When Jesse Cook set out to make his eighth album he was intent on creating a mood.
Although he’s known for blending flamenco and rumba with other genres of music for some intense, percussion-filled beats, his new album The Blue Guitar Sessions has a softer, bluesy side that he couldn’t quite classify.
“I don’t really know what it is,” said the internationally acclaimed Toronto musician. “I’m not playing a genre, I’m playing a mood.”
Cook is a Juno-award winning artist who has been named Guitarist of the Year three times at the Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards. His previous release, The Rumba Foundation, debuted at number one on iTunes Canada and the DVD premiered on PBS. He has played to sold-out crowds around the world and has sold over a million albums globally, with two platinum and five gold albums in Canada. He’ll be playing a sold-out show at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre on Dec. 15.
Cook was born in Paris in 1964 and moved to Canada when he was three or four years old with his Canadian mother and his sister.
It was around that time when he first picked up a guitar, but it didn’t actually sound like music until he was six and started taking lessons, he said.
He learned flamenco at this young age and was soon identified as a gifted musician. He was passed on to classical teachers, he said, and by 13 he was being pressured to practice for hours each day and enter competitions, much to his chagrin.
“I just wanted to have a fun childhood,” he said. “Actually at that point in my career my ambition was to be a member of the Harlem Globetrotters,” he laughed.
So Cook quit lessons and dabbled a bit in rock and other genres. He fell deeper in love with Gypsy-style music while visiting his father in Arles, France and vacationing at his mother’s french farmhouse.
Cook said it took him awhile to realize why he loved flamenco music more than classical, but today he boils it down to freedom.
It’s the unstructured, passionate nature of the music that lets the performer really show their own colours, he said, as opposed to classical guitar where artists are more of a voice for the composer.
Cook said some records you listen to “take up all the space in your life,” because they are big, loud and bombastic, and those are usually the type of albums he tries to make. But others, like some of his favourites: Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, Nora Jones’ Come Away With Me and Adele’s 21, create a mood that permeates the entire disk, he said, and it was something he wanted to explore with his new album.
So last summer while vacationing with his family he set out some rules for himself: he had to write a song everyday.
“I coudn’t do anything until I’d written my song, but as soon as that song was done I could go and play with my kids on the beach and I didn’t have to feel guilty, and actually I think I might do that from now on.”
At the end of the summer he took those songs into the studio and arranged and finished them.
The Blue Guitar Sessions features appearances by other talented artists including Toronto vocalist Emma-Lee in I Put a Spell on You, a cover of the song written by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and popularized by Nina Simone and Jeff Beck.
Cook said he doesn’t feel like he went out on a limb with the new record, but more he “changed things up and broke the rules.” And with consistently sold-out tours, it appears whatever he did, worked.
Cook is currently wrapping up his Canadian tour, and Qualicum Beach will be his second-to-last stop. Last time he was in town he took a picture of the tides at the beach that remains in his “prized photos” file.
In January, Cook starts his United States tour where he’ll make 70-stops and probably another PBS special, as there’s demand for it, he said.
After that he’ll start thinking about another album, probably another loud and bombastic one, he said, and possibly involving Brazil or India.
Check out Jesse Cook’s website to hear samples from his new album at www.jessecook.com.