Jesse Arnaud Cook (born 28 November 1964) is a Canadian guitarist, composer, and producer. Widely considered one of the most influential figures in Nuevo flamenco music, he incorporates elements of flamenco rumba, jazz and many forms of world music into his work. He is a Juno Award winner, Acoustic Guitar Player’s Choice Award silver winner in the Flamenco Category, and a three-time winner of the Canadian Smooth Jazz award for Guitarist of the Year. He has recorded on the EMI, E1 Music and Narada labels and has sold over 1.5 million records worldwide.
Life and career
Born to photographer and filmmaker John Cook and television director and producer Heather Cook, and nephew to artist Arnaud Maggs, Jesse Cook spent the first few years of his life moving between Paris, Southern France and Barcelona. As a toddler he was fascinated by the guitar and tried to emulate the sound he heard coming from his parents’ recordings of Manitas de Plata, a famous Gypsy guitarist from the region of Southern France known as the Camargue.
After his parents separated, Cook and his sister accompanied his mother to her birth country, Canada. Recognizing the musical aptitude of her son, Cook’s mother arranged for him to take lessons at Toronto’s Eli Kassner Guitar Academy. Cook eventually studied under Kassner, himself a student of the great maestro Andrés Segovia. While Cook was still a teenager, his father retired to the French city of Arles in the Camargue where his neighbor just happened to be Nicolas Reyes, lead singer of the flamenco group the Gipsy Kings. During frequent visits to Arles, Jesse Cook became increasingly fascinated by the «Camargue sound», the rhythmic, flamenco-rumba approach that could be heard on many corners and cafés in the «gipsy barrio».
Back at home, he continued his studies in classical and jazz guitar at Canada’s Royal Conservatory of Music, York University, and Berklee College of Music in The United States. He has often quipped that he later attempted to unlearn it all while immersing himself in the oral traditions of Gypsy music. This helped him widen his range of musical tastes. Of his style he has said:[M]y strange way of playing guitar is a hybrid of styles. I was a classical guitarist as a kid, and I studied flamenco and then I studied jazz. So there are three musical and guitar traditions in my background. And one of the forms I use, rumba flamenco, is itself a hybrid created in the 1800s when sailors were coming back to Spain from Cuba, having heard these Cuban rhythms. And here I am, 150 years later, taking it and mixing it back with modern music and seeing where it takes me. Music is a constantly evolving thing.
The 1995 Catalina Jazz Festival was a turning point in his career. His debut album Tempest had been independently released in Canada. Within a month, a deal with American company Narada allowed them to be booked at the Catalina Jazz festival. Originally the band was to perform during the twenty-minute intermissions in a little bar downstairs from the main stage. His performance was well appreciated, so appreciated in fact that Cook was invited to give a performance on the main stage, where he received a ten-minute standing ovation before the audience would allow him to play. Shortly afterwards, Tempest entered the American Billboard charts at No. 14.
Cook has recorded eight studio albums, three live DVDs and has traveled the world exploring musical traditions that he has blended into his style of rumba flamenco. In addition to headlining concerts and festivals, he has opened for such legends as B.B. King, Ray Charles and Diana Krall. He has performed with Welsh soprano Charlotte Church on The Tonight Show and toured with legendary Irish band, The Chieftains. Other artists Cook has performed and/or recorded with include: Montse Cortés (Spain), Flora Purim (Brazil), Holly Cole (Canada), Afro Celt Sound System (England), Buckwheat Zydeco (USA), Danny Wilde of The Rembrandts (USA), Liona Boyd (Canada), Ofra Harnoy (Canada), Alex Cuba (Cuba), Los Gaiteros de San Jacinto (Colombia), Dadawa (China), Djivan Gasparyan (Armenia), and Dulce Pontes (Portugal), among others.
His music has been featured on several episodes of Sex and The City, The Chris Isaak Show and at several Olympic Games. At the 2006 Winter Olympics, Irina Slutskaya of Russia won a bronze medal skating to Cook’s composition «Mario Takes a Walk».
In 1998, Cook was nominated for a Juno Award as Instrumental Artist of the Year. In 2001, he received a Juno Nomination for Best Male Artist. In 2001, Cook won a Juno Award in the Best Instrumental Album category for Free Fall. In 2009, he was Acoustic Guitar’s Player’s Choice Award silver winner in the Flamenco category (gold went to Paco de Lucia). He is a three-time winner of the Canadian Smooth Jazz award for Guitarist of the Year and numerous other awards.