BWW Interview: Jessica Molaskey Talks Recent Album PORTRAITS OF JONI And Her Latest Return To Cafe Carlyle With Husband John Pizzarelli
When husband-and-wife duo John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey make their annual fall pilgrimage to Café Carlyle with an all-new show, THE LITTLE THINGS YOU DO TOGETHER (running November 7-18), they'll be including songs from Antônio Carlos Jobim, Stephen Sondheim, and, of course, Joni Mitchell.
Molaskey released PORTRAITS OF JONI, her latest album and a tribute to the aforementioned singer-songwriter, this past summer through Ghostlight Records. Mixing elements of jazz, pop, folk, and Americana, the duo co-produced the record, and Molaskey has been performing selections from her album across the country since its release.
With Joni Mitchell classics including "A Case of You" and the upbeat "Chelsea Morning," PORTRAITS OF JONI debuted as part of Lincoln Center's AMERICAN SONGBOOK series at The Allen Room. Simultaneously, Pizzarelli released his latest album, SINATRA & JOBIM AT 50, featuring classics of the two greats. On Molaskey's album, he joins in on a beautiful duet of Mitchell's "The Circle Game/Waters Of March."
Prior to the couple's return to Café Carlyle this Tuesday, Molaskey, a Broadway veteran and songwriter herself, discussed what drew her to Joni Mitchell.
This interview has been edited for content and length.
You obviously have to deep love for Mitchell's music. How did that start?
My mother worked at a little [radio] station. She occasionally would bring [home] a record that had scratches; it wasn't good enough to play on the radio, but it was still good enough for me to listen to in my basement. Those records changed my life. I have never heard anything like that voice. And nothing's changed in all those years later.
Have you always had a passion for jazz?
That's how I discovered jazz--- through the back door. Joni was like a big jazz band. She really incorporated a lot of those elements. Her vernacular---which was pretty wide, I think---once she started to progress, she had a song that was completely her own. It was jazz, it was folk, it was everything.
So, you got into the folk aspect of Joni after the jazz?
About 15 years ago, I started working with my husband, John. We started to sort of blend our sensibilities together. This record came about when we played the Carlyle. Eventually, we tried to slip in some music which was more from my generation and not [in the] tradition of the Great American Songbook. I would start to sing a Joni Mitchell song, taking the setting into consideration, and people would talk to me afterwards and say, "Hey, thank you, thank you."
So, that's how it happened. Every year, we put one show together, and when they asked me what I wanted to do, I said, "I have to do Joni." I felt like the songs are part of our Great American Songbook now and they should be sung by other people. They shouldn't just be on Joni's original records.
What do you feel that Joni had to teach us right now, more than ever? She is a voice of not only that generation but of our world--- how do you feel her messages are still relevant today?
I think what Joni really had and continues to be kind of a singular voice [in], is that she spoke from an essentially female perspective about sex and love. She really was out there, talking about her romances and her heart in a way that I think is essentially female and it's extremely vulnerable and interesting.
One quote that Joni said that always resonated was comparing herself to Bob Dylan. She said the thing with Bob Dylan is that he speaks more in beautiful paragraphs and that she spoke more in poetic lines. How would you compare her to other notable folk writers of her time?
I have read similar things about Joni and I think that she sold herself very short. I remember reading about how she had written "Both Sides Now" and then she heard "Suzanne" or a similar song, and she said, "Oh, I am never going to be as great as these guys." And, to me, personally, when you deconstruct "Both Sides Now," she was only in her early 20s. It is one of the deepest and darkest songs about being alive. Everybody thinks it's about "rows and flows of angel hair." No, this song was about getting to a point in your life where you realize that you don't know anything about anything. It's a song that talks about things that say everything [about what it] means to be alive. I don't think you can compare it with anybody. I actually saw her do it live at Madison Square Garden and I still haven't recovered from it.
What inspired your rendition of "A Case of You?" It's a gorgeous interpretation.
Well, thank you. I was contemplating doing this concert at Lincoln Center, and the hardest thing about Joni is deciding the material. There is just so much material. I didn't want to do just all the greatest hits. Every time I sing it, I find something else in that song. She keeps saying, "...I would still be on my feet." It will never be enough. That's what I have been learning about this song.
Do you and John write together at all?
We write a lot. We have a book of our songs out. Over the years, we tried to put at least one original song on our records just to have that. John has a bossa nova record that he came out the same day as mine, where we have two originals. We kind of help each other produce each other's records. We try to get a few people in the room and we decide what we want the sound like.
You've mentioned painting, and Joni is also a passionate painter. Is there any kind of visual art passion that you have that goes along with your music?
I have always been a painter since I was a little kid and I actually painted the cover of the record. She writes like a painter. That's what I'm trying to capture.
Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD specialist, artist, author, health advocate, award-winning actress, and playwright. She is currently touring her one-woman musical, GUTLESS AND GRATEFUL, across the country. Her work can be found at amyoes.com.