The Hillcats, Hillsdale’s faculty jazz band, will perform “The Music of Joni Mitchell,” from her iconic “Big Yellow Taxi Cab” to her later jazz work at 8 p.m. Saturday in Markel Auditorium. The concert features Sunny Wilkinson, Hillsdale’s resident jazz vocalist, in her final concert at Hillsdale. Wilkinson will be singing Mitchell’s versatile music which features complex harmonies and upbeat rhythms.
“Joni Mitchell is the poet laureate of our generation,” Wilkinson said. “She’s leaps and bounds ahead and apart from all the others.”
The faculty will also perform the work of jazz artist Charles Mingus, who worked closely with Mitchell when she turned from folk to jazz. Wilkinson said Mingus would not let anyone write lyrics to his jazz music until he met Mitchell. She wrote a record of lyrics to his songs, some of which the Hillcats will perform at the concert.
“Joni Mitchell’s music was far more in depth as far as harmony goes,” Chris McCourry, director of jazz ensembles, said. “Because of that, she was pulled into the jazz world.”
McCourry said jazz players could understand her harmonies that folk players couldn’t because her work had the complexity of jazz.
Wilkinson herself has had an impressive musical career, winning two Grammy awards and touring with jazz artists.
Junior percussionist Aaron Andrews said he is looking forward to seeing how the jazz faculty take Mitchell’s folk sound and turn it into jazz.
“Sunny’s voice is perfect for Joni Mitchell,” he said.
Wilkinson will be joined by McCourry, Jon Gewirtz, Arlene McDaniel, Hank Horton, and Larry Ochiltree.
“I take lessons from Jon Gewirtz,” junior Heather Woodhouse said. “I love watching him play the saxophone. He’s a peaceful, quiet guy and he just shreds on saxophone, let me tell you.” Woodhouse said she is grateful to work with the jazz faculty, and since joining the jazz program, has realized how accomplished they are.
“It’s just inspiring,” she said. “We don’t just take lessons from our professors and work with them in combo and big band. We get to see them perform, and that shows they practice what they preach.”
On her farewell concert, Wilkinson said,
“It’s very special to me. I am very fond of the students and very good friends with the faculty.”