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Jazz ’round L.A.
Herbie Hancok photo credit: Malcolm Ali for Sentinel Chaka Khan Photo credit: Malcolm Ali for Sentinel Cassandra Wilson Photo credit: Malcolm Ali for Sentinel Jazz à la Joni Mitchell at the Hollywood Bowl
By Joy Childs
At first glance, you might have been inclined to think that a concert called “Joni’s Jazz” that featured Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter would be a celebration of her music—particularly from the Grammy® award-winning “River: The Joni Letters”—and would shine a spotlight on them.
But you’d have been wrong on both counts. That CD won back in 2008. And Hancock and Shorter were spotlighted—along with a dozen other jazz vocalists and musicians.
No, this definitely was Joni’s jazz — not folk, not pop — though she was not in the house.
Those baby boomers who were into the Canadian native know that she struck gold when she moved to New York and wrote a trio of folk-pop originals in the mid-1960s — “Chelsea Morning, “Both Sides Now” and “Woodstock.” She pretty much owned that hyphenated genre, becoming internationally celebrated largely for the profundity of her folk and pop singing and songwriting, which resulted in multiple Grammy® awards for “Clouds” and “Help Me.”
That is, until 1974. From 1974-1979, she detoured down the symbiotic musical path of jazz, embarking on a journey that would last through the recording of five albums: “Court and Spark,” “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” “Hejira,” “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter,” and “Mingus” (released months after his death).
During those halcyon days of jazz, Mitchell partnered with the kings of jazz back then: Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Pat Metheny.
And what partnerships those were. Even without Pastorius and Metheny, Hancock was there on keyboards and Shorter and Tom Scott were there on saxes (all having played on the original recordings), as were five vocalists: Kurt Elling, Glen Hansard, Chaka Khan (who sang on the “Don Juan” CD), Aimee Mann and Cassandra Wilson.
These five disparate artists were chosen by jazz’s go-to drummer, Brian Blade, who’s toured widely with Mitchell, for their love of her music.
Wilson was right on the money with her easy, gliding jazz rendition of “Help Me,” Mitchell’s biggest hit single from her 1974 “Court and Spark” album. Her next song, “Blue Motel Room,” she said, is “special in her heart because she lives the lyrics every day!” Turns out, it’s one of Joni’s favorites too.
On “A Strange Boy,” Khan’s mournful moans sounded straight out of the depths of the Mississippi Delta region, then she temporarily brought a little fun to “People’s Parties”; but to some, she seemed a bit off, a tad flat, not really in tune on “Two Grey Rooms.”
Host Blade (not Hancock) announced that the second half of the show would be devoted to the “Summer Lawns” album in its entirety, the highlight, a jazzily slow Khan-Hancock groove on “Sweet Bird.”
Unfortunately, there was no time left for the entire cast of singers and musicians to encore on “Woodstock” as planned.