Cover Story

Steve Cole

While he scored hit after airplay hit since 1998, the saxophonist’s fans may wonder why his albums didn’t quite match the soul of his live performances. His response? His latest Narada Jazz album True.

By Jonathan Widran

When Steve Cole takes the stage with his fellow Sax Packers Kim Waters and Jeff Kashiwa on March 24 in the Sheraton Reading Hotel Ballroom during the 17th Annual FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, he’ll no doubt add some deeper grooves and spicy solos to the big airplay hits that have made him a core smooth jazz artist since the late ’90s. Yet after he gets through his latest renditions of the #1 airplay hits “When I Think of You,” “Say It Again,” “From the Start” or his last big song, “Thursday”––a track that he says was one of the most played tracks in the format in 2005––the show will once again become more than just an exciting all-star gathering.  

Unlike most smooth jazz package tours that feature artists in unique combinations riffing on each other’s greatest hits, the Sax Pack––who are making their second Berks appearance in three years––performs a handful of original songs every year that they write during a special and very creative week that Cole, Waters and Kashiwa call “The Sax Pack Summit.”

“We see ourselves as a group whose sound has really developed along with our unique onstage rapport with each other,” says Cole, who estimates that they average approximately 20 dates together per year. “Each one of the past three years before touring season begins, we pick a city and convene in our hotel rooms to not only work on a set list, but set up a mini recording studio to write fresh material that our fans can’t hear anywhere else. Kim brings his keyboard, Jeff his computer and speakers, and I bring another computer and we go to work,” Cole says during a telephone interview. 

The complete story can be found in the February edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Click here to subscrbe today. Receive an issue monthly, February through December, for $29.

Joyce Colling

Living up to her commitment to making music that matters, the San Francisco-based guitarist’s latest CD, Revolving Door, addresses the issue of mental illness. She is donating proceeds from her gigs, T-shirt and CD sales to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

By Jonathan Widran

When Joyce Cooling first burst onto the smooth jazz scene with airplay hits like “South of Market” and “Callie” in the late ’90s, she chose album titles that were quirky takeoffs on her name, reflecting her humorous spirit––Playing It Cool and Keeping Cool. Then, after a period of post 9/11 soul searching, she came back to assure her fans on her Narada Jazz debut that This Girl’s Got to Play. While her trademark upbeat musical vibe shines through on the guitarist’s latest disc, Revolving Door, the story behind the title speaks of her ongoing commitment to make music that matters, to stop writing about sunsets and highways and instead get intensely personal.

In a genre so driven by lighthearted, happy, escapist music, Cooling takes an enormous risk in using the title as a metaphor to discuss the often hidden realities of mental illness, a tragedy she knows well. Her older brother, now in his 50s, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at 19. Beyond simply writing songs that move her and her longtime creative and life partner, keyboardist Jay Wagner, into deeper creative territory than ever before, the San Francisco-based artist is using her platform as a public figure to “come out” about this reality. Her goal is to do everything she can to bring attention and positive action to the issues of mental health, mental illness and acute mental illness in particular.

“Rest assured, that doesn’t mean I can’t still write music that’s light and happy,” she says. “My idea was to educate people, but have fun while doing it, be the light at the end of the dark tunnel, as much as that is possible.” 

On the album, such joyful moments are found on songs like “At the Modern,” an instrumental expression of the fun she and Wagner had over a few-day period gallivanting in New York City, hanging out at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) and jazz club-hopping all night via subway. Even while having a blast at the museum, the lifelong art nut––who admits wallpapering her room as a child with torn out pages from art books––found an interesting connection to the album’s overall theme in the poignant life story of Van Gogh.

The complete story can be found in the February edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Click here to subscrbe today. Receive an issue monthly, February through December, for $29.

Tim Bowman

Eight years after the release of his first album, Love, Joy, Peace, Tim Bowman enjoyed a huge breakout year in 2004 with This Is What I Hear. He’ll be “Summer Groovin’” all season long with Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum and Jeff Golub on this year’s Guitars & Saxes tour.

By Jonathan Widran & Melanie Maxwell

Tim Bowman hits the road this month with Gerald Albright, Kirk Whalum and Jeff Golub, joining Guitars & Saxes, the perennially popular smooth jazz all-star tour that started them all. For the Detroit-born guitarist, being part of this illustrious lineup for the first time is the culmination of two incredible, frenetic years that have marked his emergence into smooth jazz.

His closing weekend gig at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival in 2005 was such a hit that producer Art Good scheduled him for his Second Annual Big Bear Lake JazzTrax Summer Music Festival last June, as well as two weekends at Catalina in 2006. He scored big with his vibrant show on Saturday night the first festival weekend last October. But by the second weekend, Bowman’s mother fell ill and he made the decision to put family ahead of career and stay in Michigan just hours before his flight to Los Angeles was scheduled to depart. Although he missed the opportunity to thrill a capacity crowd at the Avalon Casino Ballroom, Bowman asked saxophonist Darren Rahn to fill his slot and lead his band while he tended to his ailing mother.

In 2005, Scott Pedersen of Scottland Concerts featured Bowman on the second stage at the Lexus Jazz Festival in Newport Beach. His dynamic performance captured the adoration of thousands of Southern California fans who had previously been unaware of Bowman’s talent. This all resulted in more gigs around the country than Bowman had performed in any previous year since his first album, Love, Joy, Peace, came out in 1996. This past January he was a featured performer on Jazz Cruises, LLC’s full-ship charter jazz cruise hosted by Wayman Tisdale.

When Bowman takes the stage with Guitars & Saxes at their first gigs of the season in New York and as the final headlining performers at this month’s FirstEnergy Berks Jazz Fest, he’ll likely perform “Summer Groove,” the opening track from his 2004 album This Is What I Hear, whose success at radio broke open all of these exciting new opportunities. He says the song was on the Radio & Records airplay chart for 45 weeks and was #2 for multiple weeks before a single peak week at #1.

The complete story can be found in the February edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Click here to subscrbe today. Receive an issue monthly, February through December, for $29.