Meet Joyce Wilson

Tessa Souter and Andrea Wolper By

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I was young and didn’t know much about jazz, or what to expect. But I liked what I heard and wanted to learn more about the music and musicians. Some of them looked as if they were my age, so it was a shift in my thinking that jazz musicians were old.
Having grown up in a home without popular music, our newest Super Fan came to jazz a bit later than many. But all it took were one concert and two LPs to turn this open minded spirit into a lifelong fan with a very personal take on all things jazz. In fact, the way Joyce Wilson framed her answer to the "desert island" question is so unique that we decided to allow two albums on her island! Read on to find out what they are.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I was born in Southern California, in Venice Beach, and moved to the Altadena/Pasadena area as a preteen. Presently, I live in the Hermon Area, Los Angeles. I work in the title insurance industry. I am attending school, working on my BA in photography. I've got a great family, many of whom are still in California, scattered as far north to San Francisco and as far south to San Diego.

Music is at the top of my list of passions, followed by photography, swimming, and sewing.

What's your earliest memory of music?

Radios, live music in the parks, neighbors, and especially church music. My brothers and I were not allowed to touch the radio. Our mother wouldn't allow music in the house, and if the radio happened to be on, it would have been tuned to a religious station. I remembered one time, we had just gotten home from church, which by the way was directly next door to our house. "Everybody Plays the Fool" by The Main Ingredient, was playing on the radio, and my mother changed the station to a religious station. I was so mad, because I was learning the lyrics little by little, and I wanted to learn the last verse. For some reason, my mother would refer to anything other than religious music as "devil music," which I didn't understand until I was much older. So going to the park was an exciting time for me, as I knew I would have the opportunity to listen to music non-stop, especially if there were parties or carnivals. If we happened to visit family or friends, that, too, was a treat because there were no limitations when it came to music. Away from home, we could listen to the radio, and play records or even instruments.

But my greatest memory of music came from attending church. I grew up in the Baptist church, and gospel music was always alive and exciting. I could never get enough of it. It's funny, I often wondered if something was wrong with me because I didn't get anything from the preacher's sermon, but I did manage to stay alert, waiting for the music.

How old were you when you got your first record?

When I was 11 years old, I received a KC & the Sunshine Band album for Christmas. I was so excited. I liked his music; it was the kind of music playing at that time, and it had a nice groove. It even came with a poster.

What was the first concert you ever attended?

I attended a Simply Red Concert on a first date. Just waiting for the concert to start was exciting. There was silence, then—WOW! the music started. After attending the concert, I had appreciation like never before, and even though I would listen to cassette tapes or records it just couldn't compare to live music. The energy from the fans—and knowing that I was part of that energy—was fun. The date was bad, but the concert was awesome.

In the mid-'80s I was invited by a classmate to first live jazz concert. I don't remember all the details other than that Wynton Marsalis was performing, and the event took place at the Greek Theater in Hollywood. I was young and didn't know much about jazz, or what to expect. But I liked what I heard. Many thoughts were running through my mind, and stayed with me for a few days. I wanted to learn more about the music and musicians. Some of them looked as if they were my age, so it was a shift in my thinking that jazz musicians were old. I'd been listening to other genres of music, but after that concert I wanted to hear more of the music that they were calling jazz.

Was there one album or experience that was your doorway to jazz?

There are two albums: Look to the Rainbow, a live double album by Al Jarreau is one. I had always liked his voice, and knew many of his songs from other records. But this album was special, because I had it on a cassette tape that a friend had made for me. I found the LP later at a thrift store and played it for days. Talk about memories.

The second album is another live one, Miles Davis's My Funny Valentine: Miles Davis in Concert. A date who was into jazz played it for me on a sound system with great speakers. I hadn't even thought about the role of good speakers before, and I ended up investing in a somewhat expensive stereo system and speakers to appreciate the pristine sound of the album. Even though those albums are on opposite sides of the jazz spectrum, they were important to me. One reason is that after listening to My Funny Valentine, I wanted to know more about trumpet player and his music; at the time I knew very little about Miles Davis. And even though I had many of Al Jarreau's albums, I had not heard anything like Look to the Rainbow. So both albums left me wanting to learn more about jazz.

I started to buy more records and listening to jazz radio stations, like KLON, which would later become KKGO, KKJZ, and is now known as KJazz. I had enjoyed listening to deejay Chuck Niles at the time. Now my all-time favorite radio station is KCSM.ORG, the Bay area's station for jazz. I started subscribing to publications like Jazz Times, and attending jazz festivals.

We met you on Twitter, where your handle is @wrappedinjazz. What is it about jazz that reaches you so strongly?

When I've had a rough day at the office and daily life is nothing short of disastrous, I reach for anything by John Coltrane. After hearing a few bars of his music, I find myself lost in thought. I let my mind drift back in time to a period of when some of his recordings was made. If I play Live at The Village Vanguard, I imagine myself sitting right there at the Vanguard, as close to the stage as possible. It may sound silly, and it's ok; it's a feeling that I find comforting, a way of coping with problems instead of complaining about being overwhelmed. Or maybe it is the feeling I get whenever I'm listening to a song on the radio, waiting until the names of the personnel are announced, and I end up smiling because I'd correctly identified them while I was listening. Or the way I feel when someone who knew nothing about jazz listens to music I've suggested, and lets me know they enjoyed it.

How long have you been going out to hear live music?

Over 35 years, from free concerts in the park, to dinner clubs, to paid performances.

How often do you go out to hear live music?


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