When I caught up with Downing last week, he was in high spirits, laughing and talking and reporting that he was getting better every day. Will had just gotten back in the house from getting his driver’s license renewed from the local DMV office and was making plans to get out for lunch after our interview. "I’m finally getting to do the things that I would not have been able to," Downing said. "Despite my illness, life goes on."
And Downing has proven that he has the will power to even overcome his circumstances when he released his latest CD After Tonight, songs which Downing said he recorded from his "black chair."
On the new CD, Downing is paired with some of the finest musicians in the business, including Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum, and legendary vibesman Roy Ayers.
The music herein is signature Downing as it gets into a celebratory romp one minute with the chant-induced "Lover’s Melody" and the delicious "Fantasy (Spending Time with You)" to rocking the ballads on "All I Need is You" and "No One Can Love You More".
And elsewhere on the CD, Downing is joined by his wife, Audrey Wheeler, on the heart-tugging and truly sincere track "God is So Amazing."
Downing talks more about his illness and his new CD.
Jazz Review: Will, you sound good, very upbeat and everything. Of course, you know your fans are anxiously waiting for an update on your health. How are you doing?
Will Downing: Oh, I’m coming along--doing much better--just taking it little by little.
Jazz Review: That’s great to hear. You know, when I heard about your illness and that you had an impending CD, I didn’t think that you’d still record. Why did you choose to still record in the midst of your illness?
Will Downing: I think that it was good therapy for me to do the CD instead of sitting around and feeling sorry for myself. It’s good to have something to do and if you have the ability to do it, I say go ahead and do it and that’s what I did.
Jazz Review: That’s admirable. You know I was not aware of the disease before, but when I read up on it I was taken back when I heard that it can also affect your vocal muscle. Did any of that happen to you while recording?
Will Downing: During the recording, my voice was not affected, but after I finished recording, I lost my voice. It would seem as if God allowed me to record and get my paycheck, and then my voice was gone.
Jazz Review: Well, I guess that there was a mixed blessing somewhere in there. I’m happy that you were able to complete the CD, it’s awesome. You said that you recorded the songs from your "black chair" aka wheelchair. That must have been hard for you to do.
Will Downing: Yes, because at times, I wanted to stand up and bellow out the notes--but, I sat and recorded and took breaks in between.
Jazz Review: What went into making this CD in terms of your inspiration and emotions?
Will Downing: I think that when things like this happen to you, you tend to tap into your higher source to get you through it. For me, it was waking up everyday and I would say to myself "Make the best of your circumstances." Everyday is an inspiration for me. If I got something done today that I couldn’t do yesterday, it will inspire me to go on for tomorrow.
Jazz Review: What is a typical day for you now that you are temporarily confined to a chair? What is your downtime like now?
Will Downing: I would hardly call it downtime (laughs). It seems like I’m busier than I was before. I just went down to the DMV with my buddy, Noel Goring, who produced on my CD, and after I finish up my interview with you, I’m going for physical therapy and then grab lunch. Life does not stop because you are sick.
Jazz Review: I love your spirit, Will. What were your first thoughts when you found out that you had the disease?
Will Downing: My first reaction was that I was scared to death because you don’t know what it is, and I have never been in the hospital all my life except to see my kids being born. I went to my physician and he told me that I needed to go directly to the hospital. I’ve come from a guy who has never been to the hospital, to one that gets shots five or six times a day. I feel like a pin cushion.
Jazz Review: What was the early part of the illness like for you?
Will Downing: I spent three months in the hospital and was allowed to go home for a little bit. Then I caught pneumonia and had to spend six more months in the hospital.
Jazz Review: How awful. You’re home now aren’t you?
Will Downing: Yes, I’ve been back home for a while now.
Jazz Review: Good to hear. What is your biggest challenge with the illness right now?
Will Downing: (laughter). I don’t know if you will call it a challenge or things that I would want to do. (laughter)
Jazz Review: (Laughs) What’s that?
Will Downing: I can sugarcoat it and make it sound all good, but you know with this illness, you can’t do anything on your own and you need someone to help you along.
Jazz Review: Yes.
Will Downing: Well, I want to use the bathroom by myself. (loud laughter).
Jazz Review: (loud laughter) I didn’t see that coming. Well, at least you are being honest and of course, you make me see that we take the simplest things in life for granted. I’m confident that you will be able to do that and more soon. When do you expect to make a full recovery or to resume touring?
Will Downing: I hope to resume touring in 2008. When I hit it (touring), I will hit it hard.
Jazz Review: (laughs) Any other projects?
Will Downing: Yes, I’m gonna start writing for the other CD projects since over the last 20 years of my career, I have released CDs every two years.
Jazz Review: On this new CD I already have my two favorite tracks, which are on repeat on my CD player. They are "Lover’s Melody" and "Fantasy (Spending Time with You)." What are your favorites?
Will Downing: I like "No One Can Love You More" and "God is Amazing."
Jazz Review: Finally, any words that you want to say to your fans?
Will Downing: Let them know that I am on the mend and that I am thankful for their love and support over the years, and I will be back and will see them all soon.
Jazz Review: Thanks a lot for your time Mr. Downing and for making me laugh out loud today too. (laugh)
Will Downing: (laugh) It was my pleasure.