Canadian Nuevo flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook brings a world of sound to the stage.
He calls his new album, One World, the musical equivalent of Constantinople. “(It’s) the ancient city where East met West. The whole world would pass through, it was the centre of trade – it was this amazing place and I wanted to create a 21st century version of that.”
One World is Cook’s ninth studio album, a follow up to 2012’s The Blue Guitar Sessions.
“It was fun to record after The Blue Guitar Sessions, which was intentionally blue and melancholy, I wanted something loud and bombastic,” the 50-year-old says.
Cook grew up in a family of artists. His father was a photographer, his mother a television director and producer, and his cousin a dancer with the National Ballet.
“There are lots of artsy fartsy people, so I was used to watching them scramble to make a living. No one was rolling in at nine and leaving at five, everyone was always on the hunt for the next project. I got through a bit of a struggle through my 20s, since then the rest has been easy.
“I’ve had the luxury to focus on my art and not worry about the next gig. As a performing artist you always have to keep that in mind, but I was able to focus.”
He started studying classical guitar at age six at Toronto’s Eli Kassner Guitar Academy. “It was a terrific place to learn, as you got better they passed you on to better teachers. It gave me a good grounding in technique, music theory – all that stuff helps,” he says.
He also attended Berklee College of Music and studied jazz, but his greatest influence was flamenco guitarist Manitas de Plata.
“He was a flamenco player from the South of France, Pablo Picasso made him famous. He came to North America, played Carnegie Hall, in France he was a really big deal and my mom would play his records. A lot of people say, ‘ah he’s a hack’ because he didn’t play traditional, but I just really liked him.
“He was a controversial figure, but I don’t care. I owe him a debt. Without him I would be playing Rush, Def Leopard and the Beatles.
“One last nail in the coffin (if you want to put it that way), my dad went to live in Arles in France, in the Camargue and there was a gypsy enclave at the end of the street. Nicolas Reyes, the lead singer of the band the Gypsy Kings, lived there, and I would spend every summer there where there were kids in the street playing guitars like percussion instruments. One guy with a guitar sounded like a whole band – I loved it.”
Cook muses on his first appearance at the Montreal Jazz Festival at a small club: “On the first night, there was barely anyone there. The second night it was about half full and the next night there was a line up – flash forward to 2005 we played outside at the Montreal Jazz Festival to 70,000 people – it was crazy, there was a sea of people stretched out to the horizon. In those moments I try to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy the moment because it won’t last.”
He says there’s a feeling of gratification that comes with playing for a crowd. “The effect that sea of human emotion has. It amplifies as this wave of power hits you, it stuns you and you ride it, it’s really a magical experience. Those moments are few and far between so when they happen I really enjoy them.”
Tickets are available at rmts.bc.ca, 250-386-6121 or 1-888-717-6121, or in person at the McPherson box office and usual outlets.
Go to MondayMag.com for your chance to win tickets to see Jesse Cook in Victoria.