Paris-born, Toronto-bred flamenco guitarist Jesse Cook is adept at bridging cultures and finding common ground between apparently disparate musical traditions. Releasing seven studio albums in 15 years, the chart-topping artist has visited Egypt, Columbia and beyond in search of new sounds to fuse with the rumba flamenco of his childhood. In 2008, Cook won the silver medal for flamenco guitarist of the year (behind his idol, Paco de Lucia) as part of Acoustic Guitar magazine's prestigious Players' Choice Awards.
Jesse Cook was born in 1964 in Paris to parents John, a photographer and filmmaker, and Heather Cook. Growing up in the Camargue region of southern France, Jesse was surrounded by Gypsy music and culture. He heard his calling from an early age, picking up a toy guitar at three years old in an attempt to mimic the sounds of Manitas de Plata, a local resident of the area. The legendary flamenco guitarist would have a lasting impact on Cook for years to come.
After his parents separated, the budding musician moved with his mother and sister to Toronto, where he took lessons at the Guitar Academy with Eli Kassner. Although described as a virtuoso, Cook recalls being an undisciplined pupil who played whatever he fancied and practiced irregularly.
During the summers spent visiting his father in Camargue, however, Cook underwent intensive training sessions, jamming with Gipsy Kings member Nicolas Reyes, who just happened to live next door, and playing at the annual Gypsy festival in nearby Saintes- Maries-de-la-Mer.
Back home, he studied classical and jazz guitar at some of the most prestigious music schools in North America, but promptly tried to forget most of what he had learnt while immersing himself in the oral traditions of Gypsy music - an experience that undoubtedly informed the guitarist's wide ranging musical tastes and passion for world fusion.
Taking the charts by storm
In 1994, Cook independently released his debut in Canada and quickly caught the attention of American label Narada. Tempest came out the next year, entering the Billboard charts at an impressive number 14. The follow-up, Gravity (1996), kept the momentum, reaching the Top Ten on the New Age charts.
In 1996, Cook made a notable debut at the Festival with an eight-night run of performances, plus an opening slot for Ben Harper. He returned in 2004 for the 25th edition, playing a pair of memorable shows and offering fans a unique memento: Montréal, a live album and DVD that captured the ecstatic energy of the crowd during songs such as the heavily percussive Mario Takes a Walk.
Following the success of Frontiers (2007), which hit number one on the New Age Billboard chart, Cook released The Rumba Foundation in 2009. The ambitious project led him to Bogota, Columbia, where he teamed up with Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto for what was to become one of the first recordings to combine traditional Vallenato with rumba flamenco music.
The guitar wonder introduced this new, exotic sound to Montréal music lovers at the 30th anniversary of the Festival de Jazz de Montréal. Accompanying him onstage for the two free outdoor concerts were some of the rising stars of Latin music in Canada: Samba Squad, singer Amanda Martinez and guitarist Dominique Soulard.
2012 saw the release of a new Jesse Cook album, The Blue Guitar Sessions.