In Conversation With Jesse Cook

Jesse CookWith seven records and more than 300,000 records sold in Canada alone, Jesse Cook is no stranger to success. In the past 15 years, the Toronto-based Cook has created some of the most infectious, upbeat rumba flamenco music to emerge from within our borders and is seeing his profile on the rise internationally.

Cook credits his parents (and maybe a little help from fate) in steering him down the path of rumba and flamenco music performer.

“When I was growing up, my parents had these rumba and flamenco records that they would play, so I was given a lot of exposure to those genres of music through them,” Cook explains from his Toronto home. “And then when my father retired, he ended up living in a small community in the south of France and ended up buying a house next door to the lead singer of the Gypsy Kings, which gave me additional exposure to that particular style of music.

“And then after moving to Canada, the first guitar teacher I had was a flamenco teacher so naturally the first pieces I learned how to play on the guitar were rooted in that. As a teenager, I never really got into typical Canadian music that kids would normally get into.”

Cook released his debut album Tempest in 1995 and has fortunately never had to look back. With consistently high chart positions on the Canadian and American record charts, Cook won his fans over one by one but would soon see his fan base explode based on the buzz of his then small but devoted fans.

The fact that Cook has encountered such resounding success not being a “typical Canadian musician” isn’t lost on the artist either.

“I’m very comfortable with the fact that I’m a bit off the beaten path. When I first started, people wouldn’t hesitate to suggest how they thought I should sound.”

Cook would hold firm to his choice of music to perform, opting to pursue a career fraught with longevity rather than being a 15 minute pop flavour of the month.

For his newest record The Rumba Foundation, Cook decamped to Bogota, Colombia where he connected with a group called Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto. Getting the group involved in the recording process was ideal according to Cook.

“I was writing an album that was being overrun with Colombian influence so I travelled to Colombia to work with them. Making this record was a bit of an adventure,” Cook admits. “After all, I didn’t know these people but could immediately tell there was a substance and depth to their music that I would not have found had I stayed in Canada to make the record.”

Despite the lack of verbal comprehension between them, Cook says they decided to let the music be the common language between them.

“Los Gaiteros are traditionalists and haven’t done much in the way of collaboration with musicians outside their genre of music. There was a lot of head-scratching going on sometimes as we tried to bridge our two worlds,” he laughs.

Over the life cycle of his superb new record, raising his international profile to rival the success found on North American shores will be a top priority for Cook. “We won’t be neglecting Canada and the US by any means but international work will really be the focus of what we’re doing over the next little while.

“I’ve always had interest from fans abroad but the costs always proved to be prohibitive to us getting there. But I recently changed management companies and they are very focused on getting us to play for our fans overseas. They are really keen to get us out there.”

Currently on Cook’s international schedule will be visits to places like Malta, Turkey, Italy, England and Ireland, while he will undertake a tour of the Maritimes in April 2010.

Does it intimidate him in the least to know that his life is planned out such a long time in advance?

“It is a little tough, yes. I still love going out on the road but I have kids now and it makes it tough to leave them behind. I’d actually like to try to bring out my family on tour more often. My son loves being on a tour bus so hopefully we will have a chance to bring my family out before my kids start school.”

Jesse Cook’s new record The Rumba Foundation is now available at all fine music retailers.

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