The "Free Man" is David Geffen, who was in charge of Mitchell's record label. The song is about the pressures the music industry puts on their artists.
Mitchell and Geffen rose up the ranks together. In the late '60s, he was establishing himself as an agent (an important early client was another mighty female songwriter: Laura Nyro) and she was making a name for herself with her music. They became good friends, and when Geffen started Asylum Records, Mitchell recorded for the label - her 1972 album For The Roses was her first on Asylum. The two confided in each other, and Geffen would often talk about the extraordinary pressures he faced as a high-powered music mogul. Mitchell wrote "Free Man in Paris" based on what he told her: Where Geffen felt most alive and unencumbered was in Paris, where nobody could call him up and ask for favors.
David Crosby and Graham Nash, who were good friends with Mitchell and also Geffen clients, sang backup on this track.
José Feliciano played guitar on this track. He was working on another project at the studios (A&M in Los Angeles) when he heard the song coming from Mitchell's studio and offered to play. He knew Mitchell from his days performing in Canada.
Mitchell used jazz musicians on her Court And Spark album, since the guys who recorded with the likes of Jackson Browne and James Taylor didn't give her the nuance she was looking for. Tom Scott played the flute, and members of a group called the L.A. Express played other instruments: Larry Carlton (guitar) and John Guerin (drums).
David Geffen didn't think this song had hit potential, but was convinced to release it as a single. Issued as the follow-up to the album's first single "Help Me," it did well, reaching #22 and becoming one of Mitchell's most popular songs.
Neil Diamond recorded this for his 1977 album I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight. Elton John and Sufjan Stevens recorded it on Joni Mitchell tribute albums.