Brian Blade Leads ‘Joni 75: A Birthday Celebration’

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Norah Jones is among the artists who pay tribute to Joni Mitchell on a new album and DVD.

(Photo: The Music Center)

Adding to the challenge was the task of navigating Mitchell’s idiosyncratic rhythmic twists and serpentine melodies, which have foiled many singers.

Blade cited as an example Hansard, who didn’t know Mitchell’s work until her Hejira album. “From the first tribute we did together, Glen wanted to take on ‘Coyote,’” Blade said. “He spoke with Joni and got her OK, which encouraged him. He wanted to honor her. His delivery was so strong and his heart and timbre was so incredible.”

Hansard wasn’t the only contemporary pop star paying tribute. Carlile has been a big fan of Mitchell for some time and was thrilled that after the show her idol told her that her version of “Down To You”—which won a 1974 Grammy for Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists—got her high approval. Carlile sings the anguish while Cowherd stays true to the original’s unusual major/minor/diminished chordal structure; the band turns orchestral with Akinmusire’s trumpet filigree sketching the melodic theme.

Carlile is such a fan of Mitchell’s deep, emotive storytelling that on Oct. 14, she’s scheduled to perform a concert at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A. singing the entirety of 1971’s Blue.

As for Khan’s electrifyingly jazz-infused launch into “Help Me” (from Court And Spark), Blade said that they welcomed her arrangement. “Chaka told us, ‘This is what I want, and we said, ‘It’s going to be great.’ Chaka has had a long friendship with Joni, so this was so personal for her.”

A moving star of Joni 75 was Krall, who in a conversation backstage at her recent Umbria Jazz Festival appearance in Perugia, Italy, said, “It was a thrill to play for Joni, who over the last years has become a good friend. It was daunting to play in front of her, but it was also wonderful. We were all anticipating her arrival because she was running late, but when she arrived we gave her our love.” At the November celebration, Krall delivered poignant renditions of “Amelia” and “For The Roses” (included on the DVD).

“After I played ‘Amelia,’ I heard in the crowd, ‘Great,’ which was her because it was said in that Vancouver voice,” said Krall, a native of Nanaimo, British Columbia.

As for the latest update on Mitchell’s recovery, Khan reported a couple of months ago that they’ve been visiting each other, talking, going to shows, sharing drinks. Blade had telephone conversations with Mitchell before and after the Joni 75 shows. “Joni enjoyed what we did so much,” he said. “She felt celebrated and honored by what we all did. She was thankful, not disappointed.”

He paused and then added, “That’s what we were there for. It’s hard for me to call what we do entertainment. You can’t look at it that way. It’s all about giving praise and honor.” DB

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