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Kevin Ashe

Joni Mitchell - Modifier Extraordinaire

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The vocal geek mind took over when I started watching this video of Joni back in '79 singing, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat."

I've always been a fan of Joni and thinks she's a beautiful woman!  I couldn't help but notice those big beautiful front teeth and I thought, "it's almost like she would never have to be reminded to keep a "wide" embochure (as most of us so easily forget to maintain when singing). Her consistent teeth bearing embouchure seems like the perfect "E.Q. balance" to her warm (larynx lowered) alto-ish tamber.

Then, as I watched her sing (the camera angle is such as to give just the right view of her face), I'm noticing that she's singing all these cool lines with lots of vowel modifications as she sings lines that flow quickly up and down between M1 & M2. I thought it was a good example of someone masterfully applying the technique.

 

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and the lyrics help with mod analysis. the story is pretty intense.

 

When Charlie speaks of Lester
You know someone great has gone
The sweetest swinging music man
Had a Porkie Pig hat on
A bright star
In a dark age
When the bandstands had a thousand ways
Of refusing a black man admission
Black musician
In those days they put him in an
Underdog position
Cellars and chittlins'

When Lester took him a wife
Arm and arm went black and white
And some saw red
And drove them from their hotel bed
Love is never easy
It's short of the hope we have for happiness
Bright and sweet
Love is never easy street!
Now we are black and white
Embracing out in the lunatic New York night
It's very unlikely we'll be driven out of town
Or be hung in a tree
That's unlikely!

Tonight these crowds
Are happy and loud
Children are up dancing in the streets
In the sticky middle of the night
Summer serenade
Of taxi horns and fun arcades
Where right or wrong
Under neon
Every feeling goes on!
For you and me
The sidewalk is a history book
And a circus
Dangerous clowns
Balancing dreadful and wonderful perceptions
They have been handed
Day by day
Generations on down

We came up from the subway
On the music midnight makes
To Charlie's bass and Lester's saxophone
In taxi horns and brakes
Now Charlie's down in Mexico
With the healers
So the sidewalk leads us with music
To two little dancers
Dancing outside a black bar
There's a sign up on the awning
It says "Pork Pie Hat Bar"
And there's black babies dancing
Tonight!

 



Read more: Joni Mitchell - Goodbye Pork Pie Hat Lyrics | MetroLyrics 

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On 7/8/2017 at 0:48 PM, Kevin Ashe said:

The vocal geek mind took over when I started watching this video of Joni back in '79 singing, "Goodbye Porkpie Hat."

I've always been a fan of Joni and thinks she's a beautiful woman!  I couldn't help but notice those big beautiful front teeth and I thought, "it's almost like she would never have to be reminded to keep a "wide" embochure (as most of us so easily forget to maintain when singing). 

 

 You think she learned that or just naturally ended up with the habit?

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4 hours ago, Gsoul82 said:

 You think she learned that or just naturally ended up with the habit?

  If you listen to interviews you will still hear that light Falsettoey sound in her speaking voice. ( I cheated. I looked up interviews after reading this post)

  I wish I was more of a geek about this music stuff but I am really just a Hillbilly product of the 70's.  Once the singing leaves the realm of basic melody and emotional expression and enters the realm of Musical expression and complex tonal and harmonic nuances I am lost and somewhat confused by the message of the song.

   Even though Joni was considered a folk singer at the time, her music was geared more towards RnB and Jazz. I am not sure if she had formal training but her style was more sophisticated musically than those who were usually in the recording studio with her..

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5 hours ago, Gsoul82 said:

 You think she learned that or just naturally ended up with the habit?

The latter, yes. I recognize that with enough time and practice, it becomes something you can apply with more consistency.  I was kinda suggesting that her teeth seem so "large"  that it seems she may actually have to exert some muscle constriction just to keep her lips covering her teeth. A more extreme example would be Freddie Mercury.

I also have no idea about her training. I think that if you sing a lot, for many years, you might learn through trial and error which modifications work best for sound color, pitch, pronunciation, etc.. . . ..  Maybe some people just have a "gift" for intuiting good vowel modification. I've got to admit, it's not a strength I learned from the vocal teachers who first helped me increase range, strength, and M2 (low head tones).  Later on, I learned some vowel modification from the example of some of my vocalist heroes, and also personal trial and error.  Of course, more "recently," Rob Lunte's system brought more clarity to the subject for me than I had ever encountered previously!!

btw, I didn't hear any modifications in the video posted here that hit me as, "bad," "wrong," or "incorrect."  It all sounded good to me.  I'll leave that critique to an actual expert if they detect anything less than desirable in her performance.

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22 minutes ago, Kevin Ashe said:

  I was kinda suggesting that her teeth seem so "large"  that it seems she may actually have to exert some muscle constriction just to keep her lips covering her teeth. A more extreme example would be Freddie Mercury.

From personal experience I can say that it is hard to cover overly big and forward front teeth. Although the teeth have been fixed.....Under this beard there is no chin....or rather a small one if you can call it that.....It does not help much in singing. 

   But I will say that when you are used to singing light and high and people praise your singing it is much easier to occasionally sing a low note with a modal sound to match a high voice than it is to match a high note to a normally used and heavy chest voice.

Even on his lower notes he is in a Light headvoice configuration. This is much easier to sing than almost anything from Steven Tyler because you need to match modal sounds in the higher register.

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1 hour ago, Kevin Ashe said:

The latter, yes. I recognize that with enough time and practice, it becomes something you can apply with more consistency.  I was kinda suggesting that her teeth seem so "large"  that it seems she may actually have to exert some muscle constriction just to keep her lips covering her teeth. A more extreme example would be Freddie Mercury.

 

I know exactly what you mean by that. Funny how that could turn into an asset.

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2 hours ago, MDEW said:

  I wish I was more of a geek about this music stuff but I am really just a Hillbilly product of the 70's.  Once the singing leaves the realm of basic melody and emotional expression and enters the realm of Musical expression and complex tonal and harmonic nuances I am lost and somewhat confused by the message of the song.

 

Any examples of the latter?

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 The phrasing is more from a musical standpoint than from a conversational standpoint.

I thought I posted this next one earlier but I guess something went wrong. These are more conversational.

 

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9 hours ago, MDEW said:

the phrasing is more from a musical standpoint than from a conversational standpoint.

I thought I posted this next one earlier but I guess something went wrong. These are more conversational.

yeah, porkpie is a super jazzy freeform phrasing, you gotta have a great sense of rhythm to pull that off.

I like the way Joni's voice aged over the years. These days, more rasp and a generally more husky sound which I think sounds better.

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