Gypsy jazz comes to Ann Arbor Feb. 21Written by Vicki L. Kroll | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Guitarist John Jorgenson is an über fan of Django Reinhardt and his frenetic fret work — not that there’s anything wrong with that.
So when he had the chance to portray the French guitar great and re-record some of his good-time gypsy jazz for the 2004 movie “Head in the Clouds,” he was ready.
“I was meeting with the director and trying to let him know that I knew a lot about Django Reinhardt and that I’d do a really good job without sounding like I was some stalker that didn’t have any life besides studying Django,” Jorgenson said.
The director mentioned there’d be a role in the film.
“I don’t look anything like Django Reinhardt, but I’d cut my hair and dye it and grow a moustache, do whatever I could to look right for the part,” Jorgenson told the director. “And he said, ‘Well, we’d have to get a prosthesis for your hand because Django only had the full use of his first two fingers on his left hand.’
“And I said, ‘Yeah, that would be really cool.’ And he said, ‘Oh, I was just kidding; how could you play?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve learned how to play some of his solos with two fingers.’ So I was showing my hand that I was pretty much a crazy Django Reinhardt fan,” he said and laughed.
Jorgenson got the part and appeared as his hero in the film, which starred Charlize Theron and Penélope Cruz.
“It was a lot of fun because he’s my favorite musician and I was able to not only play his music, but to be dressed up like him,” Jorgenson said during a call from Vermont, where he hunkered down during a blizzard while on tour.
At age 18, Reinhardt lost mobility in two fingers on his left hand after being pulled from a fire.
“That was one of the things that really got me curious: How is [Reinhardt’s playing] possible? It’s kind of like a puzzle to be able to figure it out,” Jorgenson said.
“It taught me a lot about playing guitar in general. I had to learn the fingerboard in a different outlook. That really helped my playing overall.”
In addition to his solo career, Jorgenson has been a guitar slinger in The Desert Rose Band and played with a long list of luminaries, including Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Elton John, Barbra Streisand, Willie Nelson and Luciano Pavarotti.
The John Jorgenson Quintet will swing through Ann Arbor for an 8 p.m. show Feb. 21 at The Ark. Tickets are $20. Doors open at 7:30 p.m.
The acoustic nature of gypsy jazz is just part of its appeal, according to Jorgenson.
“People really love the sound of violin and acoustic guitar. And then it’s got a lot of energy; it’s not laidback. It’s got a lot of energy and aggression, but it doesn’t hit you over the head, either. It’s also got a lot of emotion, and it’s evocative. It can take you to different places; it’s got a bit of an exotic flair.”