Going back to Tradition

by Holger Erdmann
Stereo (German)
April 2000

Two years ago Joni Mitchell sung the classical song "The man I love" on Herbie Hancock's record "Gershwin's World." Now, she is dedicating a complete record to the Jazz tradition of the 20th century. Indeed, she achieves to give popular Jazz standards her own touch. Holger Erdmann interviewed Joni Mitchell.

Some years ago you said you are a searcher. Regarding your new album, what have you found or learned?

At least to sing a different kind. At home, I sang Jazz standards, but never in public.

Concerning this project, what was your imagination of the sound?

Actually, it was my intention to remember the musical summits of the last century, specifically concerning orchestration. This album should reflect Duke Ellington and Miles Davis - a concept, which was partly driven by the arranger Vice Mendoza, since he is a amateur of Gil Evan’s brass arrangements. And the two periods impressing me most regarding Miles Davis, are with Gil Evans on one hand, and with Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter on the other. In particular, the last phase is in accord with my personal ideals.

How important it was for you to have Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter performing on that album?

Very important. Wayne is indispensable. Without him, I can’t do a record. While we were producing the album, he was very busy. He and Herbie planned to make a tour and from Larry Klein I heard, that Wayne did not join. I said: „That’s impossible! He must!“ and called him up. „Wayne, you must. Otherwise I take a competitor“ (laughing). He replied: „Never! Nobody can do it like me!“ And indeed: There is no other sax player on the whole planet, which is able to substitute him. He has a distinguished way to deal with my music, the elements he is recording and realizing, his taste, his humor, his joking and this unbelievable sense for melodies.

Why did you record the tracks in London?

The main reason was that our orchestra - according to the opinion of many people - is the best in the whole World. We had a mixture of musicians of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Orchestra of the BBC, and from other orchestras from London, which was simply unique. In addition, we have had economical reasons. Herbie, Peter Erskine, and the drummer Chuck stayed already in London and we were able to produce in the ‘Air’-Studio - one of the best in order to record orchestras. That was much cheaper rather to produce in Los Angeles. The US’ trade unions would have made such a project in the States unaffordable.

What was the Equipment to record the material?

Beforehand, I have to mention it was the first time in my career I did not produce by myself. I simply enjoyed singing my parts, without taking care about the compositions, the production, and playing instruments. I believe, we did the recording on hard disc and the mix later with older analog equipment to achieve a warmer sound.

What do you look at the current music scene?

Music has suffered, since today everybody believes to be a musician and is capable writing the lyrics. Before the singer/songwriter phenomenen you have had the composer, somebody writing the lyrics and the singer. Specializing in those tasks yielded a certain standard, which became miserable these days. Today, we have a lot of mediocre.


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