One of the Bay Area's premier guitarists and most popular performers for over a decade, Joyce Cooling's Playing It Cool is a dazzling showcase of her eclectic approach to music. Drawing upon a wide palette of influences ranging from acclaimed Brazilian guitarist/singer/songwriter João Bosco to outstanding Texas bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan, a typical Cooling performance usually combines jazz, pop, funk, and R&B with a smattering of worldbeat.
Playing It Cool, her Heads Up International debut album, produced and co-arranged with her longtime musical partner, keyboardist Jay Wagner became a favorite of smooth jazz world enthusiasts. The first radio single, "South of Market," soared to number one in the country on both the Gavin Report's and Radio & Records' smooth jazz charts holding the position for five consecutive weeks. Cooling was nominated for the Gavin Smooth Jazz Artist of the Year, named the Jazz Trax Debut Artist of the Year, and was voted Best New Artist in the smooth jazz category of a Jazziz Readers Poll. Playing It Cool, which is an enhanced CD has several standout tracks: the chugging "Carrie" that sounds similar to a Paul Hardcastle track; the snappy "Coasting"; "Aint Life Grand" with an acoustic bass tone that has rumbling stride similar to the bass line on Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean"; with solid blocked piano chords and bluesy, Wes Montgomery-like guitar lines, "Before Dawn" is in the same vein; and Cooling takes a turn at vocals on "Simple Kind of Love," which has a Michael Franks flavor.
Considering the great variety of music, her large family surrounded her back East in the New York City area, Cooling couldn't help but have such a wide love of different types of music. Her mother was a classical buff, one brother was a hard rocker, a cousin was into funk and pop. She dabbled in keyboards and percussion before settling on guitar. Her mind made up in part when she heard Wes Montgomery's solo on "If You Could See Me Now." A glance at Cooling's massive record collection would turn up everyone from Bill Evans to Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery to João Gilberto.
While music was a passionate part of Cooling's life, a career as a musician only took root after she moved to California and began hanging around outside an African drumming class taught by C.K. Ladzekpo, a renowned Ghanaian percussionist. She was entranced by the intricate polyrhythms, being an enthusiastic student, while she worked at every kind of part-time odd job in order to be able to be a musician. Her introduction to Jay Wagner, a keyboardist on San Francisco's Brazilian circuit, gave her the energy that her developing chops needed; before long, she was playing that circuit herself and working with Wagner on a full-time basis.
Becoming a top attraction on the festival circuit, Cooling appeared at the JVC Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival ,the Stanford University Jazz Festival (a tribute concert with Stan Getz), and cities throughout the world including the Phillippines, Guadalajara, Mexico, and Colombia, and with such jazz giants as Joe Henderson, Airto, and Charlie Byrd.
Cooling released her first independent album Cameo in 1989, receiving high critical praise and a huge amount of regional airplay, including spins on 94.7 the Wave in Los Angeles and Bay Area stations KKSF and KBLX.
Also included on Playing It Cool are Cooling's bandmates, bassist Gary Calvin and drummer Billy Johnson. ~ Ed Hogan