The Boulevard Music Festival is in full swing and, after triumphant shows by Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands on July 6, Andre Thierry and Zydeco Magic on July 13, and Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loca last week, coming Thursday, July 27, it’s the turn of gypsy jazz outfit The John Jorgenson Quintet. We spoke with Jorgenson about what we can expect from his set.
CULVER CITY NEWS: HAVE YOU EVER PLAYED THIS EVENT BEFORE?
John Jorgenson: I have, a number of times. I’m not exactly sure how many times in the past. It could be my sixth time. Most of the times, I’ve played it with my gypsy jazz quintet, which is the group that will be playing this time. Last time I played there was with my bluegrass band, which was probably two years ago. It’s called John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, or J2B2 for short. This is fun for me because I’m from Southern California, and I rarely get to play around this area. The Culver City show is one that I really look forward to. The vibe is so good, people seem to get there early, it’s always a good turnout, and there’s something about the sound. The way that it bounces around the buildings there, it sounds really cool. There’s a feeling at the event that I think is really special. I don’t know if it’s something that happens in many urban areas, but it has kind of an intimate, homey feel.
THEY PROBABLY DIDN’T CONSIDER THE ACOUSTICS WJEN DESIGNING CITY HALL…
I’m sure they didn’t. And they probably didn’t consider people with lawn chairs everywhere, and a stage. But it’s one of those things. Usually, the coolest stuff is stuff that happens semi-accidentally.
HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
I’m sure it was through Gary. I can’t remember if I first played for him at his Boulevard Music store, or if we first played the festival. It’s been a number of years. It could have been 10 or 11 years ago.
DESCRIBE THE STYLE OF THIS BAND…
It’s definitely gypsy jazz, and that’s a style of music that was created by Django Reinhardt. I was fascinated with his music from the first time I heard it in the late 1970s. For a good part of my career, I realized it wasn’t possible for me to play that music as a career. At that time, there was no internet, and no real awareness of him. He was a shadowy European jazz figure. But over the years, especially around the turn of the century, with the combination of the internet allowing people with niche tastes to find each other, and a couple of guitar companies building affordable versions of guitars that people wanting to learn could play, because the original guitars were very rare and very expensive, and not really sold in America – all of these things conspired to create a scene in America for this European music. In 2003, I was asked to portray Django Reinhardt in a film starring Charlese Theron and Penelope Cruz, and also recreate some of his music for that movie. It was called “Head in the Clouds.” At that time, I had been working on an album in this style of music, and that just spurred me on to finish it. From then on, I basically have been playing this music all over the world – in performing arts centers and festivals, like the Montreal Jazz Festival for example. I was the only American ever to headline the Django Reinhardt memorial festival in France as a gypsy jazz guitarist. That was a huge honor for me to do that. Some people call me the US ambassador for gypsy jazz. I guess that’s appropriate. I was known in other styles of music before this, and it wasn’t something new for me. It was just something that I did for my own enjoyment, and was really happy that, in a way, the world changed so that I could play it more regularly.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE SET?
Over the years, most of my material is songs that I’ve composed. Since getting interested in Django, I’ve also gotten interested in other gypsy styles and cultures. So there are flavors of Romanian, Bulgarian and Flamenco. Arabic, classical and Latin. All of these elements mix in with the gypsy jazz. Greek music also. As well as playing the guitar, I’ll play the bouzouki and the clarinet. I’ll sing a little bit, and so it’s a pretty broad range. Django Reinhardt is the touchstone, but stylistically it moves quite a bit. It’s very high energy, it’s very dynamic. It’s romantic, melodic – a lot of people are afraid of the word “jazz” because they think it’s going to be not those things. Not accessible or melodic. But this music really is. It’s engaging, it’s high energy, and the other members will be playing violin, percussion, upright bass, and then accordion piano and guitar. That last guy is also blind, and very talented. There’s a lot of color in the music.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING AFTER THE FESTIVAL?
In August, I’ll be spending the first couple of weeks in Colorado. Both as an instructor at a guitar camp there, and also both my bluegrass band and I also have an electric band, will play at a festival called Guitar Town, and I’m the artist in residence, in Copper Mountain, CO. A free festival the second week of August. I’ve got more touring with my bluegrass band and my gypsy jazz quintet, and then later on in the year I’ll do a tour with Chris Hillman, who is an old colleague of mine from a band we had together called the Desert Rose Band. He’s got a new album that we’ll be promoting through the fall. I’m finishing up a Christmas album with a group from Quebec called The Lost Fingers. This will be their second Christmas album, and they’re a prominent group in that area. We’ve done really unique versions of Christmas songs, with some guest artists and other world instruments. It’s actually quite creative and really fun.
The John Jorgenson Quintet plays Culver City’s Boulevard Music Summer Festival at City Hall on Thursday, July 27. Admission is free, although limited seats are available for $10. The show runs 7-9 p.m., as they do each week. Following weeks will see performances (and interviews right here) from Led Zepagain, and Albert Lee. For more information, call Boulevard Music at 310-398-2583.