JONI MITCHELL IN JERUSALEM
Haim Isaacs sings and tells tales
HISTORY OF A PROJECT
I was fifteen when I first heard Joni Mitchell’s music in my upstairs neighbor’s flat in Jerusalem. I’m sixty-three now, living in France, and the songs still elude me, they still slip through my fingers.
In the fall of 2019, I began work on this project. Covid confinement arrived and a friend offered me his empty rehearsal space. Three months of intensive research followed. I found my voice gravitating towards the baritone register, bringing a dark contrast to Joni’s soaring soprano.
Matthieu Beaudin and Jules Lefrançois, the two young musicians who accompany me, had never heard Joni’s music before. It’s been a mind opener for them. We’re currently rehearsing « Shadows and Light ». What a joy!
I looked for instruments far from Joni’s distinctive guitar and piano. Matthieu’s electronic accordion and Jules’ tuba and drums opened up fresh sonorities, inspired exciting arrangements. We also created a myriad of 3 voice harmonies.
I had a strong wish to share stories on how, in the 70’s, Joni’s music penetrated my heart in the Middle East. Speaking in the third person, high schooler H wanders through the streets of Jerusalem, Jericho and Bethlehem, haunted by Joni. She follows him down to the Sinai desert where H, now a medic in the tank corps, sees her dancing in the dunes. Later, in Paris, Joni hovers behind H's left shoulder, scrutinizing his first attempts at composition.
Conservatoire des Coëvrons, la Mayenne January 20, 2023
Roy Hart Théâtre, Les Cévennes August 19, 2022
Théâtre Thénardier, Montreuil February 6, 2022
La Pomme d'Eve, Paris October 4, 11, 18 ; November 8, 15, 29 ; December 6, 13 2021
L'Hyper Festival de la Ville de Paris August 26, 28 et 29. Paris 75014
Festival Annecy Paysage July 14, 15
Blue Motel Room
All I Want
Slouching Towards Be thlehem
The Blonds in the Bleachers
Pork Pie Hat
Both Sides Now
A red swing in a back yard... a kid singing his lungs out... up in the clouds with Mary Poppins... twirling atop the Austrian Alps with Maria Von Trappe. In New York, my family boards a boat, furniture and all, and lands in Israel. All I can say in Hebrew is: Hello... my name is Haim... how are you? That doesn’t go far in 7th grade. I daydream my way through History, Bible, Geometry, Chemistry. Language as abstract sound. Then Jerusalem Experimental High School: hippie territory: the process is what matters, not the result. Then the army: just get there! we don’t give a fuck how! Then a one-way ticket to San Francisco: harmony, counterpoint, piano, voice. Digging under the skins and into the mouths of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Ella Fitzgerald. Then the Iron Curtain: Hungary, I want to move there, but stop off in Jerusalem and find Barry and the Roy Hart Theater passing through. Kaya, Akhmatova. Crazy wild voice work: screaming, shouting, soprano, basso, industrial squeaks. I follow their trail to the south of France and spend 4 years in a French kibbutz. Great. Terrific. Then Paris; teaching voice, singing, recording Jewish songs in Poland (Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Krochmalna Street gutted and pockmarked). Then 17 years of composition: putting together groups, making records. Then improvising: voice, buto, clowning, tchatch. We’re getting closer to now: NazzazzaN Quartet. Wild skydivers doing concerts in swimming pools and circus tents. And now: Joni Mitchell: queen of queens. My brother says I was born the day I first heard her. He’s usually right.
Pianist, improviser, composer
Double bassist, composer, creator of string instruments
A TASTE OF THE STORIES
High school’s out for the day. H walks up the valley of Lifta and jumps on the first passing bus. It’s January, 1974, Jerusalem. H sits down on the back seat and leans his head against the window. It’s cold. His left hand covers his mouth. He looks outside and starts to sing.
The bus inches down Jaffa Street, stops at Makhane Yehuda, the big open market. Old Moroccan men, old Iraqi women, climb up, toting sacks of fruit and vegetables and cackling chickens.
The bus takes a right on King George Street and stops in front of Hamashbir, Jerusalem’s one and only department store. A soldier gets on. Short and skinny. Yemenite. He sits down next to H and squeezes his M-16 between his thighs.
It’s dark outside as the last passenger gets off the bus. The driver stares through the rear-view mirror at H, still seated in the back. He stares at the boy’s closed eyes; at his head leaning against the window. H's lips are moving. He’s thinking of her, Joni, growing up under Canadian snow; a young girl losing herself in the listening booth at the local record shop: Rachmaninoff over and over.
Slouching Towards Bethlehem To Be Born
Christmas Eve, 1975. It’s snowing in Bethlehem. At the edge of town, in a youth hostel, H and his classmates are fast asleep. Midnight church bells ring. H gets up, puts on his long, burnt-orange woolen coat and walks the empty streets.
A man passes by. “Salaam Aleikum. Aïd milad majid. Young man, I wish you a merry, merry Christmas. ” The Church of the Nativity is covered in snow. Christmas lights... tourist buses... TV crews... cops everywhere. Fifteen years to the day, H was also born. In another country, on another continent. A group of black-shawled, Greek grand-mothers cross the square. H falls in behind them and enters the church, his nostrils tickling from the sugary incense.
H walks back to the youth hostel and lies down on his bed, the long, burnt-orange coat still on his back. Bought in Bethlehem’s flea market that morning, the coat has already warmed another body in this city. The wool is rough, a button’s missing, the inner lining is worn. H falls sleep, happy.
A SONG OF JONI'S
A Case Of You
Just before our love got lost you said
"I am as constant as a northern star. "
And I said, "Constantly in the darkness
Where's that at ?
If you want me I’ll be in the bar."
On the back of a cartoon coaster
In the blue TV screen light
I drew a map of Canada
With your face sketched on it twice
Oh, you're in my blood like holy wine
You taste so bitter and so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you, darling
And I would still be on my feet
Oh I would still be on my feet