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A Jazzy Take On Joni Print-ready version

by Keith Spera
New Orleans Times-Picayune
May 26, 2000

Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell's influence cuts a broad swath across popular music. Her devotees can be found among musicians of all genres and generations.

A cross-section of Mitchell's local admirers, plus visiting jazz pianist David Lahm, will pay homage to her during a tribute concert Sunday at the Howlin' Wolf. Scheduled performers include Anders Osborne; the Jason Marsalis Quintet; guitarists Billy Gregory and Brian Stoltz; singers Leslie Smith, Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris and Mary Serpas; jazz duo Bill Solley and Kim Prevost; singer/songwriter Gina Forsyth and many more. Proceeds benefit the Ruth Paz Foundation, founded by concert organizer Michael Paz to transport sick children from Central and South America to the United States for treatment.

Pianist and composer Lahm's affinity for Mitchell is well-documented: In 1999, the Arkadia Jazz label released his "Jazz Takes on Joni Mitchell," a collection of instrumental interpretations of her music. For his set at the Wolf, he'll be backed by a band of locals, including guitarist Brian Seeger, saxophonists John Ellis, Ray Moore and Tim Green, drummer Kevin Aucoin and bassist Roland Guerin.

Modern jazz drummer Marsalis was introduced to Mitchell via her 1976 album "Hejira"; "Court and Spark," "The Hissing of Summer Lawns" and "Ladies of the Canyon" followed. He had intended to arrange a Mitchell composition or two for his own band; when Paz invited him to be a part of Sunday's show, he had his excuse.

So Marsalis and his quintet -- himself on drums, plus bass, two saxophones and piano -- will render "In France They Kiss on Main Street" and a handful of other Mitchell compositions as jazz instrumentals. Transferring her unusual phrasing and ever-shifting melodic structures to instrumental passages was a challenge.

"Traditional songwriters write lyrics to match the notes," Marsalis said. "Not Joni Mitchell. Joni Mitchell's vibe is, 'Whatever the words are, that's it. Note-wise, it doesn't matter -- we're fitting these words in.' She might have a lot of syllables, and the melody has one note -- she'd just fit them in. So her melodies have a shape, but they're never the same. The tricky thing has been trying to figure out that melodic shape."

Admission to Sunday's show is $10; show time is 8 p.m.

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Added to Library on January 16, 2001. (6416)


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