Taken by Gypsies
|By Lawrence Cosentino|
Virtuoso guitarist digs a Django groove
After years of axe-for-hire adventure in far-flung guitar camps, John Jorgenson has settled down — as a Gypsy.
Jorgenson, 54, has backed a lot of heavyweight artists, from Sting and Streisand to Luciano Pavarotti, Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. He scored critically and commercially in the country-jazz Desert Rose Band and the three-guitar supergroup The Hellecasters.
This Monday, he brings a crack quintet to Lansing’s Creole Gallery to play the style he loves most — the Gypsy jazz of guitar legend Django Reinhardt.
To Jorgenson’s amazement, he’s been touring full time, playing Gypsy jazz since 2004, spearheading the Django revival in America.
“I never expected to be able to play this style of music as a main job,” he said.
The basic ingredients of Gypsy jazz are a two-guitar beat, saucy violin lilts and triple-espresso-buzzed lead guitar solos the ear can barely follow.
At mid-tempo, Gypsy jazz feels like a jaunty stroll down a Parisian street. Bonjour, Clarisse! At full bore, it sounds Virtuoso guitarist digs more like five men frantically feeding an a Django groove Italian aria into a meat grinder while being chased by Bulgarian border guards.
“You can scratch a lot of musical itches with it,” Jorgenson said. “It has the power of rock — it’s really aggressive and powerful music — but it has the virtuosity and subtlety of classical music, the acoustic sound of bluegrass, and the improvisation and swing of jazz.”
Reinhardt didn’t live in a house until he was 20, but the style he originated in the 1930s with fiddler Stephane Grappelli and the Hot Club of France set the first stone of a musical castle that’s still growing.
“He influenced every guitar player we know,” Jorgenson said.
Top guitarists in folk, jazz, rock and country considered Reinhardt their favorite; Jorgenson named Chet Atkins, Les Paul, Charlie Christian, George Benson, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler.
The first American Django Reinhardt festival was held in 2000 in New York. Now dozens of cities — Detroit and Lansing included — have Hot Clubs of their own. Gypsy-style players once had to search for rare vintage French guitars, but Jorgenson said guitar companies now make affordable axes that get the Django jangle just right.
Jorgenson marvels at the swing and virtuosity of the Hot Club of France records, “made with five guys around a microphone,” but said there’s no substitute for a live performance.
“People love to watch it the same way they love to watch the Olympics,” Jorgenson said. “It takes a really high level of technical skill.”
A surprising variety of moods criss-crosses through Jorgenson’s caravan. The title track of his new CD, “One Stolen Night,” has the languorous, life-savoring soul of Greek folk music.
There are flamenco
He started playing piano at 5, clarinet at 8 and guitar at 10. At 14, he was playing professionally in Hollywood.
Jorgenson has been doing that research on the ground for decades.
“It blows my mind sometimes that I get to play with both Earl Scruggs and Sting,” he said.
John Jorgenson Quintet