Noe Valley Voice May 2006

Guitarist Teja Gerken Builds Community Through His Music

By Olivia Boler

Noe Valley guitarist Teja Gerken wants people to take a chance on his music. With the release of his second CD last summer and a show on May 19 at the Noe Valley Ministry, his wish should be easy to fulfill.

"As long as people are willing to listen, I really don't care who my audience is if they appreciate what I try to do," Gerken says. He finds that audiences often tend to be made up of other guitarists, and while that's a compliment, he'd love to play for folks who are just there to hear good music.

What is Gerken's music like? It's kind of folksy with an urban edge; mostly instrumental pieces, using a "finger-style" technique. "I think of my music as being a blend of folk, classical, jazz, and world music played primarily on acoustic steel-string guitar," he says.

Gerken, 36, also plays classical and 12-string guitar, and over the years he has shared the stage with such virtuosos as Alex de Grassi (a former Noe Valley resident), John Renbourn, Duck Baker, and "my mentor" Peppino D'Agostino.

Solo performing isn't Gerken's only passion, however. He also organizes events featuring his fellow guitarists. Since 2001, he has hosted a monthly acoustic guitar showcase at the Bazaar Café on California Street in the Richmond District.

But it's the upcoming show at the Noe Valley Ministry that Gerken is really jazzed about. Dubbed the "San Francisco Guitar Summit," the concert will be a culmination of his efforts to bring a mix of hot musicians together. Besides him, it will feature the well-known guitar duo Adam Levy and Will Bernard, and the San Francisco Guitar Quartet, composed of David Dueñas, Patrick Francis, Christopher Hanford, and Mark Simons. Gerken describes the event as a "guitar lover's wonderland," where you'll hear everything from traditional jazz to Brazilian samba to folk and Western swing.

Gerken, whose first name Teja is pronounced "TAY-yah," was born in Essen, Germany. He moved to the United States--specifically Mendocino--with his family when he was 16. Although he'd been playing guitar since he was a little boy, it was in high school that he began to play in earnest. While attending Petaluma's World College West, he spent six months in Michoacan, Mexico, studying Spanish and guitar.

In the mid-1990s, Gerken moved to Noe Valley with his wife, Heather Gould. They've lived on 27th Street for over 10 years. The couple recently had their first baby, Sabine, in late March.

Gerken recorded his first CD, On My Way, in 1999. His latest one, Postcards, is an ode to San Francisco. "I think of the album as a set of postcards from the city. It could also be seen as a set of pieces that reflect my experiences of traveling and meeting other musicians," he says. Among the 12 tracks is a tune called "Noe Valley Sunday," written by Dale Miller, former owner of the 24th Street shop Noe Valley Music. Gerken's CD also includes several original songs. Both of his albums are available on iTunes and at Streetlight Records on 24th Street.

In addition to playing, composing, and recording, Gerken works as a full-time editor at Acoustic Guitar magazine. He also has co-written a book on acoustic guitar, published by Hal Leonard in 2005.

Gerken says he is writing more songs, but raising Sabine is his top priority at the moment--that along with tuning up his guitar for the big summit.

"It's going to be a exciting show," he says. "Music fans of every stripe will enjoy it."

For tickets to the May 19 concert, which starts at 8:15 p.m. at the Noe Valley Ministry,1021 Sanchez Street, call 454-5238 or visit You can also buy them at Streetlight Records, 3979 24th Street. Prices are $16 in advance, $18 at the door.

To find out more about Gerken's music, go to