When Joyce Cooling entered the studio to record Third Wish--her first album for GRP Records and fourth overall--the Bay Area guitarist/vocalist knew exactly what she was going for. Cooling wanted to provide pop-jazz that was accessible and groove-oriented but not without substance and creativity. Cooling, with the release of Third Wish, has accomplished her goal; even though the set has the makings of a major contemporary/smooth jazz hit, it also has meat on its bones.
Third Wish marks Cooling’s debut on GRP after a highly successful stay at Heads Up International, where she and long-time partner, producer and keyboardist Jay Wagner recorded two hit albums: 1997’s Playing It Cool and 1999’s Keeping Cool.
"Third Wish is still me, but I think it’s edgier and more aggressive," Cooling explains. "I don’t think it is as laid-back as Playing It Cool or Keeping Cool. When I sat down to play the guitar solos on this album, I just felt more aggressive than when I recorded my last two CDs."
"Smooth jazz often gets stereotyped as being lightweight, but I think that smooth jazz is like any other genre of music in that you have some great stuff and some jive stuff," asserts Cooling, who co-wrote everything on this album with Wagner. "To me, you can be playing smooth jazz and still have an edge. If this CD fits the definition of smooth jazz but still has an edge to it, I’m happy."
Third Wish, produced by Wagner, was executive produced by The Verve Music Group’s VP of A&R Bud Harner--a major behind-the-scenes player in the contemporary jazz world. It was Harner who brought Cooling to GRP after her contract with Heads Up ended in 2000. When GRP became her new home, Cooling and Wagner were glad to know that Harner was willing to let them do things their way--Wagner would still be Cooling’s producer, and original material would still be their focus.
"What you hear on this CD is a collaboration between Jay and I," Cooling adds. "We’re partners--we’ve been partners for years, and thankfully GRP realized this and didn’t try to separate us."
One of the things that Cooling and Wagner have in common is eclectic musical tastes. The two appreciate everything from funk to Brazilian samba, and Third Wish reflects that. Even though many of the instrumentals on Third Wish are NAC-oriented, the album is hardly one-dimensional. Third Wish offers everything from Brazilian-flavored grooves, like on "Tamba," to infectious jazz-funk tracks like "Jelly on My Jacket," "East Side," and "Daddy-O." Parts of the album are exuberant, and parts of it are more introspective, such as the gentle ballad "It’s All Because of Loving You."
Third Wish employs a wealth of high-quality musicians, including members of Joyce’s and Jay’s touring group, bassist Gary Calvin and drummer Billy Johnson, as well as Tower Of Power drummer David Garibaldi, and percussionist Peter Michael Escovedo (Pete Escovedo’s son and Sheila E.’s brother). Another participant is Brazilian percussionist Helcio Milito. Milito, a former member of Brazil’s Tamba Trio, invented his own drum kit, the Tamba Drum Set, and put his creation to use on the song carrying its name. Wagner, true to form, plays keyboards on all of the tracks.
Meanwhile, the jazz-funk tune "Mm-Mm Good" boasts a guest appearance by GRP label mate Al Jarreau. Cooling comments: "Al Jarreau is a kid at heart when he sings. He’s so playful with his vocals and has never lost any of his enthusiasm or energy - not one spec. Al Jarreau is such a free spirit."
One track that is radically different from anything else on Third Wish is "It’ll Come Back to Me," an adult contemporary ballad that finds Cooling singing lead and venturing outside of instrumental pop-jazz. For the most part, the main attraction on Third Wish is Cooling’s guitar playing. When she offers wordless scat singing on "Tamba," "Jelly on My Jacket," or "Daddy-O," the vocals are meant to complement her guitar playing. On "It’ll Come Back to Me," however, Cooling’s role isn’t that of a pop-jazz instrumentalist who sometimes scats¾ it is that of a pop singer who is embracing actual lyrics and accompanying herself on guitar.
"When Jay and I recorded ‘It’ll Come Back to Me,’ we were in the mood to do a simple, intimate, pop/folk tune," Cooling explains. "After you’ve been doing things that are more sophisticated, you sometimes want to do something simple."
Cooling adds: "When I’m scatting, my voice is another instrument, but on ‘It’ll Come Back to Me,’ my voice is the main thing."
If Third Wish expresses any type of musical philosophy, it is the belief that commercial appeal and creativity are not mutually exclusive. This is an album that mixes jazz with pop and R&B, and it was meant to be accessible. At the same time, Cooling doesn’t want to provide elevator music either. If Third Wish is smooth jazz, it’s smooth jazz with a brain.
Cooling asserts: "It’s a balancing act--you want to reach people, be commercially accepted and get radio airplay, but you also want to do something creative so that you aren’t completely miserable. I don’t want to record music that will never awaken any taste buds or make the listener feel anything¾ that would make me very uncomfortable. I would just get out of the business altogether before I would record music that made me feel unfulfilled. Thankfully, I’m nowhere near feeling that way."
Cooling will be the first to tell you that she is far from a jazz purist or a jazz snob. "My CD collection contains Ornette Coleman and Ahmad Jamal, but it also contains James Brown, Maurice Ravel and Aerosmith," she notes. "I like R&B. I like folk. I like heavy metal and headbanger stuff. I like punk. I like rap. I just like good music. There are no boundaries with me."
Growing up in New Jersey and New York, Cooling absorbed a wide variety of music¾ and she continued to be quite eclectic when she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in the early 1980s. She met Wagner in the mid eighties- the two instantly discovered their songwriting compatibility and have been working together consistently ever since. At first, Cooling played straight-ahead jazz on her Bay Area gigs, then later joined Wagner on the Brazilian music circuit before making pop-jazz their main focus and signing with Heads Up in 1997.Playing It Cool, Cooling’s debut album for Heads Up, was an immediate NAC hit. The track "South of Market" received extensive NAC airplay, and the album soared to #1 on the smooth jazz charts in Radio & Records and Gavin. Then, in 1999, Cooling enjoyed another major NAC hit when Heads Up released her sophomore album, Keeping Cool.
During their Heads Up period, Cooling and Wagner found themselves running into GRP’s Bud Harner from time to time. "Bud always encouraged me to keep in touch," Cooling recalls, "and when my contract with Heads Up ended, he urged me to sign with GRP. It all happened very quickly."
Finally, where did the title Third Wish come from? Cooling explains: "Jay and I were thinking of the old myth of the genie in the bottle and how you get three wishes. When you get to your third wish, you go for the big one¾ since you only have one wish left, you really want to make it count. And I really wanted to make this album count."