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John Jorgenson brings Django Reinhardt-inspired Gypsy jazz back to SoCal

August 26, 2010 |  2:21 pm

John Jorgenson

In the year that marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Gypsy jazz pioneer Django Reinhardt, Southland fans will have reason to celebrate with several Southland appearances later this week by contemporary Reinhardt devotee John Jorgenson.

The guitarist-mandolinist-clarinetist brings his jazz quintet for a show that's part of the 16th annual Culver City Music Festival on Thursday night outside City Hall, then Saturday for an indoor set at Boulevard Music, the city’s answer to McCabe’s in Santa Monica, for intimate folk, jazz, blues and other concerts. In between, he’s heading to his hometown of Redlands, Calif., for a tour stop on Friday, and Sunday afternoon he’ll also be at the Coffee Gallery in Altadena.

Five years ago, Jorgenson became the first American musician to headline the annual Reinhardt festival in Samois sur Seine, France, the town where the guitar great lived until his death in 1953. He also portrayed Reinhardt in the 2004 film “Head In the Clouds.”

Jorgenson released a pair of Reinhardt-inspired albums earlier this year, the quintet-focused “One Stolen Night,” and the more expansive “Istiqbal Gathering” with compositions for guitar and orchestra that he recorded with backing by Orchestra Nashville, the town where Jorgenson makes his home when he’s not on the road.

Now he writes and performs Reinhardt-style originals along with vintage Reinhardt classics such as “Minor Swing.”

Jorgenson also has been on the road this summer in one of his many other guises -- as lead guitarist for the country-rock Desert Rose Band led by ex-Byrds/Flying Burrito Brothers founding member Chris Hillman.

After starting a brief reunion tour in May at Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace in Bakersfield, the group that also includes steel guitarist Jay Dee Maness, guitarist-singer Herb Pedersen, bassist Bill Bryson and drummer Steve Duncan has continued revisiting its hits from the 1980s and ‘90s, most recently with shows in Nashville, where the likes of Emmylou Harris and Brad Paisley joined them onstage.

“In this last little batch of shows,” Jorgenson told me during a rare day off at home, “I don’t know what it was, but something magical happened. It raised things to this other level, and that really kind of surprised me. …The [booking] agents were pretty fired up from the Nashville shows. I think I speak for everybody in the group in saying we were pretty happy with these shows, and we enjoyed it so much I think we’ll probably do some more next year.”

Jorgenson cut his musical teeth in Southern California, playing in three different groups at Disneyland, and in bands he’d formed on his own including Cheating Hearts, which more or less morphed into the Desert Rose Band when Hillman came calling in 1985. After about half a dozen years in that group, Jorgenson was drafted by Elton John for his touring band, where he spent much of the next seven years.

This summer he also received an invitation to play for U.S. troops in Iraq as part of an ad hoc classic-rock group that also contained members of the ‘70s New York pop-rock band Orleans.

As for his L.A.-area stops this week, Jorgenson said, “The shows in Culver City have become kind of a tradition. It’s such a pleasant evening, nice place to play. You wouldn’t think of being in front of a City Hall as a great place to play, but the sound bounces around off the building and it sounds kind of big. They get a lot of community people showing up, and it’s actually a show I really look forward to doing every year.”

-- Randy Lewis 

Photo: John Jorgenson at Boulevard Music in Culver City earlier this year. Credit: Ringo H.W. Chiu / For The Times