British Columbia

Rockabilly and jazz not all that different for Vancouver guitarist Paul Pigat

“It’s just jazz music wearing a cowboy hat,” said Pigat, who has torn up rockabilly stages around the world as Cousin Harley.

Pigat, who has torn up rockabilly stages around the world as Cousin Harley, plays Frankie's Jazz Club April 29

His alter ego Cousin Harley has torn up rockabilly stages all over the world, but Paul Pigat also has a talented foot firmly planted in the world of jazz and country swing. (Paul Pigat)

One day Vancouver guitarist and songwriter Paul Pigat is furiously picking his guitar in the rockabilly style — an early style of rock and roll originating in the U.S. in the early 1950s — performing as his alter ego Cousin Harley.

The next day he's equally as energetic and comfortable in a jazz club, adding guitar licks to jazz standards alongside his quartet, the Daily Special.

But, Pigat said the genres of rock and roll and jazz aren't worlds apart.

Django Reinhardt's influence

"There's always been crossover with that music," Pigat told host Margaret Gallagher on Hot Air.

Paul Pigat (centre) as Cousin Harley, with his rockabilly trio consisting of drummer Jesse Cahil (left) and bassist Keith Picot (right). (Paul Pigat)

"There has to be an understanding of harmony, and there has to be some kind of complex harmonic system that goes with it."

He explained that if one traces back the influences of great rockabilly artists such as Franny Beecher of Bill Haley & His Comets and Cliff Gallup, they will find Jean "Django" Reinhardt, a French guitarist who, with his 1930s group the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, pioneered what's become known as the "hot" jazz or gypsy jazz guitar style.

Jean "Django" Reinhardt (1910 – 1953) was a Belgian-born French guitarist and composer, regarded as one of the greatest guitar players of all time. (Redferns)

"There is always a direct line back to Django Reinhardt," Pigat said.

"There's great guitar players like Jimmy Rivers and Jimmy Bryant that may not be well known in the jazz scenes, but they are jazz musicians. They just happen to make their living in the country side of things.

"It's just jazz music wearing a cowboy hat."

Pigat, who has also played guitar for artists like the Sojourners, Neko Case and Jim Byrnes, said he started playing guitar after one of his elementary school teachers suggested to his mother that she should get him any instrument he wanted to play.

Classically trained

"I asked for a guitar, because that's what you do in the eighties, you grow your hair long and you play a loud electric guitar," he said.

However Pigat quickly moved beyond just wanting to rock out.

He began to play professionally around the time he was 14 ("Very poorly," he admits), and then decided to go and study classical music theory at the University of Toronto, to make sure he could secure a career as a professional musician.

"I knew that there was nothing else that I was remotely interested in doing, so I knew that if I was going to do this I'd better figure out what I'm doing," he said.

He said the main thing he learned from his degree was the discipline for practicing and digesting new ideas.

When asked what his playing would've been without that degree, he replied, laughing:

"I'd still be playing heavy metal."

Pigat and the Daily Special play Frankie's Jazz Club on April 29.

With files from CBC's Hot Air

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