After 16 years of musical training, classical guitarist Jesse Cook established a serious musical career in composition and production, seemingly incognizant of his own talent for performance. A gifted instrumentalist, Cook’s ability as a performer came to widespread public attention in the mid 1990s and only because a cable television company played his recordings as piped in background music for the television channel guide. Accordingly, he released his first album literally by popular demand and in response to the myriad call-in requests from television viewers who enjoyed the background sounds on the channel guide. The album debuted at number 14 on the Billboard New Age chart. By 2000, Cook’s performances regularly drew sell out crowds, and his recordings sold quickly to an eager public. In 2001, three of his four albums had attained gold certification in his native Canada.
Cook was born in Paris, France, in 1969. He spent his early childhood in Southern France and in assorted Spanish locales with his filmmaker father and his mother, who was a writer. The family returned home to Canada and settled in Toronto before Cook started school. Cook, who was drawn to his toy guitar as a toddler, was enrolled at the Eli Kassner Guitar Academy at age six. The prestigious school was only the beginning of a 16-year progression of formal musical education, with the exception of a brief adolescent detour at age 13 when Cook allowed a typical boyhood fervor for basketball to overshadow his musical aspiration. From the Kassner Academy, Cook went on to study at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. He then went to the United States where he studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, and at New York University.
Cook enhanced his formal music training with ten-hour practice sessions, and he returned to Europe where he traveled throughout Spain and studied informally with the masters of flamenco guitar. In the process, he honed his art and earned respect as an artist. It was during his European jaunt that he recaptured the artistic inspiration of his childhood after revisiting the centers of art and culture in France. In Spain he sought tutorial guidance from guitarists in Cordoba, Granada, and Madrid, and was mentored by the Gypsy Kings, whose artistry in rumba flamenco music is considered legendary.
Despite the exotic backdrop and the sophistication of his musical training, Cook remained modest in his expectations as a musician and harbored only a slight dream of realizing a career in performance. His love for the art of guitar playing drove him to continue to play his music even as he developed a serious career as a composer and as a producer working for media and theater groups in Toronto. In the course of his work, he became involved with many musical genres beyond the limits of his classical training, including rap and pop. In 1994, a Canadian cable television company employed the syncopated sounds of his rumba flamenco guitar music as a background soundtrack on the television guide channel, and the music attracted the attention of the viewing public. By popular request, Cook produced and distributed independently a debut album called Tempest. Soon afterward Narada Records, impressed by the critical approval and overall popularity of the album, proposed a lucrative multi-album contract deal to the unassuming Cook.
As part of the Narada deal, the record label snatched up re-release rights to Tempest, which settled into the Billboard New Age chart for 49 weeks in succession, following an impressive chart debut in fourteenth place. The international gusto of Cook’s music quickly brought him recognition at the forefront of the New Age music scene as his recordings surfaced repeatedly at the top of the charts. His follow-up album, Gravity, entered the Billboard New Age chart at number nine immediately upon its release in 1996. Cook’s recordings by that time had found an audience in Europe where the Spaniards enjoyed his records and used them as musak (piped-in music) in cafés and elsewhere.
Cook’s collaborations with Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural along with jazzy vocals by Holly Cole served to enhance his Vertigo album in 1998. Playgirl dubbed the recording a “sassy mix of acoustic guitar and accordions,” and the album inspired Cook’s Vertigo Tour of 2000. The tour brought him to venues throughout North America, including the Newport Beach Jazz Festival in
Composer and musical arranger for Canadian television, early 1990s; debut album, Tempest, self-produced, 1995; signed with Narada Records, 1995; appeared at Montreal Jazz Festival and Catalina Jazz Festival, 1996; Newport Beach Jazz Festival, 2000; Jazz City Fest, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, 1999; Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, 1999, 2001; Ottawa Folk Festival, 2000; North American tour, 2000.
Awards: Juno Award (Canada), Best Instrumental Album for Free Fall, 2001.
Addresses: Record company —Virgin Music Canada, 3110 American Drive Mississauga, ON L4V 1A9 Canada, fax: (905) 677–9565. Website—Jesse Cook Official Website: http://www.jessecook.com.
California and San Francisco’s Great American Music Hall. During the course of his travels, he appeared on a number of occasions with a young vocal prodigy, soprano Charlotte Church. Among their many shared venues were Manhattan’s Avery Fisher Music Hall and Boston’s Wang Center. On the Vertigo Tour, Cook played to sell-out concerts in Ottawa and in Kitchener, Ontario, and Montreal, Quebec. The London Free Press acknowledged Cook’s concert renditions as a benchmark for performance, yet the guitarist remained reluctant to accept the laurels of a flamenco guitar virtuoso.
Cook appeared at the Canadian Jazz Festival in 1995 as a prelude to his major label debut on Narada. In 1996, he appeared at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Catalina Jazz Festival in California. In 1999, Cook appeared at Canada’s Saskatchewan Jazz Festival and at the Jazz City Fest in Edmonton, Alberta. One year later he appeared on the headline bill at the Ottawa Folk Festival.
In 2000, Cook released his fourth album, Free Fall, which debuted at number eight and achieved gold record status (50,000 units sold in Canada) within weeks. The success marked the third gold album release for Cook. A single track from that album, “Fall at Your Feet,” soared up the Canadian pop chart to a top ten ranking. Free Fall was named Best Instrumental Album at Canada’s Juno Awards in 2000. Cook returned to the Saskatchewan Festival in the summer of 2000.
Cook, who recorded Free Fall over the course of approximately 18 months at his home studio in Toronto, described himself to the Calgary Sun’s David Veitch as a mild mannered and easygoing person who feels dispassionate about most things except for the music. In Toronto, according to Cook, musical inspiration abounds in a unique multicultural atmosphere that characterizes the metropolis, and it is the international flavor of his hometown of Toronto that contributes to the New Age eclecticism that defines his guitar playing. Cook, whose music has been characterized as Spanish flamenco and Cuban rumba, embellishes his trademark sound with touches of African percussion, reggae, zydeco, and pop. The Calgary Sun’s Blair S. Watson called Cook a “new exciting hybrid … [a] world beat,” and a line in the CD jacket for Gravity coined the term RumbaFlamencoWorldBeatJazzPop for Cook’s music.
“Fall at Your Feet,” Narada, 2000.
Tempest Narada, 1995.
Gravity, Narada, 1996.
Vertigo, Narada, 1998.
Free Fall, Virgin/EMI, 2000.
Calgary Sun, April 12, 1997; September 18, 1998.
Edmonton Sun, June 30, 1999, p. 44.
Halifax Herald, June 29, 1999.
London Free Press, October 12, 2000, p. C3.
Maclean’s, July 17, 1995, p. 44.
“In the Press” (includes press clips from London Free Press and Playgirl), Jesse Cook Official Website, http://www.jessecook.com (April 19, 2001).