Gypsy jazz travels to the Last Frontier

John Jorgenson Quintet makes debut tour to Alaska

Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2008

The high-energy gypsy jazz performed by the John Jorgenson Quintet isn't your typical jazz music.

"A lot of people tell us 'Well, we don't really like jazz so much but we like your music,'" Jorgenson said. "It's more accessible. The jazz part of it kind of scares people off but it's actually more accessible than that."

Jorgenson is known as one of the American pioneers of gypsy jazz, a melting-pot style of music with roots from multiple cultures.

"We try to bring in influences in the music from all over the world," he said. "The main part of this music really started out inspired by jazz from New Orleans and (was) then taken by French musicians and given a European spin. We bring in Romanian elements, Flamenco and Arabic and a lot of other world music into it. So people hear a wide variety of music."

The John Jorgenson Quintet will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 13, at the Juneau-Douglas High School auditorium. Premium seats cost $25 for adults or $20 for students and seniors. General admission is $23 for adults or $18 for students and seniors. Tickets cost $10 for ages 5 and younger, and all prices are $2 more at the door.

Jorgenson describes the sound of the quintet as aggressive and calls it very dynamic. People describe being amazed by the technical aspect of the musicianship, he said.

"It is very high-energy, melodic, accessible, acoustical-oriented music," Jorgenson said. "It has its roots in swing and in gypsy music from Eastern Europe."

The quintet includes Jorgenson playing the solo guitar and clarinet accompanied by a violinist, with a rhythm section consisting of percussion, an upright bass and a rhythm guitar.

When he was 8 years old Jorgenson began playing the clarinet and the piano before picking up the guitar at age 12. At 14 he began playing professionally and began his illustrious career that has included winning multiple awards and appearing on numerous Grammy-winning and platinum-selling albums.

In the mid 1980s Jorgenson played with The Desert Rose Band and then played with The Hellecasters guitar trio in the early '90s, both of which earned national accolades and success. In 1994 Jorgenson went on tour with Elton John and ended up performing with the legendary pop star for six years.

Jorgenson has also appeared in feature films portraying guitar icon Django Reinhardt, including the 2005 production "Head in The Clouds" starring Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz.

Jorgenson now performs primarily with his quintet, playing roughly 130 shows this year alone. The quintet has performed in many places across the globe but never in Alaska.

"I've been only one time and that was just on a vacation cruise up the (Inside) Passage," Jorgenson said. "It was beautiful. But I'm really looking forward to coming there because to me, if I don't perform somewhere, I don't really feel like I've been there yet."

Along with the performance in Juneau, the quintet will also bring its gypsy jazz to Anchorage and Ketchikan.

The quintet does share a small connection with Alaska, Jorgenson said. It shares the same booking agent as the Alaska band Bearfoot.

"She's been up to Alaska a number of times with them and she's been telling us for a long time that she really thought we would go over really well in Alaska," Jorgenson said. "She's been working on getting us up there for a while so we've been looking forward to that."

Jorgenson continues to expand his artistry with a number of new projects. He has a new album coming out some time before the end of the year comprised of compositions he has written and co-composed for gypsy-style guitar and a full orchestra.

"I think that will give me an opportunity to play music with other orchestras around the country," he said.

The quintet is also collaborating with the Grand Rapids Ballet in Michigan to choreograph a full ballet program around its gypsy jazz music.

And just last week Jorgenson reunited with The Desert Rose Band and they performed together for the first time in 18 years. There are two more reunion shows scheduled for this year and maybe more in the future for the band that earned five No. 1 singles in its heyday.

"Everybody had a good time," Jorgenson said. "I wouldn't doubt that we do a few more next year."

* Contact Eric Morrison at 523-2269 or

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