by Mark Ruffin
When Dave Love first heard the San Francisco band Person To Person, he knew they were right for his contemporary jazz record company, Heads Up International. When he saw a picture of the band, he had other ideas.
“I called them immediately,” Love said from his Seattle office. “I told them if they dropped the band name and feature the woman on guitar,
they’d have a deal.” “I guess sex sells,” responded that woman, Joyce Cooling. “That
was a real hard decision, but on no one else’s part but mine. My partner, Jay Wagner, and the band were very cool with whatever worked. I’ve always considered myself a team player. I shine best in a team. I don’t like pick-up bands. This is a band. That’s how I’m most comfortable and that’s how I like it. So it was hard on me.”
After relenting, Cooling had a one on one with Love and he gave her the sexist pitch. “I made it real clear to Dave that that sex thing wasn’t going to work. I love music, that is what propels me. That’s what has to come first, anything else doesn’t work.”
Sex worked for Heads Up in 1996 with saxophonist Pamela Williams. Her “Saxtress” album was one of the biggest contemporary jazz albums that year. Love said up to a quarter of the consumers he surveyed, who bought that album, did so strictly on the basis of the very sexy pose on the cover. “You have to do what is right for you,” Cooling said of Williams’ image. “You’ve gotta be yourself and if a request from someone is not that big a deal, and it’s okay with you, do it. That’s all right. I’m not here to judge anyone.”
“It was pretty dressed up on the inside too,” Love said referring to Patti Labelle, Tina Marie and other guest stars on Pamela Williams’ album. “Joyce is the real deal. You can hear in her soloing that she is familiar with the jazz guitar tradition. This music will sell itself, although it doesn’t hurt that on the cover she’s looks like
Sandra Bullock.” “I wish we could exchange paychecks,” the guitarist said laughing.
Cooling appears on the album in a plain shirt and jeans holding her instrument. She jokingly called the cover “Sandra Goes Guitar,” and said she doesn’t get the comparison very often in public, but it does happen. Along with the good looks, she has a very outgoing personality, the voice of a radio announcer sings on two tracks on the album, But, she wants none of that, including the guitar playing to overshadow compositions, even when it comes to marketing the music.
“I have to present the music first, that’s what I’m all about,” she said. “Hopefully people will close their eyes and take the music in, and it won’t matter if it’s coming from male, female, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, black, white or Latin. Let the music move you. “I don’t consider myself a glamour girl, never have,” she continued as self-effacing as possible.. “I was one of those feminine kind of tomboys when I was young, and today, before I’d buy a new outfit, I’d buy 50 cd’s and a new piece of equipment.”
Californians have known about Cooling, her long time partner, keyboardist Jay Wagner since the early 90’s when Person To Person’s first album “Cameo” was a staple on both the Urban and Contemporary jazz stations in both San Francisco and L.A. However, she was born and bred in the New York City metropolitan area.
She doesn’t remember her life without music. Her mother was a music teacher who loved classical and Brazilian music. Various relatives were involved in a variety of musical genres. Cooling insists that it that environment and the diversity of New York City, especially the Latin bands and great be-bop guitarists that shaped her musically.
But as it is with many guitarists, it was Wes Montgomery that changed her life. “It was a spiritual musical experience,” she remembered ” I was doing the dishes, rubber gloves and all. I had a Wes record on and this cut came on “If You Could See Me Now.” When he solos and gets to the bridge, he plays the simplest most beautiful melodic line to date that I’ve ever heard. It almost brought tears to my eyes. I took off the
gloves and picked up the guitar.”
Her fondest memories of New York include checking the salsa scene and hearing Latin giants like pianist Hilton Ruiz and working one of the many supper clubs and having legendary drummer Max Roach come in with bassist Charlie Haden. She also had a brush with greatness after moving to San Francisco and hooking up with Jay Wagner. “We were playing a festival where we opened up for Stan Getz and he
really liked us. He said ‘hey look you guys, I’m putting on this concert called “Stan Getz & Friends” out at Stanford. I’d like for you
guys to come out and play and we’ll play on a few tunes.’ “So we went over to Stan’s house and we rehearsed some tunes with him and we did the gig.”
The music she makes today is decidedly more pop-ish than be-bop and Cooling makes no apologies for that. She said she writes “as artistic as possible without sacrificing the type of melodies many listeners can enjoy. I write tunes that are both musical and commercial.” That’s the kind of talk Dave Love, pardon the pun, loves. He pointed out that for five weeks, Cooling held the number one position at the three major magazines that measure jazz radio airplay and was nominated for several year-end awards.
“These women need to be heard,” Love said. “And I need all the bullets in my gun when I’m ready to fire and I’m loaded for Pam’s next release in March. It’s called “Eight Days of Ecstasy,” and wait till you see the cover.”