Something Is Happening Here, Ms. Jones

Everyone is talking about Norah Jones, the young singer-pianist whose lovely visage and voice have graced many media outlets recently. USA Today likely misquoted Jones when it printed that she liked “Bryan Adams,” the lighter-rock balladeer, rather than alt.country bad boy Ryan Adams, who she has name-checked elsewhere; the Today show, with that heavily made-up midget as host—OK, Matt Lauer isn’t that short—named her one of 2002’s most promising artists.

Jones’ busy schedule didn’t allow her to answer questions from JazzTimes, but I’m not disappointed. I’ve read enough about her and her striking debut album, Come Away With Me (Blue Note). But in case the rock you live under doesn’t get home delivery, here’s the gist of Jones:

She’s the daughter of Ravi Shankar, though that’s not mentioned in her bio. She was raised in Texas by her mom. She attended Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. She studied jazz piano at the University of North Texas for two years before moving to New York City. She recorded the ethereal, beautiful Come Away With Me with Arif Mardin, the man who arranged Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and produced dozens of other stone-cold classics you never want to hear ever again (other than the Bee Gees’ “Jive Talkin’”).

Oh, and she’s single.

In other words, Blue Note has signed Norah Gold. It’s likely that the 22-year-old newcomer will outsell every artist on Blue Note this year—even this month’s cover star, Cassandra Wilson. Geoffrey Himes profiles Wilson’s increasingly influential jazz-gone-Americana style, one that opened the door for artists like Jones, who even used Wilson’s former producer, Craig Street, on the original sessions for her CD.

Only one month after its release, Jones’ Come Away With Me had already sold 46,000 units. By comparison, Wilson’s 1993 CD Blue Light ’Til Dawn has scanned 176,000 units, 1995’s New Moon Daughter 239,000 and 1999’s Traveling Miles 142,000 copies.

It’s fair to say that Wilson’s great new CD, Belly of the Sun, will sell an amount somewhere between Traveling Miles and New Moon Daughter—fantastic amounts for jazz CDs, but a drop in pop’s bucket, and certainly not large enough for someone with the crossover appeal of Jones.

Perhaps that’s why the advance copy I have of Come Away With Me says, “File Under: Pop/Rock.” She may have started out in jazz, and be on a jazz label, but Norah Jones has broader success waiting for her.

Originally published in May 2002

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