“Touring musicians lead super glamorous lives,” declared John Jorgenson at the start of his John Jorgenson Quintet gypsy jazz gig July 26 at the Cutting Room.
Except, that is, for this particular night: Flying from L.A. to Hartford, Jorgenson had to land in Abilene in order for his plane to refuel, since its Dallas destination was too busy. So he was forced to spend the night in the airport waiting for a new connection, and while he made it to the Cutting Room on time, his guitar—and luggage—didn’t.
“I borrowed a guitar from Jason [his violinist Jason Anick], a shirt from Simon [upright bassist Simon Planting],” Jorgenson told the Cutting Room crowd. “Everybody contributed—except the pants I’m wearing are mine, because none of the others’ fit!”
Glamor aside—and despite the challenge of playing such intricate acoustic music as his quintet’s on an unfamiliar guitar—Jorgenson, whose latest release Divertuoso is a three-disc box showing his many musical facets, dazzled in his gypsy jazz mode. “Black Swan,” from the new set’s Returning disc featuring the quintet, was particularly noteworthy in its adaptation by Jorgenson from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, specifically, the entrance of the “naughty” Black Swan.
“My grandparents gave me the Fantasia soundtrack as a child, and I loved Tchaikovsky ever since,” Jorgenson explained. He also gave background on the gypsy jazz genre, citing guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli as “the patron saints of this style of music.”
“They were inspired by Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and Benny Goodman, and played on acoustic instruments, which wasn’t being done in jazz at that time,” said Jorgenson, who demonstrated Reinhardt’s two-finger technique—he used only his index and middle fingers of his left hand after his third and fourth fingers were paralyzed after being burned in a fire—and closed with Reinhardt’s gypsy jazz standard “Nuages.”
He also lauded his band, besides Anick (also a mandolinist and one of the youngest instructors at Boston’s Berklee College of Music) and Planting (“one of the great bass players in gypsy jazz”), including drummer Rick Reed (“incredible stamina on brushes”) and rhythm guitarist Max O’Rourke, whom he singled out for having “the hardest job, because he’s always active and doesn’t get to rest.”
Jorgenson, incidentally, also played bouzouki—though he declares it a banjo for airport security. He said he would have played clarinet, but it was packed in a suitcase.
As for the other two Divertuoso discs, From the Crow’s Nest features J2B2—The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band featuring Jorgenson on mandolin and guitar and vocals, Herb Pedersen on banjo and guitar and vocals, guitarist/vocalist Jon Randall and upright bassist Mark Fain. Jorgenson, of course, was a central player in country music’s great Desert Rose Band, along with Pedersen and Chris Hillman.
The third disc, Gifts From the Flood, consists of instrumentals played on prized instruments damaged during Nashville’s historic 2010 flooding, that have been painstakingly restored.