Juno award-winning Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook is renowned for his instrumental jazz and Latin music, and he’s coming to Mission’s Clarke Theatre for one-night only Oct. 29.
Cook has developed an international following during his 15-year career with a diversity of talents, including his acoustic guitar work, Flamenco music, and “funky jazz.” Pinning down his musical genre can be tricky, as he is the only person to simultaneously dominate the jazz radio and New Age music charts.
Reached by telephone while touring through Winnipeg, Cook says his music attracts fans from every country and cultural background.
“People who do like my music come from all over the place,” he says, adding he takes pride in how “weirdly diverse” his audience is.
And he believes being Canadian is “absolutely central” to his music.
“I think what excites [people] about it is the amount of world music elements that are in it. And I think that comes from living in a country like Canada where people are here from all over the world.”
Growing up in Toronto, Cook says he enjoyed listening to sounds and instruments from different cultures.
It’s not surprising. The Paris-born Cook spent summers with his father in Arles, famous for being the home of Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin.
It was in Arles that Cook developed an affinity for gypsy music.
“It wasn’t by intention or design, it was just happenstance.”
As it turned out, Cook’s father owned several records by Manitas de Plata (Born Ricardo Baliardo but named Little Silverhands in Spanish), a legendary Flamenco musician that Cook would come to admire greatly. De Plata is one of many musicians to bring Spanish music to France during the rule of Fascist dictator Francisco Franco, befriending expatriates like Pablo Picasso who longed for the sounds of home.
De Plata’s son, Tonino Baliardo, went on to make the music of Arles and Montpellier world-famous with the Gipsy Kings. Cook’s father’s house was situated in the gypsy corridor of Arles, and as fortune would have it he was a neighbour of Gipsy Kings’ lead singer Nicolas Reyes.
One evening, Cook’s father was playing a record of Los Reyes (Gipsy Kings) before they had been internationally discovered. When the record finished they thought they heard somebody playing the same record, but after some time realized Nicolas Reyes was having a “gypsy jamboree” next door.
“When they finished singing their song, my dad thrust my guitar in my hands and said, ‘strum!’ So I strummed, and next thing I knew we were invited to a jamboree with the Gipsy Kings.”
An obvious musical prodigy, Cook is well-trained. He went to Eli Kassner Guitar Academy as a child in Toronto with classical guitarist Liona Boyd, and followed with the Royal Conservatory of Music and then York University, practicing guitar up to 10 hours a day.
But it wasn’t until he went to Berklee College of Music in Boston and was exposed to musical mentors like John McLaughlin, Branford Marsalis, and Adrian Belew that he realized he could really take his music to the next level.
“To realize they’re just regular guys, flesh and blood, you realize it’s possible. You can live your dream.”
Although there have been many highlights in his career — playing in front of 70,000 people in Montreal ranks highly — Cook says he most proud of his body of work: Eight studio albums in fifteen years.
He’s also proud that instrumental music without vocals has managed to survive, and even thrive, in the era of pop music.
So, how long can he keep it up for?
When Cook was an aspiring musician he went and saw then-76-year-old master guitarist Andres Sagovia play at Massey Hall in Toronto.
“He just walked out into the middle of the stage, sat down, no amplification, and he filled Massey Hall with music for an hour and a half. I was completely mesmerized and I still feel like that’s what I want to be doing when I’m 76. And I hope I get to.”