Once a week on Friday, Uncle Bardie celebrates the creativity in others by shining a Spotlight on a movie, a song or a creator. This week’s Spotlight Creator is the amazing Joni Mitchell:
You can tell the quality of a musician by the quality of the musicians who back them up. Joni Mitchell performed at the Santa Barbara Bowl in September 1979. And she was backed up by some of the best jazz musicians of the time. There’s Pat Metheny on lead guitar; Jaco Pastorius, bass; Don Alias,drums, percussion; Lyle Mays, piano and synthesizer); and Michael Brecker on saxophones. All playing a live version of “Free Man in Paris.” If I had known nothing about Joni, I would have been impressed with that lineup.
But I had watched Joni’s career over the years. She just got better and better. In the 1960s, she had broken through with her first five albums that included “Both Sides Now,” “Chelsea Morning,” “Woodstock” and “Big Yellow Taxi.” But it was her 1974 album “Court and Spark” that caught my fancy. There wasn’t a bad song on the album.
It was the early seventies. The time of the singer-songwriter. Even more so, it seemed to be the time of the women. There was Carl King with her “Tapestry”. There was Carly Simon. There was Linda Ronstadt. And there was Joni Mitchell.
There was Joni Mitchell. What a talent. She’s been called the female Bob Dylan. Maybe we would be calling Dylan the male Joni Mitchell if Joni had been first. And like Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, she is an artist with a restless spirit. Never satisfied to rest on their laurels. Always willing to take risks and walk out on that tightrope without a net. To me that is what a true artist does. Even when they fail, they don’t give up trying to let their art take them wherever.
Here’s the title and opening song of “Court and Spark“:
Starting out as a folk singer and composer, she honed her skills until songs like this. Her performance of “Songs to Aging Children” from her album “Clouds”. This is where I first discovered Joni as she sang it in Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant” in 1969.
Following her muse, she found her way into jazz on albums like “Hejira,” “Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter” and “Mingus.” And she has continued to give us gems like her version of Bob Nolan’s “Cool Water” with Willy Nelson on her “Chalk Mark in a Rain Storm” album.