The Quiet Side Of Jesse Cook

After seven widely acclaimed studio records that took him to the forefront of world music, Canadian guitarist Jesse Cook chose a path less travelled for the making of his eighth record, The Blue Guitar Sessions .

Much like the title implies, Cook deliberately toned proceedings down for his highly acclaimed new album.

Earning accolades is nothing new to Cook. In 2008, he was awarded the silver medal in Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s prestigious Players’ Choice Awards. Some guitarists or music connoisseurs might argue placing second behind renowned guitarist Paco de Lucia is an honour in itself.

With more than a million records sold worldwide, Cook has built his career in Canada and internationally upon an infectious and upbeat foundation of music including samba, rumba and more. Many classify him as a flamenco music artist, although he prefers to concentrate on making music and forging into new territory when possible.

‘My feeling is that the role of an artist is to keep breaking ground,’ Cook says in an interview. ‘The public and the press consider me to be a flamenco artist. I don’t actually consider myself to be one, though. Some artists feel their role is to carry on a tradition and stay very close to the tradition. Others like to push the boundaries and that is where I believe that I reside.’ Staying true to his belief that the best expectation of the music he creates is to not have any expectations, Cook chose to dial the energy level back somewhat to give his musicians the opportunity to shine in a more laid-back environment.

‘I took a very different approach to making this new record than I did my other albums. I am the type of musician and producer who likes to build things up when it comes to music. ‘More is more’ tends to be my motto; I like to think of myself as the Phil Spector of world music’ he says, laughing, referring to the iconic record producer whose ‘wall of sound’ approach to recording helped Spector stand out from many of his peers.

‘Typically, when I make a record, I start with guitar and then add in bass, violin, percussion, everything under the sun to make the music loud and bombastic.

That is usually where I like to live. Restraint isn’t exactly my strong suit.

‘But with The Blue Guitar Sessions , I really made an effort to make a quiet, intimate record. I constantly had to remind myself not to add too many extras to the music because it can spiral out of control so quickly. I had my percussionist add one little nuance into a song and before it was done, we suddenly found ourselves with a bunch of great percussion, but we weren’t necessarily serving the song so we had to dial that back.

You have to serve the song at the end of the day.’ Cook says the musical shift was refreshing to him, and his listeners just might appreciate the change, too.

‘I’ve wanted to make this record for years.

In fact, it dates back to when I started making The Rumba Foundation (Cook’s 2009 record).

I have always really loved the sound of those quiet, intimate jazz records. They have always held a significant place in my life. I had just never made one for myself; I just never had the courage.

‘In the time since The Rumba Foundation , I had actually sketched out ideas for a ‘loud’ record as well as for what became The Blue Guitar Session s,’ Cook says.

‘I played both for a friend and they felt I should go with the quiet one this time around.’ Asked if he feels that his ‘loud’ record might one day see the light of day, Cook says it is in his nature to not revisit the past. In other words, there is a very slim chance of those recordings being released.

‘I am one of those people that if a song or a group of songs doesn’t make it onto a record, I drop it altogether. I would be really surprised if I look at any of those songs again.’ With an upcoming special set to broadcast on PBS in the United States, Cook might very well see a deserved boost to his already supportive fan base south of the 49th parallel.

He says his upcoming television special, his third to be broadcast on PBS, was unconventional in that he did not seek an expensive, elaborate production for the special. Instead, he called upon a director from Berlin to help him bring his vision to life.

‘I feel incredibly lucky to have the support of PBS stations in the United States,’ Cook says. ‘All the elements that you put into making a record and then some go into making a television special. With the first two PBS specials we did, I had allowed other people to steer the ship but with this newest one, we did the bulk of the legwork before we had even reached out to the director.

‘Not wanting to put my kids’ education fund on the line, we shot the special on a shoestring budget and at the end of the day, it is probably the best-looking and best-sounding special of any of the PBS features we have done. We would have been happy had four PBS stations picked it up, and at last count, we had 30 stations come back to say that they were going to air it. I think it is a great testament to not over-thinking things.’

Article published in the November 12, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript