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John Jorgenson

Kristi Kates - October 25th, 2010
John Jorgenson Serves Up Gypsy Jazz
By Kristi Kates
Where most kids today probably don’t feel rewarded unless they’re bought candy, movie passes, or the latest videogame, musician John Jorgenson’s childhood was a lot less commerce-driven - and far more rewarding in the long run.
“I got interested in music really early on, because both of my parents are musicians,” Jorgenson explains. “My father is a conductor; my mother, a piano teacher. So we heard music all ‘round the house, all the time, when we were kids. It was like a treat - if we were good, we’d get to listen to ‘Peter and the Wolf’ or ‘Carnival of the Animals.’ Music was always something special and cool.”
Now, fortunate kids whose parents have a little more insight beyond BioShock 2 or Snickers bars might be passing along Jorgenson’s own music to their potentially musically-gifted offspring.

DISNEYLAND AND ELTON
Jorgenson, who has played music himself since the age of eight, performed in bands in junior and senior high school, and played full-time at Disneyland in California in his 20s, performing in three different groups on clarinet, mandolin and guitar and changing costumes several times a day.
In 1985, he was part of the American country-rock outfit The Desert Rose Band, alongside The Byrds’ Chris Hillman; in 1993, Jorgenson formed the guitar trio The Hellecasters (with Will Ray and Fairport Convention guitarist, Jerry Donahue) and watched their debut disc win awards from Guitar Player Magazine.
And in 1994, Jorgenson was invited to perhaps the biggest-ticket collaboration of his career to date - a chance to tour with Elton John for 18 months. Jorgenson would prove such an integral part of John’s band,
playing guitar and saxophone, that he would remain with the pop showman’s organization for the next six years.
“I toured with Elton from 1995 to 2001,” Jorgenson says, “so I actually haven’t worked with him in quite a while. But, you know, once you’re part of that family, you’re always part of it.”
And what does Jorgenson miss most about working with John? “I have to say that I miss the luxuries,” he laughs.
“Everything is very, very first-class with Elton,” Jorgenson goes on to explain, “the travel, the hotels, the crew, the stage setup. So you have this great artist, of course - but then you also have the best lighting guy, the best monitors guy, and so forth - and that definitely makes focusing on the performances a lot easier.”
“If he called me, of course I’d go back,” Jorgenson says, “but now I’m working on my own music, which is awesome.”

DJANGO AND GYPSY JAZZ
Awesome, indeed. Jorgenson is finding even more success on his own, as part of the rebirth of the Gypsy jazz genre of music.
Also called “Gypsy swing,” the Gypsy jazz genre originated primarily in France, most notably through legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt and a virtual gang of Gypsy guitarists that swept through Paris beginning in the 1930s, combining jazz with a darker tonality, plus swing and waltz-musette rhythms.
Jorgenson even portrayed Reinhardt in the 2004 Charlize Theron/Stuart Townsend movie Head in the Clouds - and, in a full-circle kind of serendipity, Reinhardt is actually the muse who drew Jorgenson into Gypsy jazz in the first place.
“I first heard Django in 1979, and I’d been a guitarist for a number of years before that, but I’d never heard anybody sound that fiery and emotional on an acoustic guitar as he did. And the music he made with his quartet was so joyful, emotional, and accessible. Usually if I like a style of music a lot, I really want to learn to play it - so that’s what I did.”
Touring with his own John Jorgenson Quintet has now introduced Gypsy jazz to a whole new realm of audiences, and he couldn’t be more surprised - or more appreciative.
“I never thought I’d be able to tour and do this kind of music full time. There wasn’t enough interest at first. But in the last 10 years, with the advent of the internet, people around the world realized that they weren’t the only ones who loved Gypsy jazz music. So now there are festivals and concerts, and I’ve been performing this style for about seven years now - we play around 100 shows a year of Gypsy jazz. It’s just thrilling to me.”

John Jorgenson will be in concert with his quintet on Friday, October 29 at 8 p.m. at the Harbor Springs Performing Arts Center in Harbor Springs as part of the Blissfest Concert Series. For tickets, visit www.blissfest.org, telephone 231-348-7047 or stop by local ticket outlets Between the Covers (Harbor Springs) and The Grain Train (Petoskey). For more information on John Jorgenson, visit www.johnjorgenson.com.


 
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