Jorgenson brings jazz trio to BGWritten by Brian Bohnert | | email@example.com
A man who made a career out of touring with some of the world’s most famous musicians will bring his own brand of swing-inspired jazz to Bowling Green.
Guitarist, vocalist and composer John Jorgenson will perform a one-night-only, free show at Grounds for Thought on June 22. The 8 p.m. concert will feature a musical trio in an intimate acoustic set as part of the group’s nationwide tour.
The show marks Jorgenson’s third appearance at Grounds for Thought. The presence of books combined with intellectual energy establishes an intimate setting for his performances, Jorgenson said.
“You’re playing amongst a bunch of books and a bunch of creativity. It’s a nice, laid-back, creative environment,” Jorgenson said. “We always have a great time there.”
Jorgenson is best known as co-founder of the Desert Rose Band, an American country group he formed with former bassist for The Byrds, Chris Hillman.
“I first met Chris in 1985 and we started playing together in an acoustic quartet format,” he said. “I was a fan of The Byrds, so it was a big deal for me to be playing with him. As we progressed, the songs he was writing sounded like they needed to be a full, electric country band. He was hesitant at first and it evolved over a year and a half or so, but we eventually got it going.”
Established in 1985, the group recorded five albums and topped U.S. charts with five No. 1 singles including “He’s Back and I’m Blue” and “I Still Believe in You.” Along with the band’s honors, Jorgenson was named “Guitarist of the Year” for three consecutive years by the Academy of Country Music (ACM), according to Jorgenson’s website.
“I think the radio liked the band because it was a fresh sound,” he said. “We had a lot of tradition in our sound. We had bluegrass elements, British rock elements, California harmony elements. We had our own particular type of harmony.”
While he earned many accolades with the Desert Rose Band, his work with the group also gave Jorgenson new opportunities as a recording session artist, as well as the status as an international musician.
“The nice thing is that it brought me from being just a local musician to a national and international musician,” he said. “Producers started using me on different projects and that opened up opportunities to work with people like Bob Seger and Bonnie Raitt. It was an important time because it propelled me forward to a whole new level of my career.”
Jorgenson formed the guitar trio The Hellecasters after his departure from the Desert Rose Band in 1993. The group originally started as “just a matter of friends getting together and having some fun,” but, after support from fans at their first show, Jorgenson, Will Ray and Jerry Donahue made a successful run that spawned four albums.
“We decided to get together and play a set of instrumental music with three guitar players,” he said. “People really liked it and people kept asking us to play more. We had no plans to keep playing or to do any more shows, but because people liked it so much, we ended up doing a few more shows. That was one of those things where if you tried to plan that, it’d probably never happen. It happened on its own somehow.”
Former Monkees guitarist and vocalist Michael Nesmith started his Pacific Arts label in the late 1970s. It was under that label that The Hellecasters released their debut album, Jorgenson said.
From fan to band mate
Throughout his career, Jorgenson made many good impressions among some of the music industry’s biggest players. During a Desert Rose concert in 1988, his guitar skill led to what would be a six-year gig with one of pop music’s biggest names: Elton John.
“He was a fan of the Desert Rose Band and he came to see us at the Roxy in 1988. He liked the show and he even gave us a couple quotes to use. Then, six years later he called me to play with him,” he said. “It was pretty strange but you just never know. I knew he liked my guitar playing but I thought I’d just be doing a recording session. But as it turned out, he needed somebody to play. It was a great experience.”
Through that experience, Jorgenson was able to record and play with music legends like Mary J. Blige, Sting and Billy Joel.
Throughout his career, Jorgenson has opened his mind to many different styles of music. Though, no matter what Jorgenson plays onstage, American gypsy jazz remains his true passion.
Pioneered by European jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, the high-energy, melodic, emotional style blends elements of American swing and European jazz.
In 2003, Jorgenson was asked to portray Reinhardt in the 2004 feature film, “Head in the Clouds” starring Charlize Theron and Penélope Cruz.
“[Reinhardt] was inspired by American jazz coming out in the late 1920s. He decided to try to play that on the guitar as opposed to trumpet,” he said. “It was fantastic. I got to pretend I was my favorite musician for a day.”
The John Jorgenson Quintet
To further express his love for American gypsy jazz, Jorgenson formed The John Jorgenson Quintet. Comprised of five musicians, The John Jorgenson Quintet tours the globe playing gypsy jazz.
While Jorgenson composes most of the music himself, he said he has the freedom to choose what music the group plays if he does not.
“It’s very personal,” he said. “My musicians are really great and they support me all the way and they have the ability to take it away if they need to. I also really enjoy the touring aspect and getting to go around the world and introducing the world to this type of music.”
Tags: Billy Joel, Bob Seger, Bonnie Raitt, charlize theron, Chris Hillman, Desert Rose Band, Django Reinhardt, Elton John, Grounds for Thought, Jerry Donahue, John Jorgensen, John Jorgenson Quintet, Mary J. Blige, Michael Nesmith, Monkees, Penelope Cruz, Sting, The Byrds, The Hellecasters, Will Ray