Houston, Texas is the fourth largest city in the United States. Culturally speaking, the city is internationally diverse, artistically enhanced and economically sound with as much to offer as any other major city. But the jazz scene in Houston does leave much to be desired. Historically, Houston once had a strong and distinctive jazz presence. There were numerous venues and any number of native jazz artists calling Houston home. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Bubbha Thomas, Joe Sample, Wayne Henderson, Arnett Cobb, Dwight Sills, Wilton Felder, Stix Hooper, Jason Moran, Eric Harland, Illinois Jacquet, Everette Harp, Milt Larkin, Ronnie and Hubert Laws have all made major contributions to jazz in Houston. In addition, venues such as the El Dorado Ballroom, Harlem Square, Jazz Emporium, Jazz Connection, Cody’s, Iris Jazz Resort, Club Supreme, Rockafellers, Club Matinee, Club La Veek, La Bastille, and a host of other outstanding locations at one point in time placed Houston in the hierarchy of jazz related activities, which also included some of the finest recording studios of any major city. Somewhere along the way, the bottom dropped out of Houston’s jazz presence. All the clubs closed and the entertainment became minimal at best. Sporadically and at various intervals, clubs would emerge and even survive, but nowhere in the City of Houston was there an opportunity to see local, regional and national talent on a consistent basis. But all of the negative reactionary forces that drove live jazz out and even to the point of extinction may be coming to an end with the emergence of the newly opened 57 West Jazz Café. The location had its grand opening on November 10, 2006, while showcasing one of the most consistent and prolific guitarists in jazz today.
Very few female jazz musicians in recent years have epitomized the artistic structure of music more, than has Joyce Cooling. Having been on the national and international scene since 1997, she and her partner Jay Waggoner have collectively recorded some of the finest jazz albums of their generation. Joyce has also made quite a name for herself as a solo artist. The mere fact that she has defied the odds as a female guitarist is phenomenal in itself, considering the fact that most women only gain fame as vocalists. Cooling’s appearance at 57 West Jazz Café was just as significant as her presence in a genre dominated by males. In many ways, this was a special event; not only for jazz in Houston, but for the venue also. When the Iris Jazz Resort closed in 2002, Terry DuBois the venue’s owner promised live jazz entertainment on an intimate level would return to Houston, especially if he had anything to do with making that happen. Booking Joyce Cooling was the fulfillment of a promise. Overall the decision was a sound one and a boon to the city’s artistic community.
Although Joyce Cooling is well known nationally and internationally, she has a medium-sized but devoted fan base in Houston. Those individuals experiencing her performance for the first time walked away with a profound appreciation and respect for her as an artist. Her choice of band members also made quite a statement as well with the inclusion of keyboardist Jay Wagner, drummer Rob Rhodes and bassist Nelson Braxton. During her sets, Joyce eluded to the fact that short of Wagner, Rob and Nelson had only recently joined her band for the visit to Houston. She and Jay have been together a total of 17 years and have much in common; however, the appearance of Nelson Braxton was just as major, in that he and his brother Wayne record and perform professionally as The Braxton Brothers. As jazz artists their music has consistently charted in the smooth jazz category. But all combined, Joyce Cooling and company expanded upon their own individual talent to the appreciation of all who viewed their performance. (pictures)
As mentioned previously, Joyce has been a major influence on contemporary /smooth jazz since 1997 and has recorded five albums; most recently, she released ‘Revolving Door,’ a CD that was made to draw attention to issues facing families who have loved ones affected by mental illness. Joyce herself has a brother who suffers from schizophrenia and proceeds from the album have been donated to the National Alliance On Mental Illness. That fact and Cooling’s entire performance not only enlightened the audience, but also provided an immense level of entertainment value. Joyce and her band highlighted such tunes as "Camel Back," "Savannah," "Come and Get It," "Daddy-O" and a host of other songs from her repertoire of recordings. By the end of the night, Joyce Cooling had provided a level of insight that made her audience clamor for more; in fact, many of the patrons stayed for her second set. In the end, 57 West Jazz Café and Joyce Cooling had announced to the City of Houston that live jazz in an up close and intimate setting had returned to an environment that has been lacking off and on for a number of years. (pictures)