An all-star tribute to the jazzy Joni Mitchell

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For many American women who came of age in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Joni Mitchell songs like “Woodstock” and the poetic, sorrowful “Blue” are major generational milestones. In last year’s “The Kids are All Right,” the character played by Annette Bening loves the ‘Blue’ record so deeply she even names her daughter after the Canadian singer-songwriter.

But that’s not quite the Joni Mitchell who will be celebrated at the Hollywood Bowl Wednesday night. “Joni’s Jazz,” as it’s called, will look at the troubadour’s transition into jazz improvisation and jazz instruments –- as well as her employing major jazz musicians –- in the mid- and late ‘70s.

Herbie Hancock, who put out a Grammy-winning album of Mitchell’s music in 2007 and will be one of the concert’s featured soloists, admits that her songs are not easy to play. “Her music definitely is challenging –- it’s full of the unexpected,” the pianist says, describing unusual guitar tunings, sudden key changes and melodic turns that make the songs intricate and individual. “It’s very much linked to what she’s saying –- she’ll change keys because it shows something happening in the lyrics.”

Wednesday’s concert, which will include the 1975 album “The Hissing of Summer Lawns,” played in its entirety, will also include saxophonist Wayne Shorter, alt-rocker Aimee Mann, jazz singer Cassandra Wilson, and others.


Of the artists assembled, Hancock, who went from modal, impressionistic jazz in the ‘60s to funk and beyond in the ‘70s and after, matches Mitchell’s stylistic restlessness. He’s hoping for “a flow to the concert as a whole,’ emphasizing “it’s not a tribute concert -– it’s more descriptive of a specific period, arguably her greatest period. And I say arguably because Joni’s still alive –- she sounds better than ever.’


Jazz and other artists talk about their debt to Joni Mitchell

-- Scott Timberg