Herbie Hancock, ft. Wayne Shorter: Both Sides Now
Paul Desmond: Song to a Seagull
Joshua Redman: I Had a King
Let's check out some jazzy Joni covers, yeah? Here are three that focus on the saxophone. I used to play this amazing instrument, but sadly, none of the songs I ever learned were nearly as cool as these. It may seem counterintuitive to feature songs of a remarkable lyricist that have been stripped of the lyrics, but this allows us to focus on the melodies. Which are also remarkable, as we'll see.
I'll start with the low-hanging fruit. Herbie Hancock, the genius jazz keyboardist who's played with everyone who's anyone in the jazz world, released an entire tribute album to Joni in 2007, called "River: The Joni Letters." To everyone's surprise (except those of us who, you know, actually listened to it), Herbie's tribute ended up as the Grammy Album of the Year. How could it not? I'm going with one of the few instrumentals on the CD, but even then, it features Wayne Shorter, who is every bit as awesomesauce as Herbie. If you're a Steely Dan fan, you've heard him on "Aja". If you're a jazz fan, you know him from later Miles Davis, Weather Report, and, um, other Herbie Hancock recordings.
If you've ever listened to "Take Five," that idiosyncratic, arrhythmic, and classic ode to the 5/4 time signature, then you've heard Paul Desmond's alto saxophone. His was a defining musical voice of West Coast (aka Cool) Jazz. Here's his 1973 take on one of Joni's earliest songs, recorded before even Joni herself began to follow the jazz muse of her later work. And if you pay attention to these sorts of things, Grammy winner Don Sebesky is the arranger.
Another west-coast jazz musician, this one a son of saxman Dewey Redman, gives us our last saxophone tribute to Joni. Joshua Redman has other credits to his name, including the PBS TV shows Arthur and Reading Rainbow, and, and, and OMG he's the saxophonist on the anime series Cowboy Bebop, an oeuvre from which I'll try to work in songs in future posts….oh, where was I? Oh, right. Here's a 1998 Joni cover.