With backstage passes provided by Bradley Leighton’s Executive Producer Donna Nichols, my photographer David Neto and I made our way around the back of the stage where Cooling was setting up. It was still warm and a nice breeze ambled past the keyboards and through the amps. You felt cool in the shade and toasted in the sun.
Neto met Cooling in an intimate setting at Scullers (http:// www.scullersjazz.com) in Boston back in March. Standing on a lower step, he got her attention and she came over and gave him a hug. Neto introduced me and not only did I get a wonderful greeting but Cooling also gave me a generous hug and a kiss on the cheek before excusing herself to finish setting up. I think David was a bit jealous but that did occur to me until now.
One hour is precious little time for any artist to win over an audience and with Cooling’s infrequent appearances on the "right" coast, you might think she was in for a real challenge. But Cooling connected right from the start opening with "Mildred’s Attraction," the first cut from "Revolving Door." She was fresh, alive, smiling, and moving around the stage with her hollowed-out electric guitar and her fingers dancing over its strings. She was genuinely happy to be playing and genuinely happy to be playing in Hartford and so was her band of bassist Victor Little, longtime-drummer Billy "Shoes" Johnson, and her other half, keyboardist and composer Jay Wagner.
Her next song was another track off "Revolving Door," "Come and Get It." Studio mixes can hide a band’s true demeanor but not this one. Cooling and company were just as tight and Wagner’s playing was just as complimentary as the CD’s only cleaner and leaner. The more I watched and listened the more I wanted to put down my pad and pencil and this was only the second song. With a quick adjustment or two, Cooling lifted us even higher with "Expression," the first cut from her previous CD, "The Girl’s Got to Play."
I’ve seen quite a few concerts in my life and quite a few guitarists Eric Clapton, Frank Zappa, and Queen’s Brian May among many, many others. Telling you when I saw them would sorely date myself and prove that I really did have long hair once upon a time. Suffice it to say that what happened next was unlike anything I have ever seen.
"Revolving Door," Cooling said, "was personal." It was about her brother’s struggle with schizophrenia and his battle with the disease and the support he’s received from NAMI the National Alliance on Mental Illness (http://www.nami.org). Then Cooling sat down on the stage and played. Every note, every chord, every emotion was personal. It was Joyce and all 20,000 of us sitting on the floor in her Bushnell Park livingroom and she was speaking about her brother’s plight through her music. My pad and pencil disappeared. Only my memory as a fan could capture something like this.
Hearing crickets in broad daylight is a little unusual unless you’re talking about "Cool of the Night," the first single from "Revolving Door," the video of which can seen on Progressive Pulse (http://progressivepulse.com/productions.htm). It’s paired with a recorded interview that includes an acoustic version of the same song. "Cool of the Night" was cool and steady and brought us all back to having a little fun again - opening our coolers, munching on sandwiches, and sipping fruit water provided free by a local vendor. Cooling finished with a medley that included "South of Market" and her trademark vocal styling.
Backstage, she was visibly hot, excited, and anxious to sign autographs. Neto and I followed Cooling back to the signing table where she was greeted with a lengthy applause and where she began signing CD’s, programs, shirts and just about anything fans gave her that could be written on. She stood and chatted and posed with anyone that wanted a photo. About an hour later we were sitting at a table talking with Wagner about some new music he and Cooling were working on and the tentative title for what will become her next CD. Cooling was still signing autographs and still taking pictures. The line was still quite long and Pamela Williams, the next act, was already starting.
"So Jay," I said. "How do you stop her?"
Wagner looked over at the line. It had actually grown.
He looked back at me and smiled. "You don’t. That’s just Joyce. She’ll stand there all night if she has to until she’s met everyone and signed every CD and taken every picture."
Hmmm ... I didn’t realize it until now but I think I was a bit jealous
Some of the proceeds from the sale of Revolving Door go directly to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can learn more about what NAMI is doing by going to their website at http://www.nami.org.
Joyce Cooling can be heard on cable TV’s Music Choice and several Internet radio stations including SmoothJazz.com and SkyFM. Call your local radio station to add her to their playlist.