Monday, October 7, 2019

Jerry Hahn, Moses, and Merl

courtesy discogs
Jerry Hahn was a guitarist who was active in the 60's San Francisco jazz scene.  His first big gig was with saxophonist John Handy's group (perhaps not well-known to many casual jazz fans today, but Handy was big at the time, having been signed to Columbia by John Hammond), and then with rising star Gary Burton.  Hahn's own debut (Are-Be-In, 1967, for Arhoolie) touched on the same jazz-raga-rock vibe as stuff like Butterfield's East-West, Gabor Szabo's Jazz Raga, or Pat Martino's East.  In 1970, he released the cult-classic The Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, by his group of the same name, on Columbia, which to this day has still never been reissued.  The JHB seems to have worked a lot around the Bay Area, and opened for some major acts on the Fillmore circuit, and Hahn also got the call to play on Paul Simon's debut (post-Garfunkel) album.

Three years later, Hahn recorded a 'solo' album, Moses, for Fantasy Records.  The band was his JHB rhythm section -- Mel Graves on bass, George Marsh on drums -- and Merl Saunders as a last-minute addition, on organ and synthesizer.  Moses is a good record, though not one that I personally return to a lot as a whole album.  Stylistically it's a little all-over-the-place: the title cut (which I can listen to all day) is wonderful, a midtempo funky groove with a vibe that would have fit Garcia/Saunders perfectly; ditto the cover of Donovan's "Sunshine Superman."  Hahn's originals have an edgier, fusion/jazz-rock feel; two of them are 'suites' that jump around even more.  Then there are a few 50's-era standards, played well but comparatively straightforward.  It's kind of an odd mix when taken as an entire album, imho.  But all of it is very good.  imho, if they had cut less material and just stretched out more, it might be even better -- most of the tracks are under five minutes.  Like the JHB album before it, Moses has so far never been reissued in any digital form, anywhere.


So what does this have to do with this blog?  I am curious about the brief intersection of Jerry Hahn and Jerry Garcia and am wondering if there was more to it than is generally known.  I am also interested in this album as it relates to Merl Saunders' own involvement with the scene around Fantasy Records.  But there are no concrete conclusions to draw; so for now, consider some inchoate observations:
  • per George Marsh: “[Garcia] had his own group and I met him then and I was in the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood and we played [the Matrix] also ... So one of those times, it was set up that Mel Graves, the bassist, and myself and Merl Saunders played with Jerry one of the nights at the Matrix” (here).  He elaborated in an interview with Jake Feinberg that Saunders played on both of these nights: one night with Marsh, Graves, and Hahn, the next night with Marsh, Graves, and Garcia.  The Chicken On a Unicycle list of Matrix shows (which I realize is both outdated and probably incomplete), don't show Hahn and Garcia ever performing on the same night; there's a back-to-back booking in April 1970 (Garcia Monday night jam on 4/20, Hahn on 4/21-22), but I am pretty sure that Saunders wasn't in the mix at that point [can't be 4/20-21-22; Howard Wales is on the bill for 4/20].  Marsh does dimly recall to Feinberg that he jammed with Howard Wales at one point, but the details are lost.  The JHB also played the Matrix a lot -- 26 times in 1970, according to that list -- so it could easily have been some other time.  At one time, Corry Arnold thought that this Garcia-Saunders-Graves-Marsh performance was that December.  Re: this same general time period, Corry has also speculated whether Hahn might be the mystery guitarist who sat in with the Dead for a brief but unique jam at Winterland on 4/15/70.  Hmm.
  • We do know for sure, however, that the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood played at Pepperland in San Rafael on 12/21/70, along with the New Riders, the very short-lived Crosby-Garcia-Lesh-Kreutzmann ensemble, and, possibly the acoustic Dead (per Michael Parrish's eyewitness account -- with pictures! -- plus more via jgmf).  So that's at least two Garcia/Hahn connections, albeit fairly minor ones for two guitarists who were both pretty busy.
  • The Moses sessions were Jan 8-11, 1973 at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.  Four sessions seems like a lot of time for an album like this, but what do I know?  Marsh recalls in the Feinberg piece that the group went in as a trio, but recruited Merl in passing to play on the record.  Corry Arnold also relates that "Hahn was set to record at Fantasy as a trio with Marsh and Graves. However, they saw Merl Saunders in the Fantasy cafeteria, and invited him to play on the album," but also that Saunders was recruited by the producer "so that [Hahn] wouldn't go completely off to Mars" -- for what it's worth, however, the back of the record says Hahn produced the album himself -- which may explain why a fairly small-group jazz record took four sessions to record.  
  • Is it possible that Garcia was hanging out at any of these Jerry Hahn sessions with Merl at Fantasy Studios?  Garcia was working on Baron Von Tollbooth with Kantner, Slick & co. on Jan 8-9  (thank you jgmf), but is it possible that Merl mentioned these unplanned studio dates to Jerry, and that Jerry swung by to check it out?  Marsh doesn't say anything about it in the Feinberg interview, so I'm inclined to think not -- but then again, he doesn't mention the Pepperland thing, either, so it's not out of the question.  Given that Jerry circa 1973 seems to have rarely spent an idle day doing something non-musical, it seems conceivable.  Or maybe he was pickin' with Grisman and Rowan on his front porch (pretty likely, actually, per Corry's pre-OAITW timeline), or rehearsing the new batch of Wake of the Flood-era tunes with the Dead, or hanging with Healy and the sound crew working out kinks in the Dead's new PA, or something else entirely.  
  • Or could it also be possible that maybe Merl invited Jerry Hahn to come to the Keystone where Garcia/Saunders were playing on Jan 12th-13th?  or perhaps to some other gig?  There are a lot of Jan 73 Garcia/Saunders show that are unrepresented by any tape, and personnel was still fairly fluid in that group at this point.  Second guitarist George Tickner was added for a few shows that spring, as was singer Sarah Fulcher.
  • update, Dec 2019: speaking of Sarah Fulcher, Jesse Jarnow interviewed her for the release of the 1/23/73 Boarding House show.  She reveals, "me and Merl and John and Bill Vitt did some recording [at Alembic Studios] with another guy playing guitar, and he sounded just like Garcia.  Well, as much as anyone can."  Jarnow adds this note: "My esteemed colleague Corry Arnold suggests this guitarist might be Jerry Hahn, house guitarist for Fantasy Records."  As far as I  know, Hahn isn't credited on any other Fantasy albums besides his own, but I would be very interested in finding out more.  Wouldn't it be fascinating is this is really what happened?  [JGMF, to the rescue yet again, notes that "On 3/13/73, Betty [Cantor-Jackson] did a session noted as Sarah, Merl, Bill Vitt, 16 track playback," as per files in the GD Archive]
  • It is worth repeating that Merl Saunders was a total pro and a master musician.  Anyone who knows something about Garcia's life outside of the Dead has some understanding of the profound influence that Merl had on Garcia's development as a musician, but I still don't know that many Garcia/Saunders fans listen all that closely to Merl as a soloist -- I don't see much in the way of comment about him, at any rate.  Merl apparently just walked in and played here.  I'm sure it was no sweat for him to reel off standards like "All Blues" and "Joy Spring," or the funk of "Moses," but some of Hahn's stuff is pretty spiky and Merl adds just what is needed.  It is also worth noting that Merl is playing some synthesizer on Moses.  The Jan 73 G/S shows are, I believe, the only times that we hear Merl playing a synth in performance (allowing, again, there are big gaps in our knowledge of many of these shows).  On stage, the effect was a bit underwhelming, but he sounds far more comfortable with the instrument in the studio. 
So I dunno: some speculation, some more insight into the musical prowess of Merl Saunders, some interesting musical digressions.  Never a bad thing.  I would certainly like to learn more about Merl's relationship with Fantasy Records/Studios and the influence, direct or not, that it had on the Garcia/Saunders band -- starting, I presume, with Tom Fogerty, and extending into the general influence that the label's output had on Reconstruction (more later, someday).  But, for now, it's just another piece of the puzzle. 

2 comments:

  1. Interesting read! Not a guy I knew about at all. Did you see this in your academic wanderings?

    https://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/19/opinion/19sat4.html

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    1. Thanks, Chris. I did see that article -- there seem to be a few similar articles or blogposts that hold the JHB album in equally high regard. I wish I liked it more, tbh. I also found this NY Times review of the JHB at the Fillmore East in 1970 (opening for Chicago), which sums up my own feelings about the JHB album:

      "Although the group is called the Jerry Hahn Brotherhood, Mr. Hahn played only a secondary role. The quartet was dominated by Mike Finnigan, an organist and singer whose country twang as a vocalist set the tone for most of the performance. There was scarcely any indication of Mr. Hahn's skill as a jazz guitarist as the group concentrated on material that was largely a blend of country music and routine rock. Even as a soloist, Mr. Hahn devoted himself almost entirely to a steady stream of wah‐wah wailing." (Wilson, "Brotherhood at Fillmore," NYT, 1970 Jun 28)

      But I would love to hear some live tapes of the JHB for myself, though -- I don't think any are in circulation, but I hope some are out there. Besides Moses, Hahn's earlier Are-Be-In album is quite good, and I also really like his work with Gary Burton (Country Roads and Good Vibes, especially).

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