Times-Courier

Acclaimed Gypsy jazz group caps off B.E.S.T. Series March 28

  • Guitarist John Jorgenson and his Gypsy jazz quintet will conclude the 2014-15 B.E.S.T. Series presented by Gilmer Arts Saturday, March 28. (Contributed photo)
by Michael Andrews
andrews@timescourier.com

Ellijay will be revisited by a virtuoso guitarist and bandleader known as “the U.S. Ambassador of Gypsy Jazz” when the John Jorgenson Quintet rambles back into town Saturday, March 28.

The show at the Ellijay Elementary School Auditorium is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. It will cap off the 2014-15 B.E.S.T. (Bringing Ellijay Sensational Talent) Series presented by Gilmer Arts.
    
Memorable performance

Jorgenson’s resume includes stints with country rockers The Desert Rose Band and Nashville guitar supergroup The Hellecasters, as well as hired guitar slinging for Elton John, Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan.           

His Gypsy jazz quintet, one of three groups Jorgenson leads, last performed here as a featured act for the 2008-09 B.E.S.T. Series. That show left a lasting impression on many who attended, said Gilmer Arts president John Rathbone.

“It was an amazing performance. I’ve had so many people come up to me and say it was the best concert they’d seen in their whole life,” Rathbone told the Times-Courier last fall when the lineup for the annual performing arts series was announced.
    
Gypsy jazzmen

He’s a solid player of anything from bluegrass and country to rock and blues, but the music created by the John Jorgenson Quintet fills a special niche in the bandleader’s repertoire.

“Gypsy jazz is a song based style and, even though there are often no lyrics, there’s still a verse and a chorus and parts where you can solo. It has the energy of rock, the virtuosity and dynamics of classical music, the stringband feel and power of bluegrass, the improvisational elements of jazz and it swings. It really covers a lot of other styles that I like,” said Jorgenson.

The intricate, fast-paced music is rooted in the innovative guitar work of Gypsy jazz forefather Django Reinhardt.

“The Gypsy element comes from the fact that it (sometimes features) acoustic guitar and violin, which is very unusual for jazz,” said Jorgenson. “Django Reinhardt, being a Gypsy, brought that color into it. He was inspired by American jazz artists like Louie Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He created a whole new style –– a European string-driven version of American swing.”

Jorgenson’s custom-made acoustic guitars are his main sidearms, but he also plays clarinet and any number of stringed instruments as one-fifth of the jazz ensemble.

“I also sing and play a Greek instrument called the bouzouki. It’s a teardrop-shaped relative of the Italian mandolin that adds to the quality of our songs,” he said.

Bass player Simon Planting, accordion and piano player Rory Hoffman, percussionist Rick Reed and rhythm guitarist Jeff Radaich round out the group.

“Rick is an expert on brushes, which is a skill not a lot of people have. Simon Planting is from Holland and if there’s a star bass player in this style of music, it’s him,” said Jorgenson. “Rory is a virtuoso on a number of instruments and Jeff, interestingly enough, got into this type of music after hearing an album I released in 2003 or 2004. It’s nice that I’m kind of cultivating more players to get into this style.”

An international experience

Jorgenson has earned his rep as a musical ambassador for good reason. Like the wandering minstrels Gypsy jazz is named for, he’s taken the multicultural style of music around the world.

Later this year, the quintet will embark on its second tour of China.

“There’s plans (for us) to go over there in December. We’ve been there once, but this time we’ll play three or four cities we haven’t been to before,” said Jorgenson.

The ensemble’s current tour finds them swinging through the American South.

“This is a really short run, actually. We’re going to play Arkansas and then we’ll come to Ellijay. Then we’ll go to Asheville, N.C., and end up in Nashville,” said Jorgenson.

Dates leading the John Jorgenson Electric Band and the John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band will fill out the prolific California musician’s 2015 performance calendar.

“We have a three-album release coming out with an album each from the bluegrass band, the rock band and the quintet. It’s called Divirtuoso as in ‘diverse’ and ‘virtuoso,’” he said.

Though Jorgenson prefers the atmosphere of a seated concert hall to that of a standing-room only nightclub when playing with the quintet, he won’t protest if its celebratory sounds inspire local concertgoers to get up and dance.

“We play to the audience, not at them. When people are standing in a club listening, it’s a little different than if you have a seated concert audience. That’s when you can really feel their reaction,” he said. “Two of the (guys in the band) have never been to Ellijay before, so it will be nice for them to get to go and also for the people there to get to see them.”
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