John Jorgenson was amazed when he first heard a recording of gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. It was a life-changing moment, he recalls, like he had discovered the Jimi Hendrix of acoustic guitar.
"I had never heard anyone play the acoustic guitar with so much fire and passion," Jorgenson explains. "I love the gypsy jazz style because it incorporates so many things that I love in other music - it has the romanticism and virtuosity of classical music, the improvisation of jazz, great swing, the high energy of rock and the acoustic, string-band sound of bluegrass. It kind of has no boundaries."
Acclaimed as one of the world's most versatile guitar players, adept at rock, pop, country, bluegrass, folk and jazz, Jorgenson's astonishing virtuosity is captured in a recent review of one of his "electric band" shows: "Beginning with an extended, raga-style extrapolation of George Harrison's 'Love You To,' Jorgenson embarked on a musical odyssey that touched base with all facets of his incredible career - masterful country rock on 'She Don't Love Nobody,' a crowd-pleasing romp through 'I Fought The Law,' heavy metal on 'Waiting For The Axe To Fall,' searing blues on Hendrix's 'Red House' and amazing self-penned instrumentals like 'Back On Terra Firma,' which Jorgenson performed at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics. Ending with the instrumental locomotive rush of 'The Orange Blossom Special' Jorgenson tipped his hat to Love Sculpture's 'Sabre Dance,' The Shadows' 'Apache' and The Beatles' 'Please Please Me.' "
A multi-instrumentalist, accomplished on mandolin, pedal steel guitar, piano, upright bass, clarinet, bassoon and saxophone, Jorgenson has recorded or performed with numerous artists including Elton John, Roy Orbison, Little Richard, Bob Dylan, Sting, Willie Nelson, Barbra Streisand, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Bonnie Raitt, k.d. lang, Carl Perkins and Dwight Yoakum.
In recent years he's been hailed as the leading American interpreter of gypsy jazz. Guitar Player has praised his "jaw-dropping playing," and the San Francisco Examiner proclaimed, "He is far-and-away the best interpreter of Django Reinhardt's material."
Reviewing his latest CD, Vintage Guitar praised: "Call it a 'Gypsy jazz wall of sound.' John Jorgenson's album, 'Istiqbal Gathering,' features the master guitarist backed by the full Orchestra Nashville. The result would make Django Reinhardt himself envious."
DJANGO WOULD GO/JAZZ CONCERT & WORKSHOPS
* Concert tickets are $25 in advance, $30 day of the show, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. Discounts are available for MACC and Hawaii Public Radio members.
The requested workshop fee is $20. Scholarships are available for the workshops - call 283-3576. To register, go to hotclubofhulaville.com/Work shop. The "Django Would Go!" workshops and classes are sponsored by Mana'o Radio.
The artists and students will play in a free Gypsy Jam Session at 4 p.m. Sunday in the MACC's Haynes Meeting Room. The public is invited to attend.
Maui will get to experience this aspect of his talent when the John Jorgenson Quintet performs at the "Django Would Go!" concert on Sunday at the MACC, in a show that honors Reinhardt's 100th birthday.
Born into a family of gypsies, Reinhardt pioneered a new style of jazz guitar technique. In 1934, with Parisian violinist Stephane Grapelli, he formed the Quintette du Hot club de France, the legendary jazz ensemble composed of stringed instruments only. During his career, Reinhardt also performed with American jazz greats Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. Astonishingly he played all of his guitar solos with only two fingers, the result of a fire that had burned his hand.
"It's physically and emotionally challenging to fill the music with as much energy and communication as possible," says Jorgenson about playing gypsy jazz.
Besides Reinhardt, Jorgenson cites English legend Jeff Beck as a prime influence. "I just love Jeff Beck's playing," he says. "As a modern rock guitar player, no one comes close to him, and he holds Django as an influence."
From his earliest days, Jorgenson was eager to explore many styles of music. "I grew up playing classical music, then I got into rock and jazz and Dixieland and bluegrass and blues," he explains. "I've been in a whole lot of different bands all across the board."
In the mid-'80s, along with ex-Byrd Chris Hillman, he co-founded the bluegrass/rock group The Desert Rose Band, which produced five No. 1 singles and won Jorgenson the Academy of Country Music's Guitarist Of The Year award three years in a row.
Next he played in the acclaimed guitar trio The Hellecasters, whose debut album won both the Album of the Year and Country Album of the Year awards from Guitar Player Magazine.
And then Elton John called.
"He was a fan of The Desert Rose Band and came to see us at the Roxy in L.A.," Jorgenson recalls. "In the audience also was Stephen Stills, Bruce Hornsby, Dave Edmunds, David Crosby and Bernie Taupin. Elton John came back stage and congratulated me. Six years after that I walked in the door and the phone was ringing and, 'Hello, John. It's Elton.' I thought it was going to be one world tour and it ended up six years. I played guitar and pedal steel and mandolin and saxophone. It was really fun."
Having played with an amazingly diverse range of artists, from Bob Dylan to Benny Goodman to Pavarotti, does he recall any special memories?
"I did some TV shows with Roy Orbison and to hear that amazing voice come out of my monitor was pretty cool," he notes. "And I recorded with Johnny Cash and just the sound of that iconic voice speaking to me. In the gypsy jazz world I got to headline (as the first American musician) the annual Django Reinhardt memorial festival in France in 2005. As an American that was a big deal. Usually it was French or Dutch gypsies. I was very honored."
Jorgenson also ended up playing Reinhardt in the movie "Head in the Clouds," a romantic drama set in the 1930s, starring Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz.
"The director was looking for someone to replicate Django's music, and then he wanted someone playing Django on camera," he reports. "So I offered my services even though I look nothing like Django. He said, 'We'll have to get the prosthetic department to do something special for your hand.' But then he said, 'No I'm joking because how could you play?' I told him I had learned the solos with two fingers. I was so curious to see how that could be done. In that process I learned so much about the guitar."
The John Jorgenson Quintet performs at the "Django Would Go!" concert at 6 p.m. Sunday in the MACC's McCoy Studio Theater. Also appearing is the Hot Club of Hulaville, who just won the Na Hokuhanohano Jazz Album of the Year award for their CD "Django Would Go." The band features Duane Padilla on violin, Emmet Mahoney on guitar, Ricardo Diaz on bass, Sonny Silva on guitar and chanteuse Ginai. They will be joined by Maui guitarist Tom Conway.
The concert is being presented as part of the 2011 Maui Invitational Music Festival. Jorgenson and the other artists will lead workshops and master classes for guitar, violin and bass at 3 p.m. Sunday at the MACC. Jorgenson's "Introduction to Gypsy Jazz Guitar" is geared toward the player who is just starting to learn gypsy jazz and swing guitar and covers both rhythm and lead techniques. Jason Anic will teach a "Gypsy Jazz Violin Workshop" to help improvisation and different stylistic approaches. Simon Planting will present a bass workshop for all levels of players, "How to work your way through crazy Django rhythms in various styles and tempos along with driving the band, keeping your cool and building excitement as part of the rhythm section."
What a perfect lure to head over to Lanai this weekend - a free jazz festival with headliner Tom Scott at the island's Four Seasons Resorts.
A musical icon, Scott's saxophone and flute has enhanced numerous popular songs and albums - from Carol King's "Jazzman," Rod Stewart's "Do You Think I'm Sexy" and Whitney Houston's "Saving All My Love For You," to Paul McCartney's "Listen To What The Man Said," Joni Mitchell's "Help Me," Tina Turner's "Acid Queen" and Steely Dan's "Black Cow."
Over the years his playing has graced albums by artists as varied as Ravi Shankar, the Grateful Dead, George Harrison, Ringo Star, BB King, Aretha Franklin, Pink Floyd, Thelonious Monk and Frank Sinatra. And he even played on C&K's "Night Music."
A gifted jazz player, composer and Grammy Award winner, he's released 27 albums including the straight-ahead recording "Bebop United," with such jazz stalwarts as trumpeter Randy Brecker, drummer Willie Jones, pianist Gil Goldstein, and sax legend Phil Woods.
"I've been a straight-ahead player since I was about 14 years old," says Scott. "I didn't record that style for a long time, but continued to play straight-ahead jazz in clubs. Through the '80s I played with Victor Feldman on a regular basis, a wonderful jazz pianist who played with Miles Davis, and in the '90s I was the leader of the GRP All Star Big Band (winning four Grammys). I've never left straight-ahead, I've just had my feet in both areas."
Beginning learning clarinet at the age of 9, Scott says, he's always loved the saxophone. "I was just totally enamored with the sound. When my friends were playing softball at the weekends, I was in my room with my phonograph playing five seconds of a John Coltrane solo trying to transcribe it note for note."
In 1972, Scott released the Grammy-winning album "Great Scott," which included a version of Joni Mitchell's classic "Woodstock."
Mitchell was so impressed she invited Scott to play on "For the Roses" "Court and Spark" and "Hejira," and back her on tour with his band, the L.A. Express, captured on the live album "Miles of Aisles."
"It was one of the most enjoyable musical experiences I've ever had," he says of working with Mitchell.
Then a couple of Beatles came calling. Paul McCartney had admired his work with Mitchell and wanted him for his "Venus and Mars" sessions. "I was just back from the road with Joni and got a call to immediately record with Paul McCartney and Wings," he recalls.
"So Paul plays this tune, 'Listen To What the Man Said.' I closed my eyes and started playing along, and at the end everyone applauded. I said, 'I'm just learning it,' and Paul said, 'No, that's it,' and that's the take that's on the record."
Scott would have a longer relationship with George Harrison. He played on three of Harrison's albums and toured with the famous Beatle in 1974.
"George was a dear friend and I spent many days living at his Friar Park estate," he reports. "We had a common love of Indian music."
Among other memorable gigs, he values his time as a member of the Blues Brothers Band with John Belushi and Dan Akroyd, and then there was Steely Dan. Scott played on "Aja," one of their greatest albums.
"I was thrilled and delighted that our paths crossed," he says.
Scott's most recent studio recording, "Cannon Re-Loaded -A Tribute to Cannonball Adderley," features an-all-star band of Nancy Wilson, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Terence Blanchard and Steve Gadd.
"There have undoubtedly been other dedications to the one and only 'Cannonball,' but props are in order for Tom Scott's 'Cannon-Reloaded,' a special tribute that will hopefully spark new interest in one of the true great alto saxophonists," praised Allaboutjazz.