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A touring tempest

Jesse Cook set to storm the Royal Theatre September 17

A career spanning 25 years has brought Canadian musician Jesse Cook multiple accolades, including a coveted Acoustic Guitar Magazine Player’s Choice Silver Award, 11 JUNO nominations (he won for 2001’s Free Fall), a Gemini Award and, impressively, 10 platinum and gold studio albums.

Moreover, he has sold out concert halls the world over, produced five PBS television specials and five live CDs. Not a bad legacy for a guy who never planned to release an album.

“If you had asked me at age 22, I would have said that I would never ever make music for the public,” Cook says with a laugh. “I would have told you that the public is much too fickle—they may love you one minute and forget you the next. Well, it turns out I did the thing I said I’d never do, and somehow it’s worked out.”

Victoria audiences can witness just how much this has worked out as Cook takes the stage at the Royal Theatre, September 17, as part of his Tempest II Tour.

Since launching his career in 1995, Cook has blazed an incredible trail. Along with being a global guitar virtuoso, he’s honed his skills as a composer, producer, arranger, performer and, more recently, filmmaker and cultural ambassador. Surprisingly, he started down many of those paths before he even started school.

As a child he was introduced to flamenco while spending summers at his father’s house in the Camargue region of southern France. John Cook’s neighbour happened to be Nico Reyes, guitarist for The Gypsy Kings. Meanwhile his mother, Heather Cook, enrolled him in Toronto’s prestigious Eli Kassner Guitar Academy.

Cook’s musical education continued at the world-renowned Royal Conservatory, Toronto’s York University and the esteemed Berklee College in Boston. He set his sights on a career as a composer. That was until an Ontario cable TV company aired his music on the listings channel.

“Their switchboard got flooded with calls,” he recalls. “People even got my number somehow and started phoning me at home and asking for a CD. And I was saying, ‘I don’t have a CD, I’m a background composer guy. I don’t make records.’”

This proved to be a critical turning point, leading Cook to self-produce Tempest at home, ultimately sparking a mighty international career.

Over the course of his first 25 years making award-winning music for a global audience, Cook could be forgiven should he contemplate retiring or, as he puts it, “hanging out at my cottage dipping my toes in the water.”

But the fact is he loves creating music. And there’s also the matter of some unfinished business interrupted by the pandemic.

The reissue of his debut album and a coinciding world tour were among his pre-COVID plans—before he found himself housebound, along with most of the rest of the world.

“It was the first year with no touring since my career began. I needed a mountain to climb,” Cook quips.

So Cook got to work producing 23 (and counting) extraordinary solo YouTube videos of his favourite songs in which he played all the instruments, recorded and filmed himself. The collection is called Love in the Time of COVID. Not only have they pleased his existing fan base but this YouTube video collection has expanded his worldwide audience, which is now craving that soon-to-be-announced world tour.

Cook, clearly, has many more years of memorable performances ahead of him.