It was a typical Monday afternoon at In-N-Out Burger in Tempe: greasy cuisine whizzing across the counter to its eager recipients; frazzled employees barking out orders over the muffled intercom; anxious customers hovering over occupied booths waiting to pounce upon their targets at any given moment. But at a small corner table of the bustling fast food joint, the mood was far from frantic.
Sipping on a soda with a pleasant grin splashed across his face, 57-year-old Ronald Jean humbly recounts what he enjoys most about being a musician.
"If you're in the audience and I can play a song for you, I do my best to play a song for you so you can feel good about it," Jean said. "When I'm doing my job, my whole purpose is to make you feel good."
That's how Jean wants people to walk away every Thursday night after hearing him play guitar at Ruffino Italian Cuisine in Ahwatukee.
It seems like a pretty simple declaration coming from such a seasoned guitarist, but then again, Jean is a pretty simple guy himself.
"I draw them in from listening to me instead of a bunch of signs saying, ‘This is him!'" Jean said. "I'm not a fancy, flashy guitar player. I just play, and I play decently."
Born in the mining town of Inspiration, Ariz., Jean's father moved them to the Phoenix area when he was a young child. Jean took up the guitar around the age of 10 after playing the violin for seven years, and soon began to play rhythm guitar for his father's Western band.
Although a gifted musician, Jean never saw himself as a songwriter. That all changed, though, after being particularly touched by his pastor's message while sitting at church one day. Jean began to write music influenced by gospel hymns, along with older tunes he listened to with his family growing up. He pursued a music career in Hawaii with the help of his stepbrother, which was where he met his wife of 35 years.
After coming back to his native Arizona, Jean spent many years playing the local resorts circuit - winning over audiences at the likes of the cozy Fiesta Inn in Tempe to the luxurious Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale. He also played a variety of corporate events to standing ovations, and even had a gig at the Playboy Club.
It wasn't until last year that Jean first filled in for a guitarist at Ruffino one night, and garnered such a positive response from the audience that he was asked to play on a weekly basis.
"I'm thankful for working there because the people are nice to me," Jean said. "That means a lot."
When playing guitar, Jean enjoys dabbling in a variety of genres such as country, R&B, and even pop. He claims that he is most popular for the Latin music that he writes, which is prominently featured on his second studio album, "Blue Serenity."
Along with playing his original material, Jean says that he makes his living performing cover tunes - playing everything from Cole Porter and Ira Gershwin to Maroon 5 and Green Day.
Although many of his choices may be Top 40 hits or pop standards, Jean interprets them in a way that audiences have likely never heard before.
"My music has been identified as ‘beautiful,' ‘soothing,' and ‘healing,'" Jean said. "I'll be playing Tom Petty, an up-tempo thing, and it still sounds as calm as me playing a ballad."
Despite playing guitar for nearly 47 years, Jean says that he is constantly learning from his peers and never feels entirely satisfied with his abilities.
"I'm still never happy with myself," Jean said. "I'm a good player, but I'm not the player I'd like to be."
He claims that if he weren't a musician, he would try his hand at a career in computer graphics. Luckily for Valley audiences, music will always remain his primary passion.
"It's a creative side," Jean said. "As long as I'm able to create something then I'm cool about it."
You can catch Jean every Thursday night from 6 to 9 p.m. at Ruffino Italian Cuisine, 4902 E. Warner Road in Ahwatukee. Reservations can be made online at www.ruffinoaz.com, or by calling (480) 893-8544.
For more information about Jean, visit his website at www.theguitarman.com.
Patrick Ryan is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. He is a sophomore at Arizona State University.