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Persistence keeps jazz guitarist working


Despite being named "one of the three or four best guitar players in the world" by Rolling Stone magazine, Jerry Hahn still practices every day.

"You have to play or else the calluses go away," he said, chuckling. "Practicing to me means playing guitar; I need to play. If I don't, my technique goes down the drain."

You hear that, fledgling guitar players? Even the masters practice.

Hahn, an innovator in the jazz fusion movement in the 1960s and 1970s, performs Sept. 24 at North Central College's Wentz Hall. He will have with him Bob Bowman of Kansas City on bass and Jack Mouse on drums. Mouse is the coordinator of jazz studies at North Central College.

Hahn learned to play guitar at age 7, and by age 11, he appeared daily on Wichita's first television station KEDD, along with the Bobby Wiley Rhythmaires.

"We didn't have a TV. My mother would have to go next door to watch me," he said. "I grew up in what I would call squalid conditions. I wasn't around a high cultural base. I lived in the poorest, white trash neighborhood in Wichita. Thank goodness I had a guitar, that kept me occupied and focused."

The first record he ever owned was by Chet Atkins. The first jazz record he owned was by Barney Kessel.

"Chet was the first guitar player I ever admired, because he was on the Grand Ole Opry. I started off in country music," he said. "Buddy Emmons -- I met him, I saw him play, and I said, 'How do you know how to play like that?' And he told me to buy a Barney Kessel record, and that introduced me to jazz. I stayed in that path the rest of my life.

"The classic jazz artists were my influences -- Miles Davis, John Coltrane -- the East Coast New York players of the day -- that's what I listened to. Then I started listening to the innovators, the horn players. I researched, I listened a lot."

He recorded his first album, "The Jerry Hahn Quintet," in 1967 with Jack DeJohnette on drums.

In 1968, he joined the Gary Burton Quartet with Roy Haynes and Steve Swallow, recording three albums and touring the United States, Europe, Canada and Japan. When his run with Gary Burton ended, he formed his most famous group, the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, featuring Mike Finnigan.

In addition to his collaborations with legends such as Paul Simon, Hahn has also taught jazz guitar at Wichita State University and Portland State University. He makes his home in Wichita and continues to teach private lessons and perform regularly. He will celebrate his 70th birthday Sept. 21.

"Seventy ... it seems like a big number. I'm still out there doing it, so I'm blessed," he said. "Being a musician is all I've ever done. Now, it's very difficult. There's no middle ground anymore. If I was going to advise anyone to be a musician, I would say go get as many degrees as you can and teach -- that's going to be your primary income."

Hahn spent part of his summer recording an album in Denver, titled "Hahn Songs." (A follow-up to "Hahn Solo.")

"I've got another album I've mostly completed that's going to be out pretty soon, called 'Hahn Hymns.' "

Hahn said he's looking forward to coming to Naperville.

"I'm going to be doing originals and standards," he said of the show. "It's going to be a mix of those, plus stuff I've written, plus standard classic jazz tunes."

He will do a clinic in the afternoon.

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