Juno-award winning Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook is performing in Qualicum Beach on Thursday, Sept. 27. — Submitted by Nikki Shibou

Guitarist explores beyond borders of genre, countries, music, coming to Qualicum Beach

Globetrotting Jesse Cook touring Island, performing in Qualicum Beach Sept. 27

There’s something odd that can happen when you write something down, like a story or a song.

There are benefits, of course — it’s a way to preserve what you’ve heard, and a way to share it.

But writing something down also imposes a restriction — this song is exactly these notes, no more, no less.

Sometimes, you can ask even the most talented musicians to play just anything, whatever they feel, nothing written down, and they can’t, said famed Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook.

He had that experience once with a virtuoso oboe player, he said. “I didn’t have anything written on paper for him beyond bar whatever… so I just wrote on the page ‘continue’ with an arrow… it was like a brick wall,” said Cook.

“He went from being incredibly confident to suddenly almost shaking… I feel like, in modern classical, that’s where we’re at.”

Cook’s emphasis is on breaking out beyond borders such as these. In fact, Beyond Borders is the name of his latest album, out last year.

The guitarist, known for incorporating a flamenco rumba style into his music, as well as exploring and learning musical styles from around the world, will be in Qualicum Beach for a concert Sept. 27 at Qualicum Beach Civic Centre (747 Hones St.).

With a classical and jazz academic background himself, Cook said that, after 18 years of training to enter the working world of musicians, he was reminded of what music really is about when sitting down to play with gypsies in Spain.

“None of them can read a note, but they can play incredible things,” he said. “They’ve always learned knee-to-knee. You find another guitarist, you get together, you teach each-other things, and it’s the oral tradition.

“I don’t actually think one is better than the other,” said Cook of the oral tradition versus academic study. “They are just different,” he said.

However, for him, studying guitar at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music and the Berklee College of Music convinced him that music was about technique and playing complicated compositions.

“I had been trained to be a sort of musical professional,” he said.

“They were preparing me for the music industry, and then I go to Spain and… I’d meet these musicians who would be making music and weeping. They would be just so wrapped up in the emotion of what they were doing. And I kept thinking, how do we lose touch with that? When you first start music, it’s all about the emotion.”

Getting back to that was “the biggest lesson I had to learn,” he said.

“Sort of get back to ‘What am I trying to say and how does that affect people… how does that touch you, your heart?’ And really that’s all it’s about at the end of the day. Music is a form of human communication, human expression, emotional expression. And we can kind of lose track of that sometimes.”

Searching out a variety of expressions has been a focus of Cook’s, inspired in part by the variety of musical genres available in Canada, and specifically in Toronto where he grew up.

“Things that my friends were doing, things that the school was offering, it was always about world music,” he said.

Cook would check out workshops on north-Indian rhythms, a drumming ensemble focused on Ghanaian drumming.

“All those different ways of making music and making rhythm are beautiful,” he said. “I think that’s part of growing up in Canada… that’s one of the great things about this place. We have all these different communities. We have them flourishing as they are.

“We don’t go, ‘OK, everybody put on your baseball cap, here’s a hot dog and forget who you are.’ Sort of ‘Welcome to Canada, and now you can be yourself.’”

Over the years, Cook’s many albums have included inspiration and musical elements from a variety of cultures, sometimes focusing on where he had been most recently, like Cairo and London, or Columbia and Cuba.

Cook also sometimes goes with the intensely introspective route, admitting a love of hurtin’ music.

More recently, Cook said he’s added some electronica influences to his work.

In other ways, he’s also breaking down artistic barriers by creating videos.

Inspired by his parents’ (John Cook is considered an important figure in Austrian cinema, while Heather Cook worked as a TV director and producer), Cook was posting a video a week on YouTube during his last tour, often taking video and editing himself.

Though the experience almost killed him, he said, Cook hopes to continue working on videos, though at a slower pace.

At the time if his interview with the NEWS, Cook was actually taking a break from filming a special for PBS.

While film is perhaps the ultimate art form, he said, Cook added he won’t be quitting his day job.

Cook performs at Qualicum Beach Civic Centre Sept. 27 with doors opening at 7 p.m. Tickets are $50 available at the Qualicum Beach Civic Centre.

For more info, call 250-752-1992.

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