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John Jorgenson on One Stolen Night and Istiqbal Gathering

April 8, 2010
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Master guitarist John Jorgenson is featured in the July 2010 issue of Guitar Player. In that story he talks about his two latest albums, the "live in the studio" One Stolen Night by the John Jorgenson Quintet, and Istiqbal Gathering, recorded with Orchestra Nashville. Jorgenson provided GP with extensive notes that he had written detailing the music on both albums—song by song—and he was good enough to allow us to post them here:
OSNfrontcover

One  Stolen Night is the second project credited to the John Jorgenson Quintet, and it is indeed an ensemble effort. Many audience members have commented that this is their favorite Quintet lineup, and they wished for a CD that sounded like the live show. I listened well to them and we created if not exactly that, then pretty close to it. The material is a mixture of new compositions and standards, with more clarinet, more swing, a vocal, and the introduction of the Greek bouzouki into the Quintet's instrumentation.

The  Quintet set up live in Omni Studios in Nashville, and recorded all of  the tracks over two days. The overall effect is of "live in the studio," and  indeed all of the rhythm tracks and lots of the lead and solo tracks were from the live sessions, with additional recording and mixing done  at my home studio "Jorgensounds."?

?Rory Rositas did a great job engineering the sessions, and at my request used all  vintage RCA ribbon mics as well as some modern ribbon mics like the Royer stereo, resulting in a very natural sound on all the instruments. Little to no EQ or compression was needed as the instruments sounded very much like they do in a good-sounding room—warm, rich and crisp.?

After Jason and  I revisited some of our melodies and solos and I added a few percussion and autoharp overdubs, I tackled the job of mixing and mastering. Both came together relatively easily, again at my home studio, and again minimal EQ or compression was needed. Mostly what needed to be done was to choose reverbs and set balances. Once the mixes were  done the last thing to do was to decide the running order. My first attempt at the running order didn't end up sitting so well, but the second run at it seemed to work.

1. "Red on Red" ?This song seemed like a natural opener, with its fanfare-like intro and minor-key swing, which the rhythm section drives like mad. The mellifluous  melody creates an opportunity to hear crisp unison and harmony playing from the violin and guitar. The idea behind composing this song was to create a classic gypsy jazz feel, yet push the boundaries just a little with arrangement and melodic content. One of Django Reinhardt's unique  technical patterns was used as the basis of the bridge melody, as I always like to build in little challenges for myself! We first played this  song with the last lineup of the Quintet at a Summer NAMM show in Austin, Texas in  July 2007, and it took until I was creating the liner notes in 2009 for it to get a title!

2. "Slide, Sister Slide"? One of my old friends from college likes to give me a hard time about the number of minor-keyed  numbers that appear in our shows, so I decided to prove him wrong by writing in a major key. I also wanted to add a number to the repertoire that had a nice medium four-beat swing tempo including a chance to feature bassist Simon Planting and percussionist Rick Reed, and this melody was the result. Again, stuck for a title I tried  to listen to the phrasing of the opening melody to see if it  triggered any ideas, and after a while I thought of our twin trombone-playing friends from Luxembourg, Tania and Sandra Differding, and the words "slide, sister slide" popped into my head. Of course, then we had to have the girls play on the song, so fortunately I was going to be performing at a festival in Germany, driving distance from Luxembourg. After a late night hang following the concert we managed to record the trombone parts in a classroom on my laptop. The wonders of modern recording technology do help to make the world a bit smaller for sure.

3. "One Stolen Night" I chose this as the title track because of the consistent response from the audiences, who really seemed to be captivated by this melody and the sound of  the bouzouki. I was also captivated by the tone of the Greek bouzouki, and  remember first hearing it at a street fair as a young child. I had always wanted to learn to play it, but only found one to buy a couple years ago. While practicing at home this simple melody came to me and we quickly came up with an arrangement for it, which developed very nicely during  our live shows. The title was suggested by a friend from the audience one night, and it seemed perfect.

4. "Mediterranean Blues" I first heard this song performed by the Robin Nolan Trio at the famous Django Reinhardt Festival in France in 2003, and started playing it with the Quintet when Robin's brother Kevin joined as our rhythm guitarist. The tune is a perfect vehicle for extended jamming, and this version includes lots of interplay between violin and guitar while showcasing the fiery drive of Kevin's rhythm guitar. Kevin can also be heard exclaiming, "I dropped my pick," at the end of the track.

5. "Souvenirs de nos Peres"? In 2006, I got a call from Peter Frampton, whose lead guitar style in the UK rock band Humble Pie was a big influence on me as a young guitarist, so naturally I was thrilled to hear from him. Peter explained that he was working  on his first all-instrumental album and wanted to showcase all the guitar styles that had influenced him, and as Django Reinhardt was one of these influences he asked me to collaborate with him on a track in the gypsy-jazz style. As we became acquainted, we found that we had much in common, one thing being that our fathers were key figures in our musical development, and we both lost our fathers around the same time. While discussing material to  record, I had the idea to write something to honor our fathers, and this melody started coming to me. We recorded a version for Peter's Fingerprints CD that won a Grammy in 2007, with both of us playing the melody on guitar. I thought that the melody might fit equally well on the clarinet, and began playing this version onstage.

?6. "Billet Doux" I first learned the opening melody of this song from the classic '30s recording by Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, and their Quintet of the Hot Club of France back in 1983, and remember attempting to play it for audiences in Japan when I was performing there for the grand opening of Tokyo Disneyland. The melody and Django's phrasing still enchant me, and during the opening melody I pay homage to him by sticking as closely as I can to the original recording. After the track kicks into double time swing, all bets are off and it becomes a romping, swinging vehicle for violin and guitar improvisation and resulting dialogue.

7. "Kentucky Kastrinos?" ?This track speaks  to the eclecticism of my musical career, as it seems to combine elements of American bluegrass and Eastern European music, again featuring the bouzouki. After some fleet-fingered violin arpeggios and tremolo bouzouki chords in the rubato opening, the two instruments lead the way through a frenzied dance accented by tambourines and  autoharps. A Kastrinos is a Greek dance, and perhaps this might be how it would sound in a barn dance in Kentucky.

8. "Norwegian Dance" This  is a melody I remember from my childhood written by the Scandinavian composer Edward Grieg, and is quite often used as a lullaby. Adapted as a jazz ballad by Django, this is one of the songs that audiences requested a recorded version of after hearing it live. After working long and hard in the studio on some of the other up-tempo tracks, I thought it might be a relief to play something soft, slow, and delicate. It was!

9. "Bella Ella"? It has been said  that every guitar contains a song, and that seems true in my case. This melody was "given" to me by a new guitar with (unusually for me) the chord  progression first. With its bright tempo, major key, and happy melody, it  reminded me of the many young relatives and friends in my life whose names contain "ella"—Isabella, Adella, Bella, and Ella, thus the title. Rick added a unique element by playing a South American percussion instrument comprised of a tiny drum and metal pan.

10. "Hungaria" Over the last few years this Django Reinhardt composition has become somewhat of a standard in the gypsy-jazz repertoire. I normally shy away from recording standards, as there are usually lots of great versions already recorded, but we have so much fun playing this track that I decided to include it here. It  gives Jason a great opportunity to not only pay homage to Stephane Grappelly, but showcase his own vibrant swing style as well. I also  enjoyed the challenge of making a standard sound personal and unique, and  drove myself to come up with some new licks which is always fun.

11. "Dr Jazz?" I first started playing and singing this classic Jelly Roll Morton/King Oliver song in 1980, and have always loved its swinging melody and the saucy humor of the lyrics. I had already included a clarinet-led version in 1988 on my first solo album After You've Gone, but audiences repeatedly requested a recorded version of our current live arrangement, which features vocal, bass, and drum along with the clarinet.

Bonus Tracks

These two track were initially released on a 2008 compilation CD of patrons of the London venue Le Quecumbar, but I thought they would be a nice  addition to this project too. ? ? ? ?

12. "Istiqbal Solo"? ?I first wrote this as a  solo piece for guitar, but eventually decided it would be perfect as part of  the orchestral piece "Istiqbal Gathering" which became the title cut of my collaboration CD with Orchestra Nashville.? ?As I mentioned earlier, sometimes the voice of a particular guitar inspires a piece of music, and that was the case with this piece. UK luthier David Hodson, who I met on my first visit in 1994 to the Django Festival in France, knew of my affection for a vintage 4-string Selmer guitar. In an attempt to dissuade me from converting it to a 6-string model, he offered to custom build me a guitar incorporating the design elements and tone I loved about the 4-string guitar, but with a 6-string neck. The guitar came out beautifully, and is featured in this  recording. Unfortunately, David did not live to hear this track, but it  dedicated to his memory.

13. "Dark Romance"? The previous lineup of the Quintet included the brilliant Argentine guitarist Gonzalo Bergara, who has since "graduated" and formed his own Quartet. Gonzalo's love of the classic and modern Tango music was infectious, and inspired me to write this piece. Gonzalo is featured playing the melody on the bandoeon, and I added a solo on an unusual soprano saxophone from the 40s called a "Saxello." This song also debuted at the same Summer NAMM show as "Red on Red," which bookends this collection nicely. ?

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Istiqbal  Gathering is the culmination of a long-term relationship between Grammy-winning master guitarist John Jorgenson and Orchestra Nashville under the direction of Paul Gambill. The two artists began collaborating back in 2002,  when John was invited (on the recommendation of producer Paul Worley, who first worked with him on the Desert Rose Band's hits in the '80s) to be a featured artist on a Guitar Festival put on by the (then called) Nashville Chamber Orchestra. This festival paired up the guitarist with arranger/composer Don Hart, who created arrangements for Jorgenson's pieces in combination with a string quintet.

The team of Jorgenson/Hart/Gambill worked extremely well for a  number of reasons. Firstly, Jorgenson is unusual as a guitarist in that he grew up playing in orchestras (sometimes under the baton of his father James) and was able to easily work with and follow conductor Paul  Gambill. Secondly, in Don Hart Jorgenson found an extremely talented and sympathetic creative partner to help bring not only Jorgenson's pieces to a larger ensemble, but to create new works for guitar and orchestra. Thirdly, Paul Gambill is quite unique in being a progressive thinker within the orchestra world, always seeking to commission new works and to stretch the  boundaries normally associated with orchestral music.

The team expanded  to include master engineer/producer Gary Hedden, who captured the nuances of  the music skillfully in very challenging recording setups along with his partner Joseph Logsdon, composer and leader of the Grammy-winning Turtle Island Quartet, who contributed not only his composing skills but also performed along with his Quartet, and composer Carl Marsh. Orchestra Nashville concertmaster David Davidson not only led the string section through the demanding musical passages, but also shines brightly as a soloist on Istiqbal Gathering, along with Ukrainian cimbalom virtuoso Alexander  Fedoriouk. ? ?          

The above combined talents, along with the fantastic musicians that make up Orchestra Nashville, are proud and happy to share the first music ever specifically composed and recorded for gypsy-jazz guitar and orchestra.

"Concerto Glasso" composed by John Jorgenson and Don Hart?. Glasso, a word from the Romany language, means "variety of melodies in Gypsy music," and certainly gypsy melodies and style inspired and influenced this three-movement concerto. The third movement was written first as a stand-alone piece and premiered in March 2005 at the historic Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. All involved were so happy with the reception to the piece that it was decided to expand the piece with two more movements to create the classic  concerto form.

1. "Roma Arise"? "Roma Arise" is the slogan chosen for the World Romany Congress, and that spirit propels the first movement of this Concerto. The main rhythm is in the "gypsy-bossa" style and there are Spanish elements in the orchestra's phrasing and dynamic. The initial melodic idea came from Don Hart, and he and I fleshed out the melody and came up with much of the movement's content sitting together in the den of my house. Joining the orchestra on this and the other two movements are members of the John Jorgenson Quintet on rhythm guitar, bass, and percussion.

2. "Seaside Waltz"? The bulk of this melody was written in while on vacation in Seaside, Florida in 2005, at the same time as "Ultraspontane" and "G-Funk" from the last JJQ CD, the latter also featuring a string arrangement by Don Hart. The melody is first stated in the musette style, which was a popular dance music in Paris in the late '20s characterized by ornately embellished accordion melodies in rapid waltz tempo. Since musette is such a large part of the heritage of both gypsy-jazz and orchestral music I felt it would be the perfect material for the middle movement of the concerto. Don Hart then took this waltz and expanded the scope, adding some beautiful and powerful orchestration along with more melodic content, and as is usual when collaborating with Don  the end result far exceeded my imagination.?

3. "Tarantella and Reverie" After working on a number of pieces as strictly composer and arranger, this was the first real collaboration for Don and I to create a piece from the ground up. Commissioned by Paul Gambill, the only direction was to create a piece for gypsy-jazz guitar and orchestra. Minor-key and technical melodies are staples of gypsy jazz, and the 6/8 Tarantella rhythm is one that works well with orchestra, so I wrote the first melody with  those elements in mind. Jazz and orchestra cannot help but bring to mind Gershwin, and the middle melody was inspired by the sweeping romanticism of  the late-'20s Paul Whiteman Orchestra. Again expanding on the original melodic motifs, Don takes the orchestra through an energetic and cinematic section (my favorite part) before returning with gusto to the original melody for a race to the finish. We didn't know at the time that we were creating the end of a concerto, but it worked perfectly!

4. "Dieter's Lounge?" As a member of the wild eclectic guitar trio the Hellecasters, I composed pieces that would show off the unique aspects of the electric guitar. "Dieter's Lounge" is one of those, but it also translates very well to the  acoustic gypsy jazz guitar. Former Turtle Island Quartet member and master swing violinist Evan Price skillfully combined the unorthodox techniques pioneered by the Turtle Island Quartet with a full string orchestra to bring a new energy to the piece. The fast section has the strings playing what sound like a cross between Vivaldi and techno, with the Turtle Island Quartet members adding percussive chops and accents. Moody pizz from cellist Mark Summer brings the "Lounge" section in and slinky string lines combine with the emotional guitar parts to create a sizzling atmosphere.

5. "Groove in the  Louvre" As composer-in-residence for Orchestra Nashville, Turtle Island Quartet leader David Balakrishnan had a unique chance to get to know the orchestra and create music specifically for it, this piece being one. Balakrishnan incorporated the modern jazz style of his quartet with some Indian-flavored harmonies along with some specific lines and techniques lifted from Jorgenson's guitar style. The combination of these elements, plus the addition of improvisational sections featuring the guitar and members of the Quartet makes for a very interesting piece, mostly built over the percolating rhythm of a unique cello line.

6. "Istiqbal  Gathering"? The title track marks the first collaboration between Jorgenson and Nashville-based composer Carl Marsh. Istiqbal, also a Romany word, means both "welcoming" and "future." As the world gets smaller and smaller by virtue of  modern telecommunication, I believe that music will be more influenced by other cultures, and many interesting hybrids will result. This piece has  elements of Hungarian, pop, and classic orchestral music as its signposts and features the cimbalom, which is the Hungarian national  instrument, and solo violin along with the guitar and orchestra. Lots of  synchronicity played a part in the creation of this work. I was in Budapest taking a small break from a European tour, when Paul Gambill emailed me to ask about the possibility of writing a piece for cimbalom, guitar, and orchestra. That day I had visited a CD store and bought a number of CDs featuring the cimbalom, one by Ukrainian virtuoso Alexander Fedoriouk, so I was already on board. I didn't know that Alexander lived in Cincinnati, but by luck he was able to come down and record the piece with us, which is amazing because I used his CD for melodic and rhythmic inspiration for the piece! Many visits were made to  Carl's Nashville studio to refine and shape the piece, and he studied how to  write for cimbalom to be able to compose the beautiful cadenza for Alexander to play. Concertmaster David Davidson contributed the final puzzle piece,  playing the passionate and skillful solo violin part, which to my ears takes the while piece to another level. Well, these are my recollections and musings on the process, I'm sure  that all involved will have their own views and perspectives, and I invite  them all to share as well. For now, it's definitely time to let the music do  the talking. —John Jorgenson

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