notes by Rick Shubb
I had known John Jorgenson for two years before I knew he played the guitar. When I first met him, in the early 80s, he was playing clarinet at Disneyland. He swung like Benny Goodman. The fact that he doubled on bluegrass mandolin each afternoon, and really knew the style, seemed to come out of left field. What I hadn’t found out yet, was that he could play practically anything as though it was his specialty.
My wife and I visited Disneyland every January for a while, and it was fun to hear the band improve each year. By our third visit, they’d added another style: as the Rhythm Brothers they played vintage jazz, and that’s when I learned John played the guitar …like Django Reinhardt!
Soon after that, John stepped directly into the fast lane, where he has remained. His resumé is well documented, so I won’t recount his credentials here. To a guitar player, his name is a household word. But of all the styles he plays, that which interests me the most, and which is closest to his heart, is Gypsy jazz.
In recent years Gypsy Jazz has been increasing in popularity, with John Jorgenson at its vanguard. So now it is now feasible for John to play this style full time. He may be taking a cut in pay, and playing to some smaller rooms, but I think he is as happy as he’s ever been in his career, and the music is his best ever.
A player’s player, his audiences usually include several guitarists, to whom his awesome musicianship can be either inspiring or discouraging. Midway through a concert he once asked “do any of you play the guitar ?” A voice from the middle of the room plaintively answered “not any more.”
I’ve been fortunate to have John and his quintet play at numerous functions that I have hosted at the NAMM (music trade) shows, and the excitement that his music creates at these events is like nothing else.
Some jazz players may regard the photo of John with a capo on his signature Saga guitar as blasphemy, but it’s not just a pose. True, capos are almost never used in jazz. But while John is respectful of tradition, he is not a slave to it. Already a Shubb capo user in other styles, he’s composed a jazz tune that he performs regularly with his quintet — Ultraspontane — on which he uses a capo at the third fret. Of course he could play it in any key, but he just likes the sound of it that way. At a recent show, while applying his Shubb capo, he told the audience “Rick Shubb does make the best capos in the world.” That was music to my ears.