Translated by Allison Fernley
For the love of jazz
Charles Mingus, Jaco Pastorius, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, but also Tom Scott, John Guerin, Peter Erskine, Don Alias or also Victor Feldman: 50 years, already, that Joni Mitchell crosses paths with the greatest jazzmen to give her folk a unique character. A look back on the most beautiful collaborations of the Canadian singer, guitarist, pianist, author, and composer through all her jazz loves and on the incredible all-star American tour she put together in 1979.
by Michel Benita & Fred Goaty
Joni, Jaco Charles and the Rest
From For the Roses in 1972 to Both Sides Now in 2000 and passing through Hejira in 1976 and Mingus in 1979, Joni Mitchell never stopped collecting the strongest personalities in the history of modern jazz for her poetic and musical universe, making her own a music in which free forms sensually embraced her own, to the great displeasure of her managers, but certainly not of her admirers…
One fine day in 1972, the saxophonist Tom Scott discovers, fascinated, the voice of a Canadian singer about whom he does not know much, Joni Mitchell, and decides to record one of her most beautiful songs, Woodstock... on a recorder. "To try to imitate her voice." Touched in her own turn by this moving rereading which figures prominently on Great Scott (A&M Records), Joni Mitchell invites the saxophonist to the recording sessions for her fifth album, For the Roses. The understanding is immediate. Tom Scott signs the agreements, and his hand is recognizable in “Bar and Grill,” all in subtle touches of clarinet and flutes. He even has a saxophone solo in “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire.”
Through this brief collaboration jazz makes its entry in the music of Joni Mitchell, who has already recorded one of the most moving masterpieces of modern acoustic folk, Blue, and written songs justly considered as instant classics— “Chelsea Morning,” “Both Sides Now,” or again, “Big Yellow Taxi”. But, more than ever, she is determined to make each album a new experience. In this, jazz will be the guiding thread.
THE GUITAR, LIKE AN ORCHESTRA
Two years later, Joni Mitchell records Court and Spark surrounded by a great number of jazzmen, principally those of the L.A. Express, the group of her new partner, Tom Scott, whom she had taken care to hear at Baked Potato, which was to fusion what Minton’s was to bebop. Seduced by the combined talents of Scott, always on saxophone, Larry Carlton on the guitar, Joe Sample on the piano (quickly replaced by Larry Nash), Max Bennett on electric base, and John Guerin on drums, she offers them an enviable place. On Court and Spark we also find other “sizes,” the guitarist Dennis Budimir or the bass player for the Crusaders, Wilton Felder; not to mention several dear friends—David Crosby, Graham Nash, and Robbie Robertson. Fans of her earlier work didn’t know what to make of Court and Spark. There are always those, alas, for whom change is a synonym for decline, or even betrayal—one of Joni Mitchell’s role models, Miles Davis, knew something of this. However, 40 years after its release, Court and Spark stands as one of the most polished pop albums of the 70s. Witness “Troubled [sic] Child” linked via a brief solo on muted trumpet by Chuck Findley to “Twisted,” the very first reprisal recorded by Joni Mitchell. Originally, “Twisted” was composed by saxophonist Wardell Gray. In 1959, the English singer, Annie Ross had added words to the theme—and the solo—of this great bebop saxophonist to create one of the best songs on the fourth album of Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross, the vocalese trio with whom she found fame. On the cusp of the 60s, this mischievous ode to dual personalities, “I’ve got a thing that is unique and new/instead of one head I got two, and you know two heads are better than one,” delighted the teenaged Joni Mitchell, who discovered it… while dancing to it at a surprise party! She bought the 33 rpm for a pretty penny--in Canada, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross! was a collector’s item. In her own version of “Twisted,” Joni Mitchell sings for the first time without accompanying herself on guitar or piano [they must have missed “The Fiddle and the Drum”—translator’s note]. For her, according to Tom Scott, this “was revolutionary.” Because the singer always considered her guitar as an orchestra: “The first three strings are muted trumpets; the following two are horns or violins; those at the top serve to execute original and sparse base lines.
Immediately after Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell left on tour in 1974 with the L.A. Express. Robben Ford replaced Larry Carlton, who rejoined The Crusaders. Joni and her jazzmen crisscrossed North America, then made a short trip to London. At Wembley, Annie Ross came on stage to sing a duet of “Twisted” with her delighted colleague. The live double album, Miles of Aisles, immortalizes these six months of harmony between progressive folk and electric jazz. Robben Ford fondly remembers this tour, and places Joni Mitchell “at the same level of eclecticism and breadth of spirit as a John Coltrane or a Miles Davis” (Uncut, number 199).
1975 was the year of The Hissing of Summer Lawns, at first glance more confounding than Court and Spark. The jazz musicians brought their musical know-how, without being relegated to a secondary role. They merged into the singer’s universe without her diluting theirs with a few light jazz-isms. Tom Scott and his L.A. Express, but also Joe Sample, Larry Carlton, and Wilton Felder are credited, as well as Victor Feldman and Bud Shank, two great figures of West Coast jazz. As with Court and Spark, Joni Mitchell takes up another song drawn from the 33 by Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross: “Centerpiece” arising in the beautiful surroundings of “Harry’s House” in an almost dreamlike way. As for the Burundi drummers on “The Jungle Line,” they open the Canadian’s music to those who won’t hesitate to label it “world music.”
JONI & JACO
In early 1976, Robben Ford had Joni listen to the first 33 of a young bassist name Jaco Pastorius. His singular sound and the sense of freedom that emanated from his music captivated her. From her first meetings with Jaco, she felt that he was the man for the job, the one who according to her finally resolved a most acute problem: the lack of bass in her music. She got it right.
The bass lines of the extraordinarily gifted Floridian fall into her songs like a soft, saving rain. Pastorius plays on half of Hejira, which Joni recorded after her car trip across the United States. The alchemy between these two poets is a rare miracle in music history. In the title song, Jaco marvelously uses overdub resources: his base, his basses, curl around Joni’s voice. In the background, the clarinet of Abe Most, former accompanist of Tommy Dorsey, tentatively occupy the space which will soon be entrusted to Wayne Shorter. On “Black Crow,” Jaco and Larry Carlton weave a relationship of unparalleled nuance. Carlton is exceptional throughout the whole recording: what he plays when Joni is singing “I feel like that black crow flying in a blue sky…” reflects his exceptional ear and the incredible finesse of his playing. And at that point, Jaco makes his four strings sing: how is it possible not to revel in these notes played in harmonics on the coda of Black Crow? The last “word” on the record belongs to him: the end of “Refuge of the Roads” is played on solo bass(es).
Without betraying any part of her style, of her art, a word to which she accords a high value—she likes to define herself as an “art singer”—Joni Mitchell reaches new heights with Hejira. Jaco Pastorius is the first great soloist to invest in her universe. Certainly not the last. Others will follow, and not the least.
DON JUAN’S DAUGHTER
The arrival of new friends on the road does not mean, however, the departure of old ones. John Guerin plays on part of Hejira. Tom Scott also. Joni Mitchell’s musicians are part of a playing circle that never stops growing. Witness her following album, the title of which was inspired by her reading of The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge by the American anthropologist and apostle of shamanism, Carlos Castaneda. Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” marks the appearance of Wayne Shorter in the playing circle. In his wake we can distinguish other stars in the galaxy of Weather Report. The percussionists Alex Acuna and Manolo Badrena, joined by Don Alias and Airto Moreira, have a field day on “The Tenth World.”
This ambitious double album is not as readily accessible as Hejira. But we cannot blame Joni Mitchell for this visceral need—we fell just short of writing “milesdavisian”—for wanting to enlarge her horizons, even if it meant disorienting the listener. And to leave even more space to Jaco Pastorius. Lightning bolts strike right from the overture at precisely 1:46. Let’s face it: this is sublime. In “Jericho,” a live version of which already appeared on Miles of Aisles, the bassist, certainly in a state of grace, is squarely “in front of” the singer—at 3:01, lightning strikes again! Shorter, himself, sidles in like a mischievous cat. The saxophonist is used to exceptional vocalists: he had already blown alongside Milton Nascimento. This slightly wobbly mix reenforced despite everything the unique and fascinating character of this trialogue. Behind his barrel drums, extremely professional, John Guerin calmly makes his brushes dance on the skins. It’s said that he couldn’t stand Jaco Pastorius. You can’t here this, neither in “Jericho,” nor at the end of the epic “Paprika Plains,” arranged by Michael Gibbs.
THE GREAT CHARLES
Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” will reach the ears of Charles Mingus. One imagines he was shocked at discovering the album cover where Joni Mitchell appears in minstrel, black face, her face blackened with shoe polish and disguised as a man? On the contrary! He found that this girl had guts in daring to appear thus and, also, that she tried to sing a bit like Billie Holiday…Joni Mitchell learned from the band that Mingus was looking to join up with her. “Too beautiful to be true,” she told herself. Even her closest friends thought this association was impossible, even ridiculous. The singer herself felt honored. Considering herself to be nothing more than an eternal student of music(s), she saw in this collaboration the possibility of learning with a great artist, and of better understanding a musical idiom that she had, according to her, barely touched: jazz. When she told John Guerin (who had become her fiancé) that Mingus wished to meet her, he became angry: “Mingus wants to play with you?! But damn it, when I had you listen to his records, you barely listened. I’m the one he should be calling!”
Mingus met Joni Mitchell in 1978. Confined to a wheelchair, he already knew that he had only a few months to live. He first wished to work with Joni Mitchell on the poems of T.S. Eliot. One thing led to another, and he entrusted her with six melodies—Joni I, Joni II, Joni III, Joni IV… --so that she could write the words. They got along famously and worked intensely in the New York loft that the singer had rented. Don Alias, the singer’s new boyfriend, was never very far. With Sue, Mingus’s wife, all these beautiful people stayed in the double bassist’s birthplace, Cuernavaca. The saxophonists Phil Woods and Gerry Mulligan, the keyboardist Jan Hammer, the bassists Eddie Gomez and Stanley Clarke, the guitarist John McLaughlin, the drummers John Guerin, Tony Williams and Dannie Richmond—no less—were involved from the first recording sessions, unedited to this day (crossing our fingers that they will soon be publishes in one of the “Archives” boxed sets supervised by Joni Mitchell herself).
But after several unsuccessful attempts, Joni Mitchell finally records four Mingus compositions in two days with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Jaco Pastorius, Peter Erskine and Don Alias. The first day, the English arranger Jeremy Lubbock was at the piano. Jaco Pastorius scowled, and called Hancock who, by chance, was free. He replaced Lubbock on the spot. Joni Mitchell was all smiles: she didn’t know yet, but it was the beginning of a long collaboration between her and the pianist. And for the first time in his life, Herbie Hancock really heard the words of the songs he was playing… “A Chair In The Sky,” “Sweet Sucker Dance,” “The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines,” and “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”: to this precious booty, Joni Mitchell will next add two original songs, “God Must Be A Boogie Man” and “The Wolf That Lives in Lindsey.” Simply titled Mingus, the album made its appearance in record stores in June 1979.
But it had already been several months since 56 whales had washed up on the coasts of Mexico on the 5th of January, 1979 [truly! editor’s note], the same day Charles Mingus died. Some suspected that Joni Mitchell had used Mingus to give herself jazz credibility. Today we know, however, that it was Mingus who contacted the singer and that, furthermore, the Canadian’s managers cast a very bleak eye on this collaboration— “Jazz?! But you are going to lose your audience you poor thing!”
DANCING WITH WOLVES
Mingus is a unique record, the polar opposite of a commemorative project. Branford Marsalis, who classifies it as a masterpiece without batting an eyelid, considers that it is “neither truly jazz, nor truly folk.” Whatever one thinks of it, with Mingus Joni Mitchell makes her closest approach to the burning star of jazz, mixing her poetry with the brilliant melodies offered by Mingus. Unforgettable songs abound. The uncanny swing of “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines,” masterfully arranged by Pastorius, and the diaphanous beauty of “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” captivate, not to mention the deep connections that unite Mitchell, Hancock, Shorter, Pastorius and Erskine on “Sweet Sucker Dance.” The singer continues nonetheless to confirm herself as composer and instrumentalist: in “The Wolf that Lives in Lindsey,” recorded as a duet with Alias just after Mingus died, the way that she distills her words while making her guitar vibrate, even ache amidst the howling of wolves, elegantly imbued with the sense of being flayed alive. This is perhaps what Mingus had suspected in discovering her music… Shortly after Mingus came out, a tour is mounted with an unbelievable all star cast that will play twenty concerts during the summer of 1979, only in the United States. Shadows and Light, the double live album that immortalizes this tour, proves that Joni Mitchell never lets herself be overwhelmed by these exceptional soloists whom she, nevertheless, lets loose at will.
A STRANGE BIRD
In the 1980s, Joni Mitchell distanced herself a bit from the jazzosphere, not without continuing to get herself back in the game and pushing other limits: those of pop music. In 1981, however, she met bassist Larry Klein, former accompanist of Carmen McRae and Freddie Hubbard. Two years after Shadows and Light was released, Wild Things Run Fast marks a clear change of direction. From this point on, her music draws on other sources, such as those of “pop-rock polyrhythm” groups she adores: Steely Dan, Talking Heads, and especially the three peroxided virtuosos of The Police, with whom she would have dearly loved to record her album! Thanks to Larry Klein, who will become her husband, she meets a new family of musicians: the guitarists Michael Landau and Steve Lukather, and the drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, who has just left Frank Zappa’s group. Several “formers” were convened. John Guerin plays on the cool and bebop-like “Moon at the Window” and Victor Feldman, battling as usual in the harmonic universe of the “James Joyce of guitar chords.” Wayne Shorter is still in the wings. The saxophonist never fails to respond in his way, and what a way—true, concise, inventive—to the invitations of the singer, who loves nothing more than to ask hm to improvise on a color, or to “do the bird.” Poets understand each other: of Don Alias she asked one day if he could play percussion as if he were “falling down a staircase”…
In her following albums, Night Ride Home, Turbulent Indigo, Taming the Tiger, Joni Mitchell’s lyrics are more and more engaged. They reflect a fascination with Amerindian culture and her more and more pronounced disgust with all-powerful capitalism and the glorification of its winners, as much as with the ubiquitous values that make her aware that the particular time she is in is, perhaps, less and less hers. Is this why she decides to record the songs she listened to in her youth with a full orchestra? The album, Both Sides Now, produced by Larry Klein and arranged by Vince Mendoza, came out in February 2000. The hacks of New Musical Express were offended that she added to the repertoire of solid gold standards (“You’re My Thrill,” “Stormy Weather,” “Sometimes I’m Happy,” “You’ve Changed”…) two of her own gems, “A Case Of You” and “Both Sides Now.” They obviously forgot that these had also become full-fledged standards. Herbie Hancock makes his great return, and Wayne Shorter is there, of course. The spirit of Billie Holiday also. Never had Joni Mitchell plumbed with such depth her emotional abysses, with a voice now deeper, marked by the scars of life, and on which a modest veil would delicately fall—or of smoke? “I really don’t know life at all/It’s life’s illusion that I recall/I really don’t know life/I really don’t know life at all,” she sings on “Both Sides Now. One would love to know as little of life as she does. This would already be a great deal.
Shadows and Light
In the summer of 1979, Joni Mitchell launched herself on an American tour with Michael Brecker on saxophone, Pat Metheny on guitar, Lyle Mays on keyboards, Jaco Pastorius on bass and Don Alias on drums and percussion. Incredible all starts that she directed with mastery. Song by song, Michel Benita returns to her marvelous vision as seen on the VHS cassette of the concert in Santa Barbara, Shadows and Light.
In 1981, a friend returns from Los Angeles with some good and some bad news. The good, the recent release of a concert film of Joni Mitchell, Shadows and Light, on a VHS cassette. The bad, to watch it, you need a standard NTSC player, not available to us. Very luckily, he owns the precious machine and organizes for a happy few a private showing which will mark us for a long time. I ended up getting the NTSC player and the precious VHS, and several years later, I will give my friends the pleasure of seeing it in a memorable session. They still talk to me about it.
We had certainly heard that Joni Mitchell, our favorite singer since the album Blue and its predecessors, had chosen our favorites musicians for her 1979 tour, but not until the concert on September 9 at the Santa Barbara County Bowl had been immortalized on film. Without doubt, just behind Joni, there’s the guitarist Pat Metheny in a yellow t-shirt, next to bassist Jaco Pastorius in his white pants. Barely four or five years earlier, they came to shake up and refresh the jazz scene—as well as our lives as musicians in the making—with their first albums: Bright Size Life for Metheny and the well named Jaco, not to mention Black Market and Heavy Weather from Weather Report, in which the phenomenon of the bass has already imprinted its mark. The Pat Metheny Group has just released the ambitious and captivating American Garage. But they aren’t alone on this stage: a bit hidden by his keyboards, here is Lyle Mays, and, behind Jaco, the percussionist Don Alias, who we will discover is also an excellent drummer. Ad when in the fourth piece, on the images of a coyote chasing in the fresh snow, we recognize instantly the legendary saxophonist Michael Brecker, we are grateful to Joni Mitchell for having imposed, against winds and wave (and producers), her clear-cut artistic choices and her dream casting. For this concert’s set list, Joni had drawn from her four most recent albums, Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, Hejira, and Mingus, leaving to the side the hits of her earlier work. The video recording:
IN FRANCE THEY KISS ON MAIN STREET
EDITH AND THE KINGPIN
Despite its title, “In France They Kiss on Main Street,” there is little mention of our beautiful country in this piece. The singer recounts here the hectic 1950s of a young North American girl, right in the midst of the rock’n’roll revolution. The story of becoming an adult evokes American Graffiti, one of the first George Lucas films, released in 1973. From the first notes, illustrated by extracts from Rebel Without a Cause, with James Dean, we are seduced by the sound of the whole group ensemble and excited by the ease with which the musicians capture the Canadian’s universe, without distorting it. Certainly the version is faithful to that of The L.A. Express, who accompanied Joni previously, but what a groove and what quality in the interventions of each, notably in the very characteristic solo of Pat Metheny, punctuated, with the complicity of Lyle Mayes, with a nod to “Phase Dance,” the flagship title that opened all the shows of the Pat Metheny Group for at least a decade.
Many years later, we learned a bit more about the genesis of this tour. At the beginning, this ideal group wasn’t the one Joni hoped for. In fact, Weather Report, composed of Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter, Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine, having become a quasi-pop group, were supposed to share the bill with the singer in the first part, and then act as backing band. That did not take into account the oversized ego of Zawinul. The drummer, Peter Erskine, in his book No Beethoven, recalls the boss’s phone call: “The tour with Joni Mitchell will not happen I have told Jaco that he can go because of his long collaboration with her, but I do not want Wayne or you to participate.” But what has happened, responded the drummer? “I told her that we are not the fuckin’. L.A. Express.”
End of recess. However, the confrontation with another ego will, all the same, mark the beginnings of this tour, with a Jaco Pastorius named musical director, who will not show up until the rehearsals are well underway, fortunately replaced at a moment’s notice by Metheny, at all of 25 years old.
In an interview with Mojo magazine, Joni Mitchell speaks of her writing in “Edith and the Kingpin”: “sometimes you write about the exact thing you saw, but other times you take something that happened over here and put it with something over there. In “Edith and the Kingpin,” part of it is from a Vancouver pimp I met and part of it is Edith Piaf. It’s a hybrid, but all together it makes a whole truth. She gives it a dreamy version on Shadows and Light, more minimalist than the original. As a bonus, Jaco Pastorius takes us by surprise in about ten boosted seconds where he leads the group in his typical house funk, for an interlude illustrating the sentence “The band sounds like typewriters [L’orchestre sonne comme des machines à écrire].” Deluxe typewriters, it goes without saying.
“Coyote” is perhaps the title that sums up by itself the telepathic collaboration between Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius. It opens Hejira, the album which many, among them your humble servant, consider as the crown jewel of her discography. Mitchell, who according to her own admission was beginning to tire of predictable bassists, is totally mesmerized when her guitarist Robben Ford makes her listen to “Jaco.” Finally a bassist who dares to leave aside the fundamental role of the instrument, not hesitating to dialog with the soloist—or the singer—with a taste and a sense of instantaneous composition. So many undeniable qualities in this live version, just as essential as the original. This is a title Joni composed during her time in the celebrated Rolling Thunder Review, a tour of small places imagined by Bob Dylan, supposed to re-establish the intensity of his beginnings. The playwright, writer, and actor Sam Sheppard was on the trip and the text recounts their brief but nonetheless intense adventure, summed up laconically in these lines: “You just picked up a hitcher, a prisoner of the white lines on the freeway.” After the guitar intro, Jaco, like a magnetic dervish, arises with his famous harmonics, one of his signatures. He breathes into “Coyote” a drive at the same time robust, ample, and spatial, with his continuous back-and-forths between the melody and the groove that literally make the piece take off. Nice collaboration with Don Alias, who finds his congas, and with Pat Metheny, the undisputed king of crescendo, who astutely raises the intensity at the end of each verse. And to conclude the party, Jaco, dazzling with lyricism, comes to lay this superb melody on the last eight bars, as a reward. “Hejira,” “Amelia,” and “Black Crow,’ drawn from the same album, are in the same inspired vein. Pat Metheny in “Amelia” and Michael Brecker in “Black Crow” particularly deserve the spotlight.
FREE MAN IN PARIS
RAISED ON ROBBERY
Two of my favorite passages in the film. The quintet runs like clockwork on these two songs from Court and Spark, the highest selling Joni Mitchell album along with Blue. In “Free Man in Paris” Joni is particularly radiant and the joy of playing together is palpable. It’s interesting to observe the serene authority she exerts over the musicians, not at all overawed by this magnificent team. Her poise, tempo, and vocal placement command admiration, and the importance of her guitar playing cannot be overemphasized, based on a different open tuning [sic.] for each song. Given this, we see her change guitars regularly. Open tuning is quite simply the color and soul of her music. “Raised on Robbery” closes the loop by taking us back to her rock’n’roll fifties sound, with a humorous tribute from Lyle Mays in the style of Jerry Lee Lewis, leaving behind his keyboards for a “true” piano.
GOODBYE PORK PIE HAT
THE DRY CLEANER FROM DES MOINES
With these pieces from the album Mingus, we enter the most openly distinct jazz in Joni Mitchell’s universe. On “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat,” the famous Charles Mingus composition dedicated to the saxophonist Lester Young, Joni leaned on John Handy’s solo (1959) to write the words, in the style of singer Jon Hendricks, one of the heroes of her youth. In this highly perilous exercise, she excels, in this version even more than the studio one. You can listen to/watch this piece several times in a row, if only to focus on a particular aspect, sometimes Jaco’s bass part, an incredibly rich concentration of his palette, on Mike Brecker’s boosted solo, or of course on Joni’s vocal prowess. After THE famous Jaco solo (practically identical to the one he played every night with Weather Report), “The Dry Cleaner From Des Moines, a signature Mingus blues tune, brings this sequence to a close at a new summit of feverish musicality from the trio of Alias, Pastorius and Brecker. We are struck again by the quiet force of Joni, imperturbable and focused right at the center of a storm of virtuosity.
WHY DO FOOLS FALL IN LOVE
SHADOWS AND LIGHT
Throughout her discography, we can often appreciate the frequent references Joni Mitchell makes to the 1950s, in the form of very autobiographical lyrics or musical citations (“Unchained Melody” on the album Wild Things Run Fast or the reprise of “Twisted” on Court and Spark) and we quickly understand that she loved to surprise, even if it sometimes means upsetting her fans or her producers. To close this concert, she thus chose to revisit Frankie Lymon’s hit, “Why Do Fools Fall In Love,” accompanied by The Persuasions, all in a delightful doo wop style that shows off this vocal group, and prepares us for the twilit and superbly moving “Shadows and Light,” in which the words challenge the duality of the world, shadow and light, true and false, night and day, sustained by a magnificent keyboard part by the late Lyle Mays, who died in 2020. An almost philosophical finale, fully imbued with gospel gravity, as night falls on the County Bowl and its audience of young Californians, standing up to cheer the remarkable artist who has already accompanied their lives for a decade.
1943. Birth of Roberta Joan Anderson, the 7th of November, at Fort MacLeod, in Canada.
1953 At age 9 she contracts polio.
1962 First public performance, in a club in Saskatoon.
1965 In June, she marries the singer Charles “Chuck” Mitchell, with whom she is appearing as a duo. She begins to use her unusual guitar tunings (“open tunings”).
1966 On March 19, after his concert at Capitol Theater, Jimi Hendrix comes to hear her at the club Le Hibou and records the concert with her permission. Her first 33 rpm appears, Song To A Seagull (Reprise), produced by David Crosby.
1970 In June she participates in the Isle of Wight festival and bumps into Miles Davis in the wings before coming on stage.
1971 Release, in June, of Blue (Reprise), her first masterpiece.
1976 On November 20, during a benefit concert to save the whales in California, she plays in a trio with Jaco Pastorius on bass and percussionist Bobbye Hall.
1978 Begins working with Charles Mingus. Sings at the Bread and Roses Festival: superb versions of “A Chair In The Sky,” duet with Herbie Hancock, and “A [sic] Dry Cleaner From Des Moines,” sung a cappella.
1979 May 27, she performs at the Berkeley jazz Festival with Hancock, Pastorius, Tony Williams and Don Alias. June 15 at the Hollywood Bowl with Gene Perla instead of Jaco.
1980 July: her paintings are shown at the Vorpal Gallery in Laguna Beach.
1988 April 30: concert in Paris at the Champs-Elysees Theater.
1996 In May Brian Blade, drummer for the Joshua Redman quartet, joins Joni for a concert in Sweden.
2000 May-June: American tour, her last to date, with Mark Isham, Wallace Roney, Bob Sheppard, Larry Klein, Chuck Berghofer and Peter Erskine.
2002 She records 22 songs from her own repertoire, all eras combined, Travelogue, with the same team as Both Sides Now (Mendoza, Klein, Shorter, Hancock…), but also her fellow Canadian Kenny Wheeler on flugelhorn.
2007 Shine (Hear Music) is her last (and without a doubt final) album. River – The Joni Letters (Verve), a homage from Herbie Hancock, receives the prestigious Grammy Award for best album of the year.
2020 Archives – Volume 1 The Early Years (1963-1967) inaugurates a series of boxed sets, supervised by her and published by Rhino.
2021 In December, she attends a celebration of her music at the 44th Kennedy Center Honors. Herbie Hancock is present.
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