Sweet, loving, caring, nurturing, giving, talented Joy.
Where to start.
I guess her house is the most appropriate place. It was an extraordinarily welcoming place for sonically creative minds.
Joy was a den mother to grown-ups. A wellspring of encouragement to musicians, composers and arrangers of the San Fernando Valley, her house in Studio City was a refuge for and hotbed of extreme music and talent, where some of the most gifted musicians and writers from the LA Studios would gather to play charts in the living room on a regular basis. It was a busy room, seeing several bands play in a typical week, ranging in size from trio to 17-piece. This was in continuation of a tradition established by her and her late (first) husband, John Magruder. John had built and run a now-legendary music department at a local high school, and was responsible for the career choices of many of our most gifted players in the studios. Though I have much respect for the man from the stories I’ve heard, I never had the honor of meeting him and he’s a different story.
I came to know Joy in ’08 or ’09—regrettably later than I should have—through my upper-crust LA Studio buddies. Her house lived, breathed and existed almost entirely for the music that happened inside, as did she. I always brought my “A” game to her living room, where I’d find myself sitting with legendary players with humbling names, as we ran through charts that tended to be from the “really cool”, to the “pretty technical”, to the dreaded “you gotta be kiddin’ me!” It was an environment for reachy music…the unspoken understanding was that stuff that got played in that space was cool enough to be orphaned from the industry, having no home there…and it had to push the envelope. As indeed it did.
Having Joy there, watching from her chair, appreciating and approving and providing snacks, was what set the tone and put the whole thing in the right illumination. As players and arrangers, working in L.A. can beat us pretty flat; “industry” is not friendly to “art”, after all. Joy and her house was a well-known and beloved antithesis to the cultural pathos of the town around it; a refuge for practitioners of The True Craft, whose souls are so commonly in need of a creatively friendly place. In that regard, her house was in every way an extension of her own being.
I was living in the gorgeous Eastern Sierra paradise of Bishop when I met Joy. Seeing my pictures of where I lived, she insisted on driving up for a visit. It was a great couple of days, driving her around to see the incredible sights. I had just released my first uppity guitar-driven fusion album (more a product of too much time doodling with my hands than a legitimately artistic statement) which tended toward high-energy, up-tempo, way too many notes and a fairly teeth-gnashing, in-your-face comportment over all. I gave her a copy. She used it for—and I swear this is true—lullaby music. She used it to help her fall asleep. That was hard for me to understand until soon after, the first time I played charts in her living room, and realized the depth and strength of the musical currents running through her life on a daily basis. Then it all made sense: my stuff was pretty light-weight, by comparison.
I met Joy not long after I met my good brother Larry Williams, who later became her second husband. Larry is known to us as one of the most gifted trumpeters we’ve ever heard, who crossed over to EWI somewhere in the aughts (despite every one of his friends, myself included, protesting his turning his back on trumpet), and is a great composer whose music never compromises, and which fits well with the push-the-envelope tenet of Joy’s living room.
Joy and Larry sold the house in Studio City, moved to Ojai and, not long after, were married. I was best man.
There is much, much more to Joy’s extraordinary life and story than I’m setting down here. She really did live an incredible life, in and amongst very tall company; I’m only conveying the experiences I’ve been lucky enough to have with her directly. She was a gifted artist, one of whose drawings would appear in our mailbox each winter as an ornate, highly-detailed holiday greeting card. The one from this last holiday season is still in a place of honor in our book case; it’s too pretty to have been removed with the others so it stays on display, as has been the pattern for many years. She was a hair stylist to the stars in the golden era…she could dish about Marylin Monroe, but wasn’t the type to stoop to gossip. I’ll leave it to others to talk about these aspects of her life that didn’t intersect directly with mine. She wrote a blog, called “Joy Bop!”, wherein she did two articles on me and my musical hooliganery that cast me in an undeservedly flattering light.
I regret not having been in contact as much as I’d have liked over the last couple of years…I think the last time I spoke with her was Christmas or her birthday. As crippling a loss as Joy’s passing is, the extraordinary thing in my mind is what a gift her presence was.
To say that she’ll be missed doesn’t convey the extremity of the vacuum she leaves, but the important thing to me is that I will always live in a world where I had the honor and good fortune to have made her acquaintance, to call her a great friend, and to be able to contribute—in whatever way I thought I was qualified—to the creative outflow from her and the humbling, enriching environment she created. And though she’s gone, she’ll live on through every one of us who knew her; every one of us who helped bring the music—the music that truly needed to be—into this world.
Joy left us last night, peacefully.
Thank you, Joy…I owe you, I miss you terribly, I love you and, at some level in my mind, I’ll always be trying to please you with every note I play and write.