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Echoes of Jazz in Joni Mitchell’s Early Music

by Avigayil Yucht
September 20, 2021
Original article: PDF

Ed note: We highly recommend downloading the PDF (above) to read this document. We present the main text below (so it can be indexed) but cannot faithfully represent the footnotes and figures the document contains.

Avigayil Yucht, Department of Music
Bar-Ilan University


Joni Mitchell (b. 1943), known as among the preeminent folk singer-songwriters of the twentieth century, surprised listeners with her shift towards jazz experimentation in 1974 with her album Court and Spark and caused negative backlash among critics in 1979 with her collaborative work, Mingus, together with jazz musician, Charles Mingus. Although these conscious shifts did occur, I would like to argue that Joni Mitchell was influenced by jazz even in her early work. This influence can be found rooted in an early love of jazz and a desire to emulate the harmonic and melodic stylings of the crooners, while maintaining the narrative depth similar to that of Bob Dylan. Echoes of jazz can be found in multiple analytical dimensions. Mitchell utilizes "jazzlike" chords in many (if not most) of her early songs. She frequently incorporates shifting through modes and scales in her music. Her melodic lines often include notes that deviate from the accompanying chord, syncopated lines, and in some cases, what conveys the feeling of improvisation around a melody line through variation. In various songs, she incorporates jazz idioms, like "trumpet" and clarinet solos. Viewed in this light- of early influence and experimentation- it is no wonder that Joni Mitchell delved into the realm of jazz more freely as her career progressed.

To accomplish my goal of a deeper understanding of Mitchell's early music and its relation to jazz music, I have chosen five songs, one from each of her early albums and analyzed harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, structural, and idiomatic components. Then, I organized a brief overview of the components of jazz and compared these elements to characteristics I have found in my analysis. Next, I reviewed biographical sources to explore a possible contextualization for my analytical findings and delved into alternative explanations as well. Afterwards, I include the fifth and final song analysis, as an expression of the text and context viewed together.

Song Analyses

"I Had a King" Song to a Seagull (1968)

"I Had a King" is Joni Mitchell's first song on her first album. It's in verse-chorus structure and is accompanied by a guitar. The key starts off in A major but jumps to A minor almost immediately. It also incorporates Dorian mode. The piece rarely deviates from a pedal point of a and even when the bassline changes at the second half of the verse, a is still present in accompaniment, and returns to the a pedal point for the chorus. (The use of pedal point is very much folk-derived, though jazz musicians use pedal point to create tonal ambiguity which arguably happens here as well. ) The chord progression for the first half of the verse is A-Am9-A2(omit3)-Fmaj7/A. The second half of the verse: Amadd9- Em7/A- Am7- E2(omit3)/A- Amadd9- Em7/A- Am7- E2(omit 3). The chorus basically remains on Asus4 the entire time aside from three half measure in which the phrase ends on an A major. The chorus ends on Am9-A and the song ends on the ambiguous A2(omit 3). While the song rarely moves from varieties of A, its texture is rich with dissonances which lend to the feeling of unclarity presented by the lyrics of the song.

The melody consists of many quirks. Nearly the entirety of the verses is sung in syncopated melody rhythm with a hemiola in measures 5, 7, and 8. The chorus contains more rhythmic regularity in the melody, but the accompaniment adds layers of polyrhythm. The melody quickly moves from being sung on chord tones to emphasizing tones dissonant to the base chord by measure 7, in addition to distinctively modulating from c sharp to c natural with only a b in between. A major motif of the melody in the first half of the verses (mm 5-12) is the jump a third down and a fourth back up twice in a row. An interesting element in the second half of the verse melody (mm 12-20) is the double grace notes (see figure 1). In contrast to the verses, the melody in the chorus contains just four notes that ascend, which is repeated four times. The leading tone of the A major scale is emphasized in the melody here, though harmonized with Asus4. Throughout the melody, the quick paced notes seem to be balanced out by the sustained notes at the tail end of many of the phrases.

"I Don't Know Where I Stand" Clouds (1969)

"I Don't Know Where I Stand" is Joni Mitchell's third song off her second album. It begins each verse in D Mixolydian and transitions to F major for the second half of each verse. The intro begins with guitar playing an arpeggiated B♭m(add9)- Gm(add4)- Gm(add4)/F- Fadd9- Dadd9. The chord progression for the verses is as follows :

Then, Joni includes a vocally simulated trumpet solo that continues in what seems to be the key of F-with modal mixture- as follows: III-II-iv-ii-I. The second "trumpet" solo that she uses as an ending varies on the melody that appears in the first solo.

The guitar accompaniment remains in eighth notes for the entirety of the piece, and frequently the rhythm of the melody syncopates with this uniformity. The melody and melodic rhythm-as seen in the other examples as well- changes to suit the words. It also includes a lot of trills and glissandos (that are not presented in my version of the sheet music.) Dissonant notes are included in various manners: appoggiaturas (such as in the first measure of the verse and onward), emphasizing non-chord tones in the melody (such as in measure three of the melody when she sings d over a C major triad), and through suspending notes (like with the phrase "in California and talking to you" when she holds g and changes the chord to F7).

"My Old Man" Blue (1971)

"My Old Man" is Mitchell's second song off her fourth album, Blue. It is a piano driven piece that's polymodal in A major and tonic Dorian. It is in verse-bridge form, with what appears to be a chorus more accurately described as an extended refrain. Although it's set in A major to begin with, it sounds tonally ambiguous- the intro begins with Dadd9, moves to D/E, forays briefly into and E triad but regresses back to D/E- D/A before peeking into A and returning back to D/A. The verses seem to hover around the D triad (which varyingly appears with d, a, and even e in the bass.) The first couple appearances of the dominant seventh chord are in a suspended format, leaving out the tension to resolve to the A triad. (This suspension of the leading tone and modal ambiguity occurs in earlier songs as well, such as "Sisotowbell Lane" from Mitchell's first album, Song to a Seagull.) And when A does appear, it is as a suspended seventh chord and then as Am7 and A7. Despite this complexity, the general progression tends to follow the simple skeleton: IV-V-IV-I etc. The bridge veers into even more ambiguous harmonic territory, with A♭m7 to B♭m to G♭major7- D♭-D♭m7-B and then through a modulatory piano interlude back to D.

Although harmonically the song appears to avoid its supposed tonic triad, the melody lines of the verses begin and end on a, though the refrain once again emphasizes d. The melody is characterized by many large jumps. Already in measure 5 (the second measure on the first verse), the melody jumps a minor seventh interval; this repeats through most of the iterations of the verses. The rhythm of the notes is generally regular, until Mitchell adds variation to the melody; in fact, variation typifies the performance of the verses. The refrain melody is particularly unique. It begins in measure 13 with an octave jump and proceeds to oscillate between d and c# only to rise to e and jump down a major sixth, ascend chromatically to a and then jump down once again a major 7th from c# to d. The second half of the phrase chromatically ascends d-d#-e and then chromatically descends g#-g-f#. All this occurs over the course of five measures. Rhythmically, Mitchell dusts in more syncopation. The melody of the bridge is equally surprising. It moves a half step down from f# then jumps down a tritone to b, moves a half step down to b♭, chromatically ascends to c♭ and then jumps up an augmented fourth to f natural. It rises g♭-a♭-b♭ then jumps down a ninth to a♭. From there it jumps up a major sixth to f natural and back down to a♭, jumps back up a minor sixth to f♭, rising to g♭ and finaly finishes on c♭.

At various points throughout the song, Mitchell plays with the metric flow by switching to 2/4 for lone bars, specifically in the refrain with the words "hall" and "blues".

The piano accompaniment is generally arpeggios in the left hand and harmonic in the right hand, but at the start of the refrain, Mitchell plays a counter melody. This sort of counter melody is played again with the bridge and breaks off into an interlude between the bridge and the following verse. The song ends with a surprisingly simplistic IV-I-IV-I...ii-I-ii-I movement underscoring the word "blues." This emphasis on a plagal cadence is reminiscent of the common twelve bar blues progression, especially considering the word it accompanies.

"Lesson in Survival" For the Roses (1972)

"Lesson in Survival" is Mitchell's fourth song on her fifth album For the Roses. It is polymodal ; the intro and successive piano interludes are played in A Mixolydian, and the verses begin in G major and then move to A major. It is in strophic form with the internal structure of the verses including A, B and partial A' sections, though each verse does vary. The song is largely in 4/4 time, though lone measures deviate. In the first verse, there are measures in 5/4, 6/4, 9/8 and 2/4. The second verse is more regular with deviations only to 6/4 and then 5/4, while the third verse goes to 3/4, 3/8, 3/4 again, and 7/8.

A major harmonic characteristic of this song is "slash" chords. For instance, the first four measures of the song are played over the bass of g-d though the right hand moves between G and D major triads. This continues at different points over a (in the intro and interludes), over e, and over f#. Additionally, there are times when the chord in the right hand is played over not only the "slash note" of the left hand, but also the note that is a fifth above the bass note, (this similarly occurs in "My Old Man,") (see figure 2).

The progression of the intro and interludes is: A7sus-A-G/A-A...
The A part of the verse is: G- D/G...E/A- D- A/D
The B part is: E- D/E- A/E- E- D/G- F#m7- D/E- E/A- F#m7- E/F#
The A' part is sung over G2/E for four measures.

The melody is mostly composed of eighth notes, sixteenth notes, and eighth-note triplets, with the occasional dotted eighth- sixteenth and tied notes. The phrasing frequently begins on a weak beat or even after an eighth-note rest or a dotted quarter-note rest, lending to the variety, syncopation, and a fluid speech-like quality. The melody phrasing tends to syncopate or contrast with the regularity of the right-hand accompaniment that usually falls on the first and third beat of the measure. The A part of the verses hovers around notes b and d, then dramatically jumps up to c# from e, and meanders back down to the lower register. The B part of the verses bases itself at g# and jumps from c# (at middle c) up an octave. The A' section returns to b but holds e for two measures right before the end of the verse for the first two verses; in the last verse, this e is shortened while the final b is extended.

Variation is frequently used to accommodate the words, but in some instances, it is not vital to this accommodation. For example, a blue note appears in the B section of the first verse over the words "know my needs" but has no corresponding appearances in the other two verses. A rhythmic variation that isn't repeated is the swing Joni adds in the first verse to the words "survival" and "bible".

Another characteristic of the melody is the frequent emphasis of non-chord tones (as shown in figure 4 with the words "know" and again "my sweet"). This, accompanied with the fifths in the left-hand results in harmonic richness, as if two chords are co-occurring. In figure 2, the first measure has a simultaneous E minor and D major (alternatively Emin13,) and the second measure has E major and A major (an A11 chord).

Summary of Song Analysis

Many distinctive elements appear throughout these five songs, taken as samples from Joni Mitchell's first five albums. Each song displays a lot of variation. This variation frequently seems to service the emotional narrative of the song and emphasizes special words that may contrast with parallel phrases in other verses. This variation that fits the lyrics is surprising as Joni is quoted as saying, "I get the melody first and then I write out three sets of lyrics before I'm satisfied. Usually I think the melody is too pretty for the lyrics." This statement indicates a level of intentionality at the variation of each phrase.

Each song utilizes syncopation, by deemphasizing the strong beats in the melody, contrasted with a more regular rhythm in the accompaniment. The melodies presented here often emphasize notes external to the accompanying triad- there are many instances in Joni's music where she sings a dissonant note over a chord that does not contain it - and her chords frequently include dissonant tones. She frequently jumps large, and sometimes dissonant intervals.

All of the present songs include modulations and modal mixing. Lloyd Whitesell writes, "[p]olymodal bases as these in fact represent the most common harmonic scheme found throughout Mitchell's career." Sometimes the key is ambiguous (like the start of "My Old Man", and the entirety of "I Had a King"; Whitesell notes a similar ambiguity in "Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire" from For the Roses. )

Her songs are written in a variety of forms, from regular strophic, to verse-refrain-verse, or verse-chorus-verse or bridge form. She also has songs that are through-composed, such as "Blue", "Blonde in the Bleachers" and "The Arrangement" which were not touched on here. Another element elucidated by Whitesell is that "Mitchell characteristically avoids uniform phrase length." This is notable in the songs in sampled for this analysis as well, although this is not an element I chose to dwell on. Additionally, Mitchell plays with metric flow throughout her first five albums as well as Court and Spark. We saw this in "My Old Man" and "Lesson in Survival" but it occurs as well in many other songs.

My analysis only includes a very limited sample of her early work, but many of the harmonic elements are noted more comprehensively by Lloyd Whitesell in his book The Music of Joni Mitchell, where he organizes Joni's music into various harmonic styles.

Jazz and How it Compares

The purpose of this paper is not to define what "jazz" is. That would be beyond the scope of my capability and apparently that of most music researchers as well:

Although few jazz historians have delineated what they mean by the term "jazz," most have adamantly taken it to refer to something specific and have fiercely guarded its borders, often by objecting to what is included or excluded from jazz history as interpreted by other writers, past and present. For those historians whose debates do attempt to define jazz in musical terms, perhaps the most influential principles were laid out in the 1940s in the disagreement between Hugues Panassié, who found the essence of jazz in its stylistic and rhythmic qualities, and Robert Goffin, for whom jazz was defined by its emphasis on improvisation.

Instead of attempting to enter this long-standing debate and defining Joni's music based on "improvisation" or "stylistic and rhythmic qualities" as jazz or not-jazz, I will simply compare elements of jazz to elements of Joni.


First, the most ubiquitous chord progression in jazz is ii-V(7)-I. I found no evidence of this progression in the songs I have analyzed from Joni's early music. This would indicate that she was not intending to imitate a specific sound from the world of jazz, as this would likely have been the most accessible and easily imitable. Another common progression is "V of V" meaning, playing the dominant of the dominant. Possible hints of this progression can be found in "I Don't Know Where I Stand": (D)-C-(D)-F7-Bflat, and in "My Old Man" with the use of the tonic in a dominant 7th format, pulling it to its subdominant (although the progression E7-A7-D does not show up directly.)

Slash chords are when a triad is played over a note that is not a tonic of that chord. Jazz musicians didn't begin playing them commonly until the 1960s, but Miles Davis, was playing them already in the 1950s. Mitchell uses many slash chords throughout her early work. I found examples of slash chords in "My Old Man," "Lesson in Survival," and in a manner in "I Had a King".

While it is not something that is found in every jazz piece, a common element in jazz harmonics is a section of a song modulated to a different key. More commonly, jazz musicians will make use of the "mode" of any given chord in order to improvise over it. (Modal jazz began in the late 1950s with Miles Davis's Kind of Blue, and other musicians followed in the 60s.) So, while no key change is taking place, many modes are being utilized. Similarly, most of Joni's music modulates to a different mode or key.

It was common in jazz as early as the 1930s for jazz musicians like Duke Ellington to play the 9th, 11th, 13th notes over seventh chords. We find evidence of this, even in her earliest songs, like "I Had a King" in the second measure of the verses, and in "I Don't Know Where I Stand". Charles Ford notes the following in his overview of Joni's music:

A different type of dissonance arises when the note Joni Mitchell sings does not correspond with its harmonic accompaniment. For instance, she might sing g1 over F major, or d2 over A minor. This type of melody/chord disagreement has been common practice in post-war jazz...

Harmonic ambiguity is a phenomenon that has existed in jazz since the early 60s with the advent of modal jazz. This is achieved using stacks of 4ths. Joni's music also includes harmony that is ambiguous, through her extensive use of suspended chords. Other examples include "Ladies of the Canyon" in which she plays an A minor but sings an a# (see Whitesell's analysis). Pedal point is sometimes used by jazz musicians to enable tonal ambiguity. We see this same technique used in "I Had a King". Furthermore, sus chords became common in jazz music in the late 1950s early 1960s, but Duke Ellington was already using them in the 1930s-1940s. Miles Davis also used one in 1956 where he alternated between A♭sus and A♭7#11. We see that sort of alternating in "My Old Man," "I Had a King," (and further on in this paper in "For Free,") and free use of sus chords throughout Joni's music. In fact, Joni refers to sus chords as "chords of inquiry" and makes free use of them in her music; people would call these sus chords that she used "Joni's weird chords," which indicates a level of pervasiveness in her work.

Melody, Rhythm, Form, and Instrumentation

A common element of bebop jazz is an added chromatic passing tone in order to enable a more effective emphasis of chord tones. A similar technique is notable in "My Old Man."

Syncopation is possibly a defining element of jazz music. It is created by placing accents on unexpected parts of the bar that seem to contrast with the meter. A common way to do this is by swinging eighth notes. Another way is through rests and tied notes. Joni's melodies are very often syncopated using rests and ties.

"Swing" is a rhythmic treatment of eighth notes in jazz that treats the pair like a set of triples by elongating the first of an eighth note pair to be the length of a quarter note (two eighth notes of a triplet set) and shortens the second note to be an eighth note of a triplet, which enables syncopation. We hear swinging of notes in "Lesson in Survival," the chorus of "I Had a King," and in the third verse of "I Don't Know Where I Stand" on the words "muted" and "know."

Jazz music began exploring alternative time signatures in the late 1950s with the Brubeck Quartet's Time Out. In Joni's music, she plays with metric flow and complex time signatures, seen distinctively in "Lesson for Survival."

A common form in jazz is taking a "head" or a theme and playing multiple variations around it. Joni makes free use of variation in her melodies, rarely singing the verses in an identical manner. This is done very clearly in "Lesson in Survival," (as well as in "A Case of You." )

Jazz music frequently contains trumpets, saxophones, and solo pianos. Although horns are rare in Joni's music, she does have a saxophone solo in "For Free" and "He Comes For Conversation." (She begins using more jazzlike instruments in For the Roses with her introduction of winds and percussion.) She also simulates a trumpet solo in "I Don't Know Where I Stand." Additionally, the piano is given a soloing role in "My Old Man" and plays a counter melody to the voice. This piano styling is also reminiscent of the "polyphonic weave" of New Orleans jazz.

It is clear that Joni Mitchell's music shares many elements that are ubiquitous in jazz music. Although not any element is by definition "jazz," the number and pervasiveness of overlapping qualities indicates that there may in fact be a connection between Joni and jazz.

Where Joni Meets Jazz and Alternative Evaluations

Where Joni Meets Jazz

Whitesell considers For the Roses a transitional album, looking forward towards Mitchell jazz exploration, but perhaps it is an album more clearly looking back toward Joni's early proclivities. Even at a young age, Joni was drawn to more complex melodies. Among the music that she chose to listen to in high school were jazz musicians: Ray Charles, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, and Johnny Hodges. And significantly, she adored the vocal jazz ensemble Lambert, Hendricks, & Ross. Joni is quoted as saying,

My jazz background began with one of the early Lambert, Hendricks and Ross albums, the one called 'The Hottest New Sound in Jazz.' It was hard to find in Canada, so I saved up and bought it at a bootleg price. I considered that album to be my Beatles. I learned every song off of it, and I don't think there is another album anywhere - including my own - on which I know every note and word of every song.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross's undertaking was to translate the big band sound into a small jazz vocal ensemble: they used their voices as the primary instruments. Perhaps echoes of this instrumental style of singing can be found in Joni's "trumpet solo" in "I Don't Know Where I Stand," and the unusual number of melodic leaps in her music for popular melodies. Additionally, perhaps the instances of blues-based elements- for example the blue-note I noted in the first verse of "Lesson in Survival"- can be traced back to Mitchell's familiarity with Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Songs like "Moanin'" - which can be found on the album referenced by Joni Mitchell- were expressions of a move in jazz music in the 1950s to incorporate more blues stylings.

Whitesell delineates Joni's second period of songwriting, starting with her sixth album, Court and Spark, as follows:

Throughout her second style period, Mitchell combines characteristic elements of her musical language - for example, extended harmonies, modal/tonal complexity, flexible melodic phrasing, and syncopated rhythmic hooks - so as to evoke an affinity with jazz.

As previously discussed, the elements Whitesell lists are also characteristic of her early music. They are, perhaps, simply not used with the same intentionality to "evoke an affinity with jazz" as they are used in the second period of songwriting.

Alternative Evaluations

But despite this early affinity towards jazz music, I can't ignore that other possibilities can play a role in explaining unique elements of her musical style. There is also a connection to classical genres, an explanation regarding her use of alternative tunings, and the obvious folk music connection.

Firstly, the modulatory nature of Joni's music can be explained by an early love of classical music. Modulation is very common in classical music and, for example, plays an instrumental role in sonata form. Additionally, the richness of her melodies and harmonies can also be influence by this love of classical music, especially those by-in the words of Lloyd Whitesell- "composers known for melodic and harmonic invention" like Chopin, Rachmaninov, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, and Stravinsky. (Stravinsky's ballet, Rite of Spring is a great example of "discordant harmonies and convulsive metric irregularities" which perhaps has aided in developing Joni's affinity towards dissonance and the metric irregularities found in "Lesson in Survival" and "My Old Man.") Whitesell draws connections to her piano stylings and Schumann, describing the piano introduction to "Rainy Night House" (Ladies of the Canyon, 1970) as having "Schumannesque...expansiveness." Furthermore, Mitchell has compared her songs to German Lieder as opposed to the typical pop song.

Secondly, it is possible that a lack of training, in addition her hand weakened by polio, are what led to the inventiveness of her harmonies. Charles Ford argues that the harmonic richness in her early guitar and dulcimer pieces was the result of the randomness of her tunings. He argues that the harmonies arise in an undirected manner, unlike jazz harmonies. Lloyd Whitesell argues that Joni's lack of training enabled a freedom from musical preconceptions. But as opposed to Ford, Whitesell proposes that it was because of Mitchell's "highly diversified field of harmonic resources" (which included folk and jazz modal harmonies, "the sophisticated language of standard American songwriters", and the stylings of romantic and modern classical composers,) that she experimented with tunings. Meaning, the effect that Joni was chasing guided the tuning and it is not the tunings that guided the results. (I personally prefer Whitesell's interpretation, as it gives Joni more credit for her compositions.)

Thirdly, Joni's connection to folk music could in large part explain the modality of her music. To quote Whitesell: "Modal harmony was already a common alternative for popular music in the late twentieth century; folk-derived styles in particular grew out of a venerable tradition of modal usage." Folk-music frequently uses Aeolian, Mixolydian, and Dorian modes, which commonly appear throughout Joni's music. Modal mixture was also common in popular music at the time, but Joni's use of it is "unprecedented" with 130 of her 152 songs using modal mixture. Additionally, the large leaps that I've noted in Joni's melodies could be attributed her familiarity with folksong tunes.

But even early on in her career when she was playing covers of folk songs, Joni was drawn to more experimental and individualistic aspects of music. She experimented with more dissonant harmonies and chromatic progressions. For example, in her rendition of "Sail Away," she arranges the piece with a "jarring tritone chord progression that is not in the original" (in the words of Rob Weinert-Kendt) and continues to utilize this sort of progression throughout her career. An example of Joni adding chromaticism can be found in her rendition of "Pastures of Plenty" by Woodie Guthrie, in which I noted a chromatic descent in the guitar accompaniment.

Furthermore, Mitchell was influenced by Bob Dylan. Joni's whole understanding of being a songwriter who put poetry to music came from Dylan. The chant like effect in some of her songs when she hovers over a couple of note patterns is inspired by Dylan and folksingers.

Ultimately, the singularity and profundity of Joni's music can be traced to her fusion of elements and inventiveness. Joni states, "I loved the beautiful melodies that belonged to the Crooner era. But those melodies had very simple texts, there wasn't much room for poetic description...but I liked the more storytelling quality of Dylan's work." This is a clear example of Joni's desire to take the best of each world: the folk/singer-songwriting of Dylan, and the melodies of the Crooners, which were of jazz derivation. Joni compares herself and relates to Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinsky, Claude Debussy, and late Marvin Gaye as her harmonic peers, another mixture of modern-classical and jazz.

Joni expresses that she never wanted to imitate anything and always wanted to be authentic, so it is logical that the beginning of her career is characterized by a subtle fusion of elements, rather than an imitation of any one style. In fact, as stated in Stuart Smith's book Jazz Theory, "The rhythmic, harmonic, and formal components together confine jazz to a fairly narrow range of musical possibilities." Perhaps Joni's early music was not yet ready to be confined to the limitations of jazz and she drew on other musical forms to gain freedom in her music.

Final Song Analysis: "For Free" Ladies of the Canyon (1970)

This song starts off with a piano opening that, for merely two bars, emphasizes off-beats and uses triplets to create a syncopated feel, then veers into a more regular rhythmic accompaniment. The piano accompaniment remains consistent in style throughout the song, but as the verses progress, Mitchell plays variations of the initial content. It is played in the key of C with a relatively simple chord progression: I- ♭VII- vi7sus4- vi7-ii- IV-♭VII-IV...V. Though she consistently uses the flatted seventh chord of the scale (B flat), this modulation is considered rather standard in pop music and can be understood as a replacement for the dominant of subdominant positions. The song consists of three verses that are each made up of four parts consisting of about eleven bars each. The melody is structurally quite simple, and its basic tendency is to move from e to d to c with other notes surrounding used to decorate that basic phrasing (figure 3). The melodic line is primarily in stepwise motion but with occasional decorative jump down to a and g. Only during the first verse at the start of the fourth internal section are these jumps emphasized in a non-standard way, back and forth (figure 4). Throughout, the melody does vary to accompany the lyrics. In total, the song has a rather pop-ballade-like feel, drawing on the narrative style inspired by Bob Dylan, and surprises the listener with a clarinet solo "tacked on" as the outro.

When viewed through the lens of Joni's early love for jazz music, the deviations towards "jazziness" throughout the song make sense, especially when the lyrics are taken into consideration. The song is a narrative about Joni seeing a clarinetist street performer and contrasting herself and the street performer and their motivations. She emphasizes the materialistic elements of her popular music performances in contrast with his performing for the sake of the music. This narrative points towards a nostalgia for the sort of music he plays and there are echoes of this in the music: the brief syncopation in the opening that foreshadows the jazzy clarinet solo, the variation in the piano accompaniment throughout the piece, the sprinkling of modulation from the flatted seventh and finally the clarinet solo that ends the song.


Although Joni was influenced by many different styles and various elements of her music can be traced to a range of genres and styles, I believe that jazz played a large role in the development of her early musical.

Charles Ford writes,

[T]he music which people identify with in their youth can seem to 'haunt' their adult lives. Surely some of the things that affect us most are those very phenomena that we don't notice, and don't even know are affecting us: phenomena that are un-conceptualized, free from language and reason.

Much of Joni's composing is intuitive. According to psychology theorists, intuition is characterized as a cognitive process that activates prior knowledge unconsciously. This would indicate that, while not necessarily meaning to, Joni took components of classical, folk, pop, and surely components of jazz as well, to compose her music. The jazz influence can be seen and heard harmonically, through her use of sus chords, slash chords, modality, modulation, the use of complex, dissonant chords and ambiguous tonality. The echoes of jazz can also be heard in her occasional chromaticism, her syncopated melodies, complex time signatures, variation in her melodies, and her occasional use of jazz "instruments"- sometimes reflected in her own voice. While she is influenced by all these genres, Joni always seemed drawn to the complex aspects of each genre, and even used her limitations to experiment and allow for more ingenuity. Her lack of training enabled an unconscious confluence of styles, while her creativity allowed them to be expressed in new ways through her music.

When viewing the pre-existence of jazz elements in her early music, and a natural pull towards complexity and experimentation, the rationale behind Joni's foray into jazz starting with Court and Spark and culminating in her project with Charles Mingus becomes much clearer than when merely classifying her early albums under the label of "folk-aesthetic."

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