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Gypsy jazz with a twist

European, gypsy jazz meets the Great American Songbook in George Cole's recent album, "Riverside Drive," released in April. This original brand of music, which Cole calls "Eurocana," is characterized by Americana roots and classical, string instru-mentation, inspired by Django Reinhardt and the Hot Club of France Quintet.

As part of a summerlong, nationwide tour, Cole, a San Francisco-based guitarist, vocalist and composer, along with the rest of his quintet — vocalist Jenefer Taylor, rhythm guitarist Jimmy Grant, upright bassist Christopher Bastian and violinist Julian Smedley — will perform at 8 p.m. Friday, July 8, at CultureWorks, 310 Oak St., Ashland.

Although Cole originally intended to form a Reinhardt tribute band, his project evolved into the all-original George Cole Quintet.

Still in its infancy, the quintet's current lineup was formed post-"Riverside Drive," and besides Cole, featured only Smedley on the album.

In the title track and song "I Miss New York," Cole gives a nod to "George and Ira Gershwin's New York" and acknowledges his ongoing love affair with the city.

The lyrics to the title track, directed to his son Val, read: "Let's take a ride out to Riverside Drive to a place before your mom and dad were alive."

While interplay between guitar and violin and the propulsive "la pompe" — or the rhythm of guitars and bass — reflect Reinhardt's style, Cole's crooning vocals separate his music from that of his predecessor.

"It's a pretty delicate sound with more muscle than you might think," says Cole.

While his music bears the influence of his heroes, including Les Paul and Mary Ford, Eddie Lang, Joe Venuti and, of course, Reinhardt, Cole says he doesn't aim at re-creating their respective sounds.

"If you focus too much on your influences, you never become an artist in your own right," he says.

"Riverside Drive" is now airing on more than 160 stations nationwide.

"I always secretly liked my parents' music — Frank Sinatra, Dorris Day, Bing Crosby and Dean Martin — I just never thought I would be playing it professionally," he says.

Cole wasn't always a gypsy guitarist. In his teens, he, like most youth his age, was preoccupied with rock 'n' roll and played with several bands of that genre. However, less than a decade ago, his music took a turn after he attended a concert by gypsy guitarist Bireli Lagrene. Cole was so impressed by the pure, romantic and virtuosic sounds of the acoustic guitar that he sold all 30 of his electric guitars the next day.

"I bought a gypsy guitar and haven't looked back since," he says.

Cover to the George Cole Quintet's concert at CultureWorks is $10 to $15. Call 541-488-4888 or see www.georgecole.net.

George Cole was featured on Chris Isaak's album 'Forever Blue,' mentored Green Day's Billie Joe Armstrong and Mike Dirnt and received a California Music Award for Best New Major Label Artist. - Photo by Pat Johnson