Lovers of exquisite guitar music will no doubt be thrilled to learn that the legendary John Jorgenson will bring his celebrated quintet to the intimate confines of Randy Wood’s Concert Hall next Sunday night.
Held in the highest of esteem by musicians —as well as listeners— for his mastery of the acoustic (and electric) guitar, Jorgenson was a founding member of the chart-topping mid-’80s west Coast country sensations The Desert Rose Band, which also featured Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers member Chris Hillman and Jay Dee Maness. He later served time in Elton John’s band, and has played on scores of sessions and live dates with everyone from Bob Dylan to John Prine to Bonnie Raitt to Michael Nesmith.
But it’s his stint in the almost mythical trio The Hellecasters (three Fender Telecasters and no vocals) that seems to have sealed his fate as one of the most talked about string benders in the USA. That group nabbed both Album of The Year and Country Album of The Year in Guitar Magazine’s 1993 Reader’s Poll.
Despite the fact that The Hellecasters have not played a gig in almost 6 years, Jorgenson says that when he’s recognized by fellow musicians, that’s usually the project of his they want to chat about.
“There’s certainly a few different camps,” he offers. “When it comes to guitarists, though, it’s always The Hellecasters. They seem to really connect with that group. Those records are still in print and continue to sell decently. I’m always surprised by how many people remember that group so fondly.”
This 3-time winner of the Academy of Country Music’s Guitarist of The Year Award got his start in show business at an early age, through a family friend. The classically-trained child prodigy jammed with the late, great Benny Goodman — for whom his father conducted.
Although he later branched out into mandolin, clarinet and saxophone, the guitar remained Jorgenson’s focus, and before long, he wound up as a session musician for such greats as Roy Orbison and Dan Fogelberg. He is still in demand as an arranger and picker for hire, but these days he devotes most of his time to recording and touring with his quintet, spreading the gospel of Django Reinhardt.
That iconic guitarist helped create the style of music known as Gypsy Jazz, which is currently undergoing something of a resurgence worldwide through buzzworthy groups like the Paris Combo. Jorgenson too is on the vanguard of the “gypsy jazz” revival, although his group of 2 guitars, bass, 5-string viola and percussion is a little more inclusive or “far out” than most stringent interpreters of the style.
“My version of gypsy jazz has pretty wide parameters,” he chuckles. “It includes flamenco-inspired things, Eastern European folk music, a little classical, and even a little New Orleans-style funk.”
When I observe that the inclusion of those seemingly incongruous genres actually fits in with the historically nomadic nature of true gypsies, Jorgenson lets out a huge laugh.
As if to demonstrate that he’s up for working with just about anyone who’s serious about music (regardless of style), he recently helmed a bluegrass tribute album to heavy metal superstars Van Halen that finds “Diamond” David Lee Roth contributing vocals to a couple of tracks. Jorgenson’s recent TV appearance as acoustic bandleader behind Roth on Jay Leno’s Tonight Show has circulated widely on the internet, and they’ll reprise their performance of “Jump” on an upcoming episode of Late Night with Conan O’Brien.
Still, Jorgenson says that despite working with an ever-growing list of world-famous musicians, at the present, his passion lies with gypsy jazz, and he’s looking forward to what promises to be a sell-out show in Bloomingdale.
“Obviously, I’ve known Randy as a luthier,” he explains, “but I’ve only recently learned about his venue. It sounds really nice. We just played in Canada at the Montreal Jazz Fest and the Quebec City Fest, so to play in a small room is great. For us, the closer the audience and the more intense the listening the better. We’re not intimidated by that. It keeps us on the edge of our own seats.”
The John Jorgenson Quintet plays an ALL-AGES show at Randy Wood’s Concert Hall in Bloomingdale at 7 pm Sunday, July 23. Advance $30 tickets are available at Randy Wood Guitars or can be charged by phone at 748-1930. Limited seating is also available for Jorgenson’s afternoon guitar workshop aimed at those who wish to learn more about the art of gypsy jazz.