Musicians often speak of influences and for Juno award winning guitarist Jesse Cook it is not so much one individual that holds a special place in his heart but a region in southern France known as the Camargue.
It was here in Arles that Cook's father, a retired film director, lived the last ten years of his life. It's where Cook spent many summers, wandering the streets among the Gypsies who inhabit the area, soaking up the atmosphere and listening to the likes of Nicolas Reyes, lead singer of the flamenco group Gipsy Kings, who just happened to live next door.
With the recent success of Cook's last album Frontiers, he is back in the studio working on his much anticipated follow up, 'The Rumba Foundation', set for release on September 29, 2009. The single from Cook's upcoming album will be "Cecilia", which features Juno nominee Jeremy Fisher as a guest vocalist. The track will be released to radio in June 2009. The new album also features the traditional folkloris cumbia group, Los Gaiteros, who Cook recently returned from recording with in Columbia.
Born in Paris in 1964, Cook first picked up a toy guitar at the age of three desperately trying to mimic the sounds of guitarist Manitas de Plata who lived in the Camargue. This Gypsy guitar legend, made famous by his friendship with Picasso, would have an enormous impact on Cook from a very young age.
After his parents separated, Cook accompanied his mother and sister to Canada, his mother's birthplace. Recognizing a precocious musical aptitude in her son, music lessons followed at Toronto's esteemed Eli Kassner Guitar Academy. Kassner's other famous pupil was classical guitarist Liona Boyd.
"People were kind of tossing around this term 'virtuoso' when I was a kid," Cook recalls almost embarrassed, "I am not sure. I certainly wasn't one of those kids you could stick on stage at the O'Keefe Centre and wow the crowds. I was too undisciplined; I never practiced my scales and arpeggios. I played what I wanted to play. I would learn quickly and then have fun with it."
Informal jam sessions at his father's house and at the annual Gypsy festival in nearby Saintes Maries de la Mer helped hone his skills. Between Arles and his mother's French farmhouse, Toronto seemed a world away. There he continued his studies in classical and jazz guitar at some of North America's most prestigious music schools, then attempted to unlearn it all while immersing himself in the oral traditions of Gypsy music. This unusual dichotomy paid dividends in his wide range of musical tastes. It is clearly and continually reflected in his passion for exploration and fusion, which has helped develop the sound and confidence he exudes on stage today.
Since then, Cook, has recorded six critically acclaimed studio albums and traveled the world exploring musical traditions that he has blended into his style of rumba flamenco.
"The 1995 Catalina Jazz Festival was a turning point. I had just made Tempest, independently, and released it in Canada," he remembers of his debut album. "Within a month we signed a deal with the American company Narada and then they booked us into the Catalina Jazz festival."
Originally the band was to perform during the twenty-minute intermissions in a little bar downstairs from the main stage. But the room quickly filled and the appreciative and by now expanding crowd wouldn't let Cook leave. They coerced him into extending his set well past an
hour. Inevitably Cook was invited on to the main stage. Shortly afterwards Tempest entered the American Billboard charts at #14, an impressive debut indeed.
In 2001 Cook won his first Juno Award in the Best Instrumental Album category for Free Fall. Again, he was nominated in 2008 for two Juno Awards, for his 2007 release Frontiers (World Music Album of the Year) and for the incredible DVD One Night at the Metropolis (Music DVD of the Year), which captures a spectacular concert during the 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival.
In the US, single Café Mocha, off of the Frontiers album, rose to #5 on the R&R Smooth Jazz Chart and continues to shine on the retail charts - it reached #2 on the Top Ten Jazz singles downloaded on iTunes in May 2009 as well as #3 on Walmart's Top 100 Jazz downloads. Cook has also won silver as Best Flamenco Guitarist by Acoustic Guitar magazine Player's Choice Awards in February 2009, second only to Paco de Lucia.
For Jesse Cook, it's not awards that drive him. Live concerts remain his lifeblood and with an already impressive career, he is really only just getting started.
International demand for Jesse has risen dramatically over the last year. In 2008, Cook travelled extensively performing at the Singapore Sun Festival, headlining the Dubai Jazz Festival, selling out a performance in Kuala Lumpur and performing in London and Dublin. 2009 has already seen Cook play in Poland, with plans to perform in Italy, Malta and Turkey later this year and return to London, Dublin and Poland!
Saturday Beatles Brunch