Jersey gal making sweet music in Mancos

Two hours with local jazz singer Joyce Simpson is enough time to make anyone fall in love with her. She’s beautiful, she’s funny, she’s warm, and her voice makes you hope she’ll burst into song right there in the P&D Grocery.

Not shy and completely unevasive, she started telling me about important changes she’s making in her life right off the bat. Simpson is a Jersey gal. Last year, she moved here from New Jersey after living in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and London, to begin doing marketing and PR for Crow Canyon Archaeological Center. She found the job on the Internet.

She chose to move here for personal reasons, one of which was that her 11-year-old son wanted to live here. The job fell into her lap, as did a house in Mancos; everything worked out perfectly. But Friday was her last day at work; at 44, she has decided to focus on her music career. According to Simpson, leaving Crow Canyon was a very difficult decision to make.

“The folks at Crow Canyon have been like a family to me. My entire house has been furnished by them. They have been great friends, very embracing. Leaving is hard, but it’s time for me to do this.”

The plan is to not only pursue her own music, but also to run a small business doing marketing and PR for other musicians. She already has two clients – herself and Barry Sames, a musician from Philadelphia. Thanks to the computerized world, it works just fine for them to be half way across the country from each other. She’s also working with a potential third client, someone local, for whom she will do bookings and publicity.

Although it has been a difficult and somewhat frightening decision, she says that it’s the right one.

“I suspect that this year is going to be a big turning point in my life. For the first time I am making a choice for me. I don’t want to keep going the way that I have been and then 10 years from now wonder ‘what if…’” A bit nervewracking for Simpson, but good news for her fans, of which she has many. For those of you who have heard her perform, you know what I mean, for those of you who haven’t – you should.

She has played many venues in the area, including Crow Canyon’s Jazz on the Green, the Millwood Junction and La Boheme. She stands alone and also plays with different local musicians such as Bob Newnam, Lee Bartley and Gareth Martins, among others.

She claims that “working with different musicians helps (her) own growth as a singer.” It also makes every performance unique. Going back to her beginnings, Simpson confessed that at 16, she’d not yet discovered her own voice. She was a talented pianist, violinist and flautist. She was preparing to perform at a church and her mother asked her, “Can you sing?” “I don’t know” was her response.

Hard to imagine that you could sing like she does and not know it, but when you’re playing the flute, vocal opportunities are rare.

When she auditioned at Temple University to enter the music program, she was told she should major in vocals and not piano. “That’s when I realized that maybe I had something.”

She also studied marketing which has come in very handy over the years. While living in L.A., she did work for Warner Brothers and DreamWorks. She also began to get more serious about her music, performing in local venues.

She used to sing mostly pop songs by artists such as Whitney Houston, until one night she was suddenly inspired to sing “Alfie.” “That was it – I never went back. Jazz was where I finally identified myself.”

Siimpson gives a lot of credit to many young musicians. She claims that “they know themselves well – they own their music. You have to know who you are to sing your music. At 22 or 23, I had no idea who I was.” Well, it seems as if she does now.

And now is our chance to also know her music. She loves performing in the area for an appreciative audience.

“I have never experienced such a warm reception,” she said. “To have an opportunity like this is really fun. I’ve always been a big-city girl and never thought that I would like living in a place like this, but after having lived all over the world, I can really appreciate what’s here.”

Will she stay in the area? The answer appears to be yes for the time being. She is happy here; her son is happy here.

“God gives you what you need,” she said, “and this seems to be what I need right now” — a good supportive community, a nice place to live and a happy 11-year-old. What more could anyone ask for?

Simpson hopes to have a CD out in the spring and plans to have her business, Mancos 44 Entertainment, going strong. She’ll be performing at the Cliffrose on Dec. 6 and other local venues during the holidays, so try to catch her — you won’t be disappointed. Walking out of the P&D, she stopped and smiled.

“I really just want to say thank you,” she said. “Thank you to this community for being so embracing and supportive.”

Thank you, Joyce.

From Arts & Entertainment, December 2003.