In May 2021, Joni Mitchell welcomed some world-class musicians into her home. Among them were Elton John, Brandi Carlile, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius, and singer-songwriter Charlie Puth. They had all come to participate in a relatively new phenomenon: a ‘Joni Jam’.
Back in 2018, singer-songwriter Eric Anderson visited Mitchell’s house with his band and brought live music back into Mitchell’s front room for the first time in years. It was at a dinner with Carlile not long after that Mitchell suggested rounding up a few people every couple of weeks or so to relax, hang out, and play some music.
This was a startling revelation for one major reason: Mitchell hadn’t sung a note in six years. In 2015, she collapsed with a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her. After being told she would likely never walk and possibly never talk again, Mitchell went about an arduous rehabilitation process that eventually found her regaining both abilities. Although she spoke, Mitchell told those around her that her legendary singing voice, one that could hit heavenly high notes in the harmonies of ‘Down to You’ or rumbling growls during ‘Furry Sings the Blues’, was now gone.
During the first few ‘Joni Jams’, Mitchell simply acted as host and party guest, delighting in the camaraderie and festivities that she could once again indulge in. But during that May afternoon, when Cameron Crowe also happened to walk through the door, Mitchell surprised everyone. When Carlile and her bandmates, the Hanseroth twins, led off the night with Blue’s jaunty celebratory track ‘Carey’, Mitchell herself began to sing during the chorus.
It elicited delighted and surprised looks from John and his husband David Furnish, both of whom knew Mitchell had not sung in years. While the rotations of musicians circled around, Carlile took one last stab at bringing out Mitchell’s voice with another Blue cut: album opener ‘All I Want’. Once again, to the cheers of her guests, Mitchell sang along.
Speaking to Crowe a few days afterwards, Mitchell was in good spirits about the casual revelation. “It was a fun evening,” says Mitchell. “I wasn’t sure I would be able to sing. I have no soprano left, just a low alto,” she explains. “The spirit moved me. I forgave myself for my lack of talent.” She laughs. “I’m still playing little clubs.”