If you go
What: John Jorgenson Quintet
When: 8 p.m. today
Where: Strings Music Pavilion, Pine Grove and Mount Werner roads
Cost: Tickets are $35. Call 970-879-5056 or visit www.stringsmusicf... for tickets and information.
Steamboat Springs John Jorgenson gives an American voice to the European tradition of gypsy jazz music. Ever since he first heard the worldly genre from the fingertips of French gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, it became his passion.
He’s been touring with the John Jorgenson Quintet for eight years, making a living off of the lively and percussive traditionals as well as his own original compositions.
The quintet comprises Jorgenson on guitar, bouzouki and clarinet, Jason Anick on violin, Rick Reed on percussion, Simon Planting on bass and Doug Martin on rhythm guitar.
They return to the Strings Music Festival for a performance at 8 p.m. Friday at the Strings Music Pavilion. Tickets are $35.
Explore Steamboat caught up with Jorgenson between Colorado tour dates on Wednesday.
Explore Steamboat: When were you first introduced to gypsy jazz?
John Jorgenson: I really got into it in 1979. It was always kind of like my personal passion music, and I never expected to have a career playing that style because it was so underground. Really, it was around the turn of the century, with the advent of the Internet, that a lot of people that like these new styles of music kind of found each other.
In Europe it’s been going since the 1950s. But in America, it’s relatively new on the mainstream consciousness.
ES: What was it about the genre that captured you?
JJ: I was playing with some traditional jazz musicians, and I was hearing some amazing banjo playing by masters from the 1920s. And I wondered, “There must be somebody who played guitar with that kind of fire.” And everybody would say “Django Reinhardt” with such a reverence.
Almost every guitarist listed him as a positive influence. Then I heard him and was like, “Well OK, that’s why.” He played with so much energy and feeling. It’s almost like his acoustic guitar became electrified. There was so much energy. He attacked it in the same way Jimi Hendrix attacked his electric. I thought, “How can I make that sound?”
ES: How is it that American audiences connect to this European style?
JJ: The original inspiration for the music was American swing, like Louis Armstrong, and it was heard by these French musicians, and they were inspired by this American jazz. So they did their own version of it.
There’s a highly American element in the music itself. Then you have these other elements from eastern Europe and Spain. Being that America is basically made of people from all of those places, people like to hear the character of their ancestry in the music.
It’s super high energy; it’s really melodic; it’s accessible. It’s acoustic string music, which people always really like. Hopefully, it has a lot of emotional content — it’s romantic, melancholy, joyful. And people seem to love it.
ES: How do you handle being on the road so much?
JJ: I don’t know. It works for me. I guess it’s what I’ve always done; it’s what I know. Maybe there is some gypsy in me. You rarely stay in one place. That is normal to me now.
I spend about half the time on the road. The rest … it’s some studio work and a lot of it is planning and prep for being on the road.
ES: So you’d rather be playing a live show than in the studio?
JJ: That’s my main thing. The studio work is OK, but normally it’s going to be for someone else’s music. There’s only so much you can put into someone else’s music before you’re doing too much. To put everything into my music and to be able to connect with an audience, that’s really satisfying, especially with a situation like Strings. There’s going to be some great listeners there. At the end of the day, I feel like I’ve really accomplished something … hopefully either taking people away from their problems for a while or maybe inspiring someone to go practice and play their own music or maybe introducing them to a new kind of music that they can enjoy for the rest of their lives.
Just maybe change their life in a small, positive way. And I feel like that’s an honor to be in a position to be able to do that.