Getting personal with Joni Mitchell

Jerusalem show pays tribute to iconic Canadian singer-songwriter on her 75th birthday

BLACK CROW gets ready to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell.  (photo credit: SAAR YAIR RAMON)
BLACK CROW gets ready to pay tribute to Joni Mitchell.
(photo credit: SAAR YAIR RAMON)
Malka Marom remembers seeing Joni Mitchell perform for the first time in 1966 at Toronto’s Riverboat Coffeehouse.
After the show, the Israeli-raised Marom went straight over to Mitchell and heaped praise upon the unsuspecting blonde 23-year-old, comparing her songwriting to that of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen.
“You are going to be acclaimed the world over,” Marom told her.
“I know who you are,” came the response from Mitchell.
Now a spunky 70-something, Marom divides her time between homes in Toronto and Herzliya. She was born in Poland, and came to this part of the world as a baby, after losing all of her family in the Holocaust. Marom came to public notice in the 1950s, when she sang at the then-leading Dalia dance festival. Fast forward a handful of years, and Marom is a young wife and mother of two small children living in Toronto and making a name for herself as part of the innovative Malka & Joso musical duo, along with Croatian-born vocalist-guitarist, and later restaurateur, Joso Spralja.
“We were the first to do what people now call ‘world music,’” she recalls. “We sang Israeli songs and all sorts of things.”
After meeting Mitchell, Marom didn’t just make do with patting the young singer/songwriter on the back. She promptly called the A&R man at her record company and got him to join her at a subsequent Mitchell gig at the same venue. However, the foray didn’t go too well, and the record company man split the show half way through, proclaiming Mitchell “has no stage presence, she’ll amount to nothing.” Wonder if he ever regretted that misguided call.
Marom’s career path veered away from performing, and into radio journalism and, seven years after that fateful encounter in chilly Toronto, she had her own music show on Canadian Broadcasting Company radio. Despite the fact that Mitchell interviews were – and still are – a rarity, Marom decided to try her luck, and somehow succeeded in contacting Mitchell’s management company. She had to make do with leaving a message, but to Marom’s great surprise and delight, Mitchell had not forgotten her and called her back later the same day. That led to the hoped-for radio interview, and a couple more over the course of the next four decades, which in turn gave birth to a 2014 book – Joni Mitchell – In Her Own Words, subtitled Conversations with Malka Marom. It also blossomed into an enduring friendship between the two women.
Marom’s book offers a precious glimpse of what makes the mercurial, one-of-a-kind artist tick, not to mention some insight into how she created such gems as the anthemic “Woodstock” and hit number “Big Yellow Taxi.”
“Joni is a mystery, even to herself.” And to Marom. “I have known her since 1966, on a personal level, but she is still a mystery.”
Marom adds that, enigmatic persona notwithstanding, Mitchell has unwittingly earned a loyal across-the-board following and somehow allowed fans of all ages to bond with her and identify with the messages she conveys through her lyrics.
“Since my book came out, so many people got in touch with me, and told me they felt the same way [as Mitchell]. Some said they were 15 or 20 when they heard her music, or their aunt or grandmother played it to them. It is not that it touched something philosophical, it is something that touched something very deep in their life and changed it.”
MAROM WILL be talking about the enigmatic Mitchell when she joins the Black Crow band at the Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem on Tuesday for a celebration of Mitchell’s music marking her 75th birthday last year.
The group, spearheaded by vocalist Moran Cohen Talmor and seasoned bass guitarist Yankeleh Segal, and with Udi Simhon on guitar and keyboardist Ido Selzenik completing the instrumental cast, performed a couple of Mitchell-based gigs last summer, and yesterday presented the current repertoire, along with Marom, at Tzavta in Tel Aviv.
Last year’s shows were rewarding experiences for the audiences at Ein Shemer and Noctorno in Jerusalem, but Marom’s contribution – she will enlighten the Yellow Submarine patrons will anecdotes of Mitchell’s life and work, and Marom’s longstanding relationship with her – promises significant added value to the musical offerings. The inclusion of veteran jazz saxophonist Eli Dejibri, in the onstage cast, should also stretch the sonic and textural range appreciably.
The writer says she is delighted to collaborate with the Black Crow – the name comes from a track on Mitchell’s 1976 album Hejira – troupe.
“Yankeleh got in touch with me and said he wanted to use parts of my book [for the show].” It was not love at first Facebook communication.
“I thought, ‘Not another one.’ I get so many requests. I didn’t even respond.” That was in December.
But Segal was clearly not going to take no for answer and brought out some big guns.
“He sent me a clip [of a four-song medley from the Black Crow show] and I thought, ‘This is the first piece of music that I heard of somebody doing Joni’s music that is doing justice to her songs.’”
Marom was hooked.
“I thought, ‘How come a group of musicians from this country, where Joni is less popular, got it right?’”
She feels that an extraneous advantage comes into play here.
“You know, when you work in a foreign language, there is a certain conciseness that comes into it, when you sing it, or write it. I know that myself, as an Israeli who writes in English.”
It is, Marom feels, precisely because of Mitchell’s uniqueness and elusive nature that Black Crow, and anyone else who attempts to offer their own angle on Mitchell’s oeuvre, have to deliver the goods. “They didn’t try to imitate her. I love them because I know there is a certain core of truthfulness in their work.”
The Black Crow take on Mitchell is their very own. Their version of “I Had A King,” for example, which they recently recorded, features an Indian violinist.
“You have to decipher Joni’s music before you do anything with it,” Segal notes. “She has all these crazy chords and stuff. You have get into that first. We worked on this project for a year.”
It is not only Marom who is enthusing over the Black Crow approach. “I played it for Joni,” says Marom. “She loved it.” Enough said.
For tickets and more information: (02) 679-0404 and