketball.

On Saturday, Jerry was a little bit nervous during the first set, but he had a glass of wine before the second set. It is hard to believe that Jerry, who has been playing guitar professionally since the age of twelve, is still capable of anything resembling stage fright. But he is only human.

He said that he doesn’t have to play more conservatively than he wants to in order to please the room, but that sometimes a good blend is elusive. Someone with Dr. Hahn’s degree of experience might have higher standards than your average bear. The music he played when he said he was “a little nervous” was, after all, brilliant.

Saturday, the Brasserie was filled with guests. Many were there to eat or drink, and many were drawn by the band. During the breaks between sets, Jerry walked around and talked to acquaintances and strangers alike.

By nature, he’s approachable. He talked to a student he knows from PSU. When the student said, by way of introduction to a third party, “This is Jerry Hahn,” Jerry shot back, “No, I’m Jerry Hahn!”

What followed is a singular phenomenon. Have you ever seen that video footage of a bridge waving as if in the wind in reaction to an intonation of its fundamental frequency? Jerry’s laugh is just as raucous, but it doesn’t carry the same vibe of destruction that the waving bridge does. It is a warm laugh. It stops people dead in their tracks, and they are drawn toward its heat. And that’s what it’s like listening to him play guitar sometimes, too.