Although iconic singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell was unable to attend the SFJAZZ Gala honoring her on May 8, that didn't stop an all-star lineup of music legends, including Kris Kristofferson, Joe Jackson, Patti Austin, Kurt Elling and Wayne Shorter, from descending on the SFJAZZ Center to take part in the memorable evening that was recorded so Mitchell, hospitalized since March, can watch.
"It's so nice to do something that we know she's going to see," Randall Kline, SFJAZZ Founder and Executive Artistic Director, told Haute Living during the cocktail reception that preceded the phenomenal show. "One of the things that she said that was important to her was that she felt honored to be honored by a jazz organization - and us in particular. We were really excited. She doesn't do a lot of this stuff in general. It happened through a friend of hers, Stanlee Gatti, who asked her about it. And she was excited....I'm looking forward to her seeing the performance...[and] seeing what everyone has done to pay her proper respect.
"She represents something that is one of our core values - the idea about openness, sincerity of expression and gathering around and pulling together. It's nice that everyone pulls together to help support us, and now we're helping to pull something together that hopefully will be of some support to her."
During the reception, Haute Living also caught up with jazz singer Paula West, who dazzled in a green Tracy Reese frock and black turban. "It's bittersweet tonight," she said. "[Joni's] here in spirit. I just hope that she recovers. It's going to be a good feeling in the room and a wonderful tribute to her."
Indeed it was - right from the opening remarks by journalist Ben Fong-Torres, who first interviewed the songwriter in 1969 for his first Rolling Stone cover story. With images of Mitchell displayed on a big screen over the stage, Laurie Antonioli, performing with SFJAZZ Collective members with Kanoa Mendenhall ["This Flight Tonight"], Kelly Jones ["Court and Spark" and "You Turn Me On"], the SFJAZZ Collective ["Both Sides Now" and "Goodbye Porkpie Hat"], Elling ["Edith and the Kingpin" and "Black Crow"], Jackson ["Big Yellow Taxi'" and "Twisted"], Austin ["Don't Interrupt the Sorrow" and "Two Grey Rooms"] and Kristofferson ["A Case of You"] wonderfully performed their interpretation of songs written by Mitchell. The show stealer was Judith Hill ["River" and "Blue"], featured in the film Twenty Feet From Stardom and currently on tour with Prince, whose powerful voice matched her skills on the piano, fierce mane and fringe outfit.
Musical directors Brian Blade and Jon Cowherd led an all-star backing band with Greg Leisz, Melvin Butler, Marvin Sewell, Christopher Thomas, Aaron Embry, Jeff Haynes and Jones. During the show, Shorter, NEA Jazz Master and a longtime collaborator of Mitchell's, accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award on her behalf.
After the show, guests at the Giant level and above headed across the street, where they were serenaded by the Brass Band Mission as they entered the after party. An elegant decor by Stanlee Gatti Designs set the stage for a late-night supper menu designed by Michael Tusk, dancing and music by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue and the SFJAZZ High School All-Stars Orchestra.
Penny Coulter and Nion McEvoy served as gala chairs. Notables spotted included James Coulter, Marcus Shelby, Delroy Lindo, Sam Hawgood, Eric Martin Johnson, Justin Tuck and Lauran Williamson Tuck, Kristi Yamaguchi and Bret Hedican, Monetta White, Joshua Mark Robison, Mark Cavagnero, Charles Phan, John Handy, Del Handy, Gatti and Tusk.
Mitchell was hospitalized on March 31 after being found unconscious in her Los Angeles home. Since then, there have been few official updates about her condition, leading to rumors from everything to her death to her being in a coma. On April 28, an official statement on jonimitchell.com was posted that read:
"Contrary to rumors circulating on the Internet today, Joni is not in a coma. Joni is still in the hospital - but she comprehends, she's alert, and she has her full senses. A full recovery is expected. The document obtained by a certain media outlet simply gives her longtime friend Leslie Morris the authority - in the absence of 24-hour doctor care - to make care decisions for Joni once she leaves the hospital. As we all know, Joni is a strong-willed woman and is nowhere near giving up the fight. Please continue to keep Joni in your thoughts."
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