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Joyce Cooling

Keeping up in a conversation with Joyce Cooling is almost as difficult as it would be to match her fabulous guitar work. As I spoke to the smooth jazz artist, several times in typical Cooling fashion, she stopped, changed directions, and left me in the dust as she enthusiastically spoke about some event, person in her life or a place that she has visited. It is with that same enthusiasm that she continues to energize her music career as it finds new roads to travel. We spoke at length about the things that inspire her music and in particular, some of the songs on her current album Revolving Door.

Innocently, I ask about a comment her partner Jay Wagner made concerning the thought they may someday pursue writing for film and television. By now, I should have been prepared for whirlwind Joyce and her boundless energy, but it was still difficult to keep up with her. "That hasn’t happened yet, but I think that might change. We are doing a whole new approach, not only with our music and concept, but we are wiping the table clean and starting again," she says. Fearing that she might leave me with the wrong impression she quickly adds, "When I say wipe the table clean, it doesn’t mean there was anything bad, because we had a lot of nice, cool things happen. I get restless with the old mode of doing things because if you do things for a long enough period of time, it becomes old. It grows a little crust on it and as soon as that starts to happen, I get itchy feet. I like moving forward. I am not a person who does a whole lot of reminiscing or has songs from high school that are ‘our song.’ I am not a retro (she stops mid sentence)..I like moving forward. I like pushing forward and that is what excites me. I like the unknown, not knowing what is going to happen next. I enjoy that feeling, it is exhilarating to me," she says.

One of those new directions is a new touring show that Cooling has been putting together. "We are going out on the road a bunch this summer. We are working with a lot of new people in our band. We have Billy Johnson on drums and a new bass player, Victor Little. We just gel like crazy," Cooling says. With Johnson, Cooling and Wagner all having an affinity for Brazilian grooves, fans can look for the new show to have a modest infusion of those same beats.

A discussion concerning Cooling’s songwriting plunges us into her recollection of a heart-warming story involving a childhood, wallpapering experience. The song "At the Modern," from the Revolving Door disc, was inspired by a day in New York City, which she spent visiting various art museums. "Art is a big thing for me and I have always loved it. At one point, my parents were on a shoestring (budget) and my mother splurged. She did something that she always wanted to do, which was to buy a pretty expensive series of Metropolitan Museum of Art books. What made them expensive was, each book had a pocket that held high quality prints of the art that they (the authors) were talking about. I was addicted to these books and I would just pour over them. One day, I took all the prints and with masking tape I wallpapered my room. I did the ceilings and the walls," Cooling remembers.

Enter Joyce’s mom, "I never forget my mom coming home. I said, ‘Look mom isn’t it beautiful?’ She just froze for a minute before saying, ‘I am glad you love art as much as I do.’ She could have gone ballistic (but didn’t). She was thrilled that I loved art," says Cooling.

Today, Cooling collects art created by local artists in the San Francisco Bay area.

Songs such as "At the Modern," and the title track "Revolving Door," which was inspired by her brother and his schizophrenia, are typical of the songs that Cooling writes these days. Like most of us, 9/11 caused her to think deeply about her life and career. "I got a jolt and thought, ‘Boy what I do in music sure is kind of fluffy.’ I made a promise to myself at that point to make my music about something. It doesn’t have to be earth shattering, but it does have to have a personal connection," she says.

Cooling elaborates, "A lot of times you go into the studio with this little groove, tune or melody, you finish writing the song, record it and you go, ‘Oh great, what will we call it?’ You then go through lists of words that you like. (You might think) the song sounds like you are walking down a street on a rainy day, so you come up with some lame title like ‘Walking In The Rain.’ The title comes after the fact, which is not necessarily a bad thing, a lot of great music is written that way. This time, I didn’t want to do that," she says.

"You do not have to write a really deep song, it can be about something fun such as "At the Modern." On this CD (Revolving Door) the songs had to be about places and things that meant something to me. There will be no more writing a song and then throwing a tag on it later," says Cooling.

Joyce Cooling also draw inspiration from the city of San Francisco where she lives and other places that she visits while touring, centers such as New York City, Detroit and Atlanta. "San Francisco is an absolute melting pot and it is very eclectic. There is freedom of speech, it is open and tolerant. It is also very creative, fun and colorful. There is a lot of stuff that you can do here in San Francisco that you can’t do anywhere else in the world. There is a sense of freedom here, and I like that. I like a mixture of people, ideas and thoughts. I like the fact that you can have everybody coexisting peacefully. I don’t want to live around people that all think exactly like me. That would be boring."

An event that obviously struck a chord with Cooling was the shooting of a music video that serves as the companion to her song "Cool Of The Night," the second track on Revolving Door. She spoke about shooting the video on the evening of the Chinese New Year, in San Francisco’s South Market. "We had a ball. It was like the planets were aligned in the heavens for us. We had perfect weather, there was a full moon, Chinatown was lit up and it was beautiful," she says.

Revolving Door has been a huge success for the smooth jazz guitarist. "This has been the funniest CD. Usually you go out with a single (she says laughing). You work it, let it go as high as it can, then when it starts to sink, you talk about releasing the next one. On mainstream radio, we have four songs being played right now, "Mildred’s Attraction," and "At the Modern." Philadelphia added "Cool Of The Night," and Seattle is playing "Revolving Door." We have never had that happen before. It is bizarre and fun, as we are getting a lot of widespread radio play."

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Joyce Cooling
  • Subtitle: Third Wish (GRP/Verve)
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