Bringing new meaning to the phrase “circle game,” cabaret singer and actress Jessica Molaskey, who came to love Joni Mitchell as a teenager, will duet with her teenaged daughter, Madeleine, at a May 30 NJPAC concert paying tribute to Mitchell.
“If you walk into her room, she’s got 17 guitars in there, and every one has some kind of bizarre tuning,” says Molaskey. “And it’s all because of Joni. She’s 17, and she totally gets it. She knows the repertoire, and she’s writing songs with dropped D’s and all that kind of stuff.”
Molaskey’s husband, John Pizzarelli, will participate in the show, too, playing guitar.
The show, titled “Portraits of Joni: Jessica Molaskey Sings Joni Mitchell,” will be hosted by WNYC (93.9 FM, 820 AM) radio personality Jonathan Schwartz, who will interview Molaskey as part of it. It’s part of the “Jonathan’s Choice: An Evening of Music and Conversation” series, and will be taped for later broadcast on WNYC and Schwartz’s internet outlet, “The Jonathan Channel.”
(Mitchell herself is currently seriously ill and being treated at a California hotel, though a full recovery is expected, according to the last update posted on her web site, jonimitchell.com, April 28.)
Some of the songs will sound very different on May 30 from the way they sounded when Mitchell originally recorded them, Molaskey said. “We do ‘Raised on Robbery’ like it was a Peggy Lee song; we make it sound like an old jazz standard. ‘Blue’ is completely deconstructed; my friend Jason Robert Brown arranged it in a very trippy way.”
The setlist, Molaskey said, will be more or less the same as the one from the evening of Mitchell songs she presented at Jazz at Lincoln Center in Feburary 2014. At that show, she dueted with Madeleine on “Little Green,” a song from Mitchell’s 1971 Blue album about giving her daughter up for adoption.
“My daughter just said, ‘Oh, I know this, I can sing this with you, I can play this,’ ” says Molaskey. “We never even rehearsed it. She just had it. It’s part of her DNA.”
Molaskey, too, was affected by Mitchell’s music early, and deeply.
“I fell in love as a teenager with Joni Mitchell and Stephen Sondheim, and nothing’s changed,” she says. “My brother bought me Court and Spark, and it just completely blew my mind. And then of course I ended up trying to figure out who Annie Ross was, because of (the Court and Spark cover of) ‘Twisted,’ and that took me down a whole other road that ended up being what I do now, actually, writing vocalese and stuff like that.
“So, yeah, it was everything in one. There’s nobody like Joni.”
“Portraits of Joni: Jessica Molaskey Sings Joni Mitchell” takes place at the Victoria Theater at NJPAC, May 30 at 8 p.m. For information, visit NJPAC.org.