Friday, May 08, 2015
Joni Mitchell Worship at SFJAZZ Center
The SFJAZZ Center is holding its annual Gala Fundraiser this evening, and the guest of honor was originally scheduled to be Joni Mitchell in an evening devoted to her music. Unfortunately, Joni ended up in a Los Angeles hospital recently, in a confusingly reported condition reminiscent of Elizabeth Taylor's many near-death experiences over the decades, so she was unable to attend the gala where everyone from Kris Kristofferson and Joe Jackson and Patti Austin are singing her songs.
I first heard the album Ladies of the Canyon as a Southern California teenager while falling tragically in love, and it became a personal soundtrack. Some years later, while visiting a friend in Humboldt County, I was in a car driven by a funny young, flannel-shirt lesbian listening to the radio when Joni's latest song from The Hissing of Summer Lawns was played. It was all about wealthy people being alienated, and about halfway through, the driver switched to another station with, "I can't relate, Joni." Close to 30 years later, while looking for soundtrack music, I listened to every album Joni ever produced, and all of it was unexpectedly great. The early, middle and late work were all distinctive, and there was a belated realization that Joni is probably the greatest songwriter of my generation.
I heard her live twice, sort of. The first time was at the Concord "Sleep Train" Pavilion in 2000 in one of Joni's final tours, with a full orchestra, singing American standards and her own songs in a low contralto (click here for an example). The second time was in 2009 when the New York performance artist John Kelly brought his drag incarnation of the young, high soprano Joni to the old ODC theater (click here for a clip of him singing "Blue.") It was one of the oddest, loveliest performances imaginable, and when Joni saw the show for herself she was amused and enchanted, and came backstage to give Kelly her dulcimer to use in future shows (click here for the backstage video).