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Elton John, James Taylor Pay Tribute To Joni Mitchell   Print

by Frank Tortorici
SonicNet website
April 9, 2000

NEW YORK — Posters adorning the walls of the Hammerstein Ballroom on Thursday said it all: "Pop, Rock, Jazz and Soul: One Woman Changed Them All."

A tribute to Joni Mitchell there honored the singer/songwriter with a musical celebration featuring piano rocker Elton John, folk rocker James Taylor, recent jazz Grammy Award winner Diana Krall and others.

The artists spoke of Mitchell's influences on music over the last 30 years and sang some of her best-known songs before the stage was cleared for an orchestra to back Mitchell on her late '60s signature song, "Both Sides Now" (RealAudio excerpt). Dressed in a gray, willowy dress with a regal auburn jacket over her shoulders, Mitchell sang the tune in the torch singer mode she employs on her latest LP, Both Sides Now, on which the 56-year-old Canadian covers pop/jazzstandards.

"She played guitar and was a singer/songwriter ... and I was a little girl, and there wasn't too many of them," pop singer Cyndi Lauper said backstage about how Mitchell had influenced her. "I hoped that someday I could be a great artist like her. It's a privilege for me to behere."

Country singer Wynonna and pop rocker Bryan Adams opened the tribute — produced by and scheduled to air on the TNT cable network on April 16 — with a rollicking duet on Mitchell's "Raised on Robbery." Lauper delivered a slow, moody version of "Carey," from Mitchell's seminal Blue (1971). Wearing a shiny green top with a black jacket and pants, Lauper thrust her hands up at the sides of her face and swayed back and forth as she emoted. The cameras caught Mitchell in the audience tapping her toes to the singer's performance. Lauper was one of the night's few singers to reach the high-octave range that Mitchell had in her heyday. Musical director/bassist Larry Klein, who is Mitchell's ex-husband, led a team of musicians equally suited to rock, folk, soul and jazz numbers. Jazz singer Cassandra Wilson offered a take on "The Dry Cleaner >From Des Moines," off Mitchell's controversial Mingus, which put her words to the music of jazz great Charles Mingus.

'Woodstock' Revisited

Before Wilson, British folk rocker and former Fairport Convention member Richard Thompson sang a faithful version of the song Mitchell wrote about the epochal 1969 music festival, "Woodstock"(RealAudio excerpt). Wearing a black beret, Thompson delivered the line "We've got to get ourselves back to the garden" with gravity.

Celebrity baby boomers in the audience, including talk show host Rosie O'Donnell and actress Goldie Hawn, were visibly moved. Rock group Stone Temple Pilots had been scheduled to perform the song, but they pulled out at the last minute.

Thompson later performed the most rock-oriented song of the night, "Black Crow," from the classic Hejira (1976), highlighting his blazing electric guitar. John performed "Free Man in Paris," Mitchell's 1974 ode to record mogul and DreamWorks co-founder David Geffen. "I've played before the Queen of England," the bespectacled veteran said as he gestured toward Mitchell from his piano. "It's not so intimidating as having such a great musician there."

John introduced a beaming Krall, who captivated the audience with "A Case of You."Far-Reaching Inspiration First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, via videotape, discussed President Clinton's and her decision to name their daughter after Mitchell's "Chelsea Morning" before introducing pop/folk-rocker Shawn Colvin and country/folk singer Mary Chapin Carpenter to sing that song as well as perhaps Mitchell's most famous tune, "Big YellowTaxi" (RealAudio excerpt).Colvin addressed Mitchell: "Joni, it's such an honor to be here. ... I don't know what I would have done without you." Colvin returned later with Chapin Carpenter for "Amelia," the song inspired by aviator Amelia Earhart that had Mitchell, with eyes closed, swaying in her seat.

Taylor sang Mitchell's sad Christmastime song "River," before country siren k.d. lang received loud applause for her take on Mitchell's jazzy "Help Me," from Court andSpark. "She's a deep well," Taylor said backstage about Mitchell, his early '70s girlfriend.

Lang said, "A very sturdy standard has been set by Joni. It's a very proud thing to be a Canadian songwriter." Lang said she would be participating in an upcoming tribute LP to Mitchell, along with such artists as Stevie Wonder and Sarah McLachlan.

After Mitchell sang, she remained onstage as most of the evening's performers were led by female a cappella blues/soul/jazz ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock through "The Circle Game," Mitchell's early sing-alongsong.

"It's such a surrealistic event, you can imagine," Mitchell told the audience at the sold-out show. The tribute, hosted by Wynonna's sister, actress Ashley Judd, also featured spoken tributes to Mitchell's music and paintings by actors Susan Sarandon and Laurence Fishburne as well as crooner Tony Bennett.

 

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