Born on March 30, 1979, in New York, NY; daughter of Ravi Shankar (a sitar player). Education: Attended University of North Texas. Addresses: Record company--Blue Note, 150 5th Ave., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10011, website: http://www.bluenote.com. Website--Norah Jones Official Website: http://www.norahjones.com.
Norah Jones took the music world by surprise with her debut album Come away with Me. The multiplatinum selling release from a small jazz label made its way into the psyches of music listeners almost by osmosis. The album had no initial radio promotion and no video in high rotation, just Jones's smooth voice and an audience ready for something quiet and classic. Neil McCormick of the Daily Telegraph called her music "rich, smooth, jazzy soul that seems utterly timeless, inhabiting gentle songs of love and heartbreak with an understated eroticism that lends her an air of preternatural awareness."
Jones was born on March 30, 1979, in New York City. At the time her mother was a music promoter who was involved with, but never married to, the famous Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. Not long after Jones was born she and her mother moved to Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, where her mother supported them by working as a nurse. She had little contact with her father while growing up and wasn't even aware of his music until she was 18. Eventually they moved to Dallas where Jones attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
Jones's classic style came from the various musical genres she listened to while growing up. She loved the pop songs she heard on the radio, but also spent a great deal of time delving into her mother's album collection, where she heard great women performers like Aretha Franklin and Etta James as well as singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell. She also enjoyed listening to musicals like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and West Side Story.
At the age of five Jones started singing in a church choir. She also took piano lessons as a young girl and played the saxophone in marching band while attending Grapevine High School. When she transferred to the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts she began to focus on jazz, winning prizes at the annual Down Beat magazine Student Music Awards for Best Jazz Vocalist and Best Original Composition.
She studied jazz piano at the University of North Texas and played jazz standards at a restaurant on the weekends. She told Rolling Stone that that the songs of crooner Frank Sinatra were often the best received, but "[t]he only one I wouldn't do was 'My Way.' It sounds beautiful when Sinatra sings it, but I'm gonna sound like an idiot ... I'm twenty years old! I can't even drink yet!" She claimed to Jim Macnie of VH1 that those gigs "[were] the best practice I could have ever had. That's where I learned to coordinate my singing and my piano playing."
After two years studying jazz at the university, Jones decided to try her skills in New York City. She moved into a friend's apartment and started exploring the jazz scene, working as a waitress by day as and performing at small clubs in Greenwich Village by night. She met other artists and began to perform and record a little, but after about a year she began to despair of ever having a record deal. She wanted to go home, but, Jones told Steve Dougherty of People, her mother counseled otherwise. "My mom said, 'As much as I want you to come back, you should stay. Otherwise you'll feel like a failure.'"
Instead of moving back to Texas, Jones kept playing at small clubs. On the night of her twenty-first birthday she was performing when Blue Note employee Shell White took notice. White made it possible for Jones to audition for the label's CEO, Bruce Lundvall. She was an immediate hit, and for the second time in Lundvall's career as CEO he signed an artist on the spot. He told Josh Tyrangiel of Time, "[She has] a signature voice, right from the heart to you. When you're lucky enough to hear that, you don't hesitate. You sign it."
Almost as quickly, Jones began to record her first album. She was paired with producer Arif Mardin, who had worked with Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield. He kept things simple, highlighting Jones's piano playing and voice. When they were finished recording Come away with Me, they had a quirky album that mixed jazz standards, romantic originals, and even a bit of Hank Williams.
Come away with Me was released in February of 2002. By the end of the year, the album had crept onto several "favorites" lists and Jones had been highlighted in Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly as a rising star. The album eventually went multiplatinum, much to Jones' amazement. She told the Daily Telegraph, "I would have never, ever in my wildest imagination have thought any of this could happen. You see what's on TV ... I'm not a good dancer ... And you won't be seeing my belly button any time soon."
Jones and Blue Note were even more astounded when the album was nominated for eight Grammys. When awards night came around, Jones walked away with an armload of statues--five for her and one each for Jesse Harris who wrote the title song, for Mardin, and for engineers Jay Newland and S. Husky Höskulds. Jones was now a top-tier artist like Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, who won multiple Grammy awards in previous years.
Jones's rise to pop stardom has far outstripped her dreams of her success, and sometimes even her comfort level. She told Rolling Stone, "I didn't want to be on a pop label, because I know what comes with that. I didn't want to make videos. I didn't want to be expected to sell millions of records. I didn't ever want to be a celebrity."
In February of 2004, Jones released her eagerly anticipated second album. Feels Like Home proved the power of this unlikely pop star, rocketing to the top of the Billboard 200 chart within days of its release. Sales in the first week reached higher than any album since the 2001 release of the pop group N*Syncs' Celebrity. It also came in at number two for sales by a female artist in one week, bested only by pop singer Britney Spears's 2000 album Oops ... I Did It Again.
Sales, airplay, and name recognition make Norah Jones a pop star. But her daily life still revolves around the close-knit group of friends she formed in her early days in New York. She eschews celebrity for funky comfort, and hasn't changed her style or her manners for anyone. "It's not even like I'm really trying to stay the same. I like my life. I like my friends. I don't want to go anywhere else," she told McCormick. As long as she keeps producing music that soothes the masses, it probably isn't going to matter.
by Eve M. B. Hermann
Norah Jones's Career
Started piano lessons at age seven; first public performance night of her sixteenth birthday; member of band named Laszlo throughout high school; sang in clubs and restaurants, 1997-99; moved to New York, 1999; performed with Wax Poetic, 2000; performed with Peter Malick Group, 2000; released EP First Sessions on Blue Note, 2001; Come away with Me released, toured Japan and Europe, 2002; performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2003; released second album, Feels Like Home, 2004.
Norah Jones's Awards
Down Beat magazine Student Music Awards, Best Jazz Vocalist and Best Original Composition, 1996; Down Beat magazine Student Music Award, Best Jazz Vocalist, 1997; Grammy Awards, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Vocal Album, 2003.
- Selected discography
- First Sessions (EP), Blue Note, 2001.
- (With Charlie Hunter) Songs from the Analog Playground Blue Note, 2001.
- Come away with Me Blue Note, 2002.
- (With Adam Levy) Get Your Glow On 301, 2003.
- (With Peter Malick Group)New York City Koch, 2003.
- (With others) Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin' Lost Highway, 2003.
- Feels Like Home Blue Note, 2004.
- Billboard, March 8, 2003, p. 1; February 28, 2004.
- Daily Telegraph (London, England), February 12, 2004, p. 23.
- Entertainment Weekly, March 22, 2002, p. 72; December 20, 2002, p. 36.
- New York Times, January 25, 2004, p. 24.
- People, February 24, 2003, p. 61.
- Time, March 18, 2002, p. 84.
- "Jones Sweeps Major Grammys," CNN, http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/02/03/grammys/ (August 16, 2003).
- "Norah Jones," RollingStone.com, http://www.rollingstone.com/features/coverstory/featuregen.asp?pid=1255 (August 16, 2003).
- "Norah Jones: Quiet Is the New Gold," VH1, http://www.vh1.com/artists/news/1459679/05082002/jones_norah.jhtml (August 16, 2003).