THE FIRST CLUES...
"I grew up in one of those stark neighborhoods in New Jersey, the ‘Garden State,’ where developers mowed down everything in sight trees, gardens and all and then slapped up identical ‘Saltine box’ houses all in a row. When people moved in they painted them all kinds of crazy colors anything to be different. I think that may have been my first clue.You can defy mediocrity in your own little way.
"My first school was School #17. Schools 1 through 16 were identical to number 17, and schools 18 through whatever followed suit."
The pattern of sameness seemed to surround Joyce Cooling, but so too did her budding skewed view of it all.
"My parents were school teachers. My mother taught Music and my father, English and History. Music was everywhere in our house and my grammar was corrected ruthlessly. My mother not only turned us on to music, but to all of the arts dance, painting, sculpture, poetry, you name it. She was passionate. My father was all about facts and math, spelling and diction, and had the best damn directions to anywhere.
"As I grew older, I came to realize that my parents were teachers to the core.They were teachers of things, of ideas, of perspectives of both beauty and openness.They just wanted you to yearn to learn."
By the time Joyce reached high school she had amassed a huge record collection everyone from Abbey Lincoln, Joe Henderson, Cedar Walton, and Miles, to James Brown, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, and Jimi Hendrix, to Ravel, Stravinsky, Bach, and Brahms, to Hermeto Pascoal, Elis Regina, João Bosco, and Jobim.
"I like R&B. I like folk. I like heavy metal and headbanger stuff. I like punk. I like rap. I like music from all over the world. I just like good music.There are no boundaries with me."
It seems her parents prevailed.
"No, I wasn’t a cheerleader in high school and no, I didn’t go to the prom."
Her focus was elsewhere. Many of Joyce’s high school-era evenings were spent on the steps of the Village Vanguard and outside other Manhattan jazz clubs.
"I was underage, but the bartender at the Vanguard saw how much I loved the music and let me hang out on the steps. I heardeverybody! It was fantastic and I was hooked."
THE EVOLUTION WEST...
Joyce’s penchant for the eclectic continued when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s and began dabbling in keyboards and percussion. Music had long been the most passionate part of her life, but an actual career as a musician started taking shape only after she began hanging around an African drumming class taught by C.K. Ladzekpo, a renowned Ghanaian percussionist. Integrating the polyrhythmic sophistication of West African music with her love of melody and harmony, Joyce focused her attention on playing, singing, and songwriting.
"Everything crystallized when I heard Wes Montgomery’s solo on ‘If You Could See Me Now.’ From then on, it was as if guitar had chosen me."
Teaching herself to play guitar by ear, she developed a personal style of finger picking that has given her playing its unique sound and feel.
"I have always played that way. This wasn’t a conscious decision, it was just easier and more natural for me to first sing what I wanted to play and then play it. I was also never comfortable with a pick. I couldn’t feel what string I was on so I tossed the pick and played with my fingers."
A PARTNERSHIP IS BORN...
Her introduction to producer Jay Wagner, a keyboardist on San Francisco’s Brasilian circuit, gave her the energy that her self-taught chops needed. Joyce, also playing on the Brasilian Jazz scene, began working with Jay on a full-time basis. Becoming a top attraction, they appeared at many of the major West Coast jazz festivals and expanded their reach by playing in the Philippines, Mexico, and Colombia, performing with such jazz giants as Joe Henderson, Stan Getz, and Charlie Byrd.
"Jay and I grew up 3,000 miles apart, but when we met we had almost identical record collections.We liked the exact same bar of a Bill Evans or Toninho Horta solo, the same phrase from a Joe Henderson record.To use a cornball expression, we were musical
Joyce and Jay recorded their first two albums, CAMEO and PERSON 2 PERSON, on their own label.
"It was really a home-grown, kitchen-table operation at that stage, and PERSON 2 PERSON doubled as our demo."
In 1997 they signed with Heads Up Records and debuted their first international CD, PLAYING IT COOL.The whirlwind was now in motion. The San Francisco-inspired chart-topping single, "South of Market," took the jazz world by storm. Both the single and album soared to #1 on the Gavin Report and R&R’s NAC/smooth jazz charts. The CD also produced two more radio chart-topping hits, "After Hours" and "Imagine That." Cooling was a nominee for Gavin’s Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year, named Best New Talent in the Jazziz Reader’s Poll, and was an easy choice for Artist of the Year by the nationally syndicated radio program, Jazz Trax. It seems
fans and critics alike had made up their minds.They loved the compositions.
"Writing has always been an integral part of who I am as a musician. Both Jay and I absolutely love composing. When we start putting songs together, it’s very much a collaborative process a back and forth ping pong game."
Her 1999 follow-up, KEEPING COOL, likewise dominated the charts and boasted a #1 hit, "Callie," another hit single, "Before Dawn," and earned Joyce the Gibson Guitar Award as Best Jazz Guitarist of the Year.
In 2001, they signed with GRP.
Then 9/11 hit.
"Beyond ironically, Jay and I were in the World Trade Center a few days before the attack. We flew home from Newark to San Francisco on Monday, September 10th on the same flight that would be brought down the next day in Pennsylvania."
THIRD WISH was released on that infamous Tuesday.
In spite of the ominous street date, the accolades continued streaming in. The CD featured a stellar performance by Al Jarreau on the top-10 single, "Mm Mm Good," and produced yet another top-10 radio favorite, "Daddy-O." Joyce also recorded a track for a holiday release with legendary guitarist, Lee Ritenour. Still, in the aftermath of that chilling day in September, Joyce, like so many of us, found her perspective on life jolted. She questioned if her career as a musician was meaningful and seriously considered getting out of the music business altogether. After lengthy, ardent talks with Jay about a potential life without a career in music, Cooling proclaimed, "I don’t know about you, but this girl’s got to play!"
This was the inception of the 2004 Narada Jazz debut, THIS GIRL’S GOT TO PLAY. Once again Joyce found herself in the top-10 with her hit single, "Expression," and her follow-up, "Camelback."
Late summer of 2005 marked the beginning of the recording process for the new Narada Jazz CD.
"With the arrival of fall (hands down my favorite and most creative season), I found myself wanting each song on the new CD to have a personal connection. I didn’t want to write about sunsets and highways. I wanted to keep my 2001 promise to myself about making the music real and about something that matters.
"REVOLVING DOOR is different from the rest of our CDs in that we wanted to tell the story first, and then let the music follow.This time the stories spawned the music rather than the music giving birth to the story.With this approach, Jay and I stretched in a lot of musical ways. I used about ten different guitars on this CD I even borrowed a few. We followed a lot of sonic tangents by using new
percussion instruments. Again, if the emotion of the story called for a specific sound, we experimented until we found it."
The varied tales that inspired Joyce and Jay are reflected in the wide range of music found on REVOLVING DOOR. The title track is bluesy and soulful, "Mildred’s Attraction" is funky and upbeat, and the vocal on the acoustic track, "One Again" is tender and heartfelt. The smoky, Brasilian-tinged "Cool of the Night" is, well, cool and tropical, in contrast with the hard driving "Little Sister."
"At The Modern" is bright and artistic, and a melodic horn arrangement fills out the rhythm section.
"The inspiration for that track actually sprang from a visit to The Museum of Modern Art during an amazing weekend Jay and I spent museum hopping in New York."
By far, though, the most profound impetus behind this CD lies in the meaning of the title, REVOLVING DOOR.
"‘Revolving Door’ is a metaphor for a situation we humans often find ourselves in where there is seemingly no beginning and no end to a problem. It can be a frustrating treadmill with the same path ruthlessly cycling under your feet.
"The specific Revolving Door that I am referring to in this CD is the cycle of mental illness. Everything from the treatments, the socalled solutions, and the unknown causes, to the inaccurate stigmas of mental illness all suffer from this Revolving Door syndrome."
The CD isn’t a compendium of tunes about mental illness. The title is a testament to the syndrome as it impacts both life and the mental health crisis in our world today.
"For me, this hits home. Having grown up with a brother with schizophrenia, I am a part of one of those millions of families caught in the Revolving Door. A portion of our proceeds from the sale of REVOLVING DOOR will go directly to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) to help support people living with mental illness."
The vibrant and deeply rich REVOLVING DOOR is a journey. It’s the ascendancy of both an artist and an art. It’s a trip and, like life, is one worth taking.
"This is by far the most personal recording I’ve ever made."
Portion of proceeds donated to NAMI