There are certain singers whom we feel that we know, from the very first time we hear them. As the intimacy of their delivery and the subtle shading of their interpretation draw us in, a whole personality seems to take shape in our imagination.
Norah Jones is that kind of singer. Her Blue Note debut album, Come Away With Me, offers a musicalityand depth of feeling that would be uncommon in any era. In the present day, in a performer just 22 years of age, these qualities are truly remarkable.
The Brooklyn-based artist has sung and played piano professionally since her teens; Come Away With Me reveals her estimable skills as a songwriter and arranger. Norah composed the unforgettable title song Come Away With Me, Nightingale, and she co-wrote The Long Day Is Over. She puts a sophisticated Western-swing spin on Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart and utterly transforms the John D. Loudermilk blues ballad Turn Me On (with thanks to Nina Simone, from whose recording Norah learned the song). Come Away With Me blends elements of jazz, soul, country, and folk-pop in a warm, unselfconscious amalgam and erases musical boundaries in the process. One could imagine fans of Sade, Charlie Rich, and Nick Drake all deriving equal enjoyment from this record.
Norah, on vocals, piano and Wurlitzer electric piano, is backed seamlessly by a skilled supporting cast. Bassist Lee Alexander, drummer Dan Rieser, and guitarists Jesse Harris and Adam Levy are among the New York musicians with whom Norah has been playing live since the autumn of 2000. Her special guests on Come Away With Me include Bill Frisell (guitar), Kevin Breit (guitar), Brian Blade (drums), Jenny Scheinman (violin), Rob Burger (accordion), Sam Yahel (Hammond B-3 organ) and Kenny Wollesen (drums).
The adroit and understated production is by Arif Mardin the veteran producer/arranger of landmark recordings by Aretha Franklin, Dusty Springfield, Laura Nyro, Roberta Flack, and Willie Nelson, to name a few. Norah and album engineer Jay Newland produced Don't Know Why and Turn Me On, with additional production by Arif. Craig Street is credited with original production of three tracks (Seven Years, Feelin' The Same Way, and The Long Day Is Over), with additional production by Jay and Norah.
The Story So Far...
Norah Jones was born March 30, 1979 in New York City. When she was four years old, Norah and her mother Sue moved to the Dallas suburb of Grapevine, Texas. Norah's earliest musical influences came from her mother's extensive LP collection and from 'oldies' radio. She began singing in church choirs at age five, commenced piano lessons two years later, and briefly played alto saxophone in junior high.
"My mom had this eight-album Billie Holiday set. I picked out one disc that I liked and played that over and over again. You Go To My Head, that was my favorite."
When Jones was 15, she and her mother moved from Grapevine to Dallas' central city, where Norah enrolled in Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. (Soul singer Erykah Badu and trumpeter Roy Hargrove are also Washington alumni.)
Norah played her first gig on her 16th birthday, an open-mic night at a local coffeehouse, where she performed a version of I'll Be Seeing You that she'd learned from Etta James' treatment of this Billie Holiday favorite. While still in high school, Norah won the Down Beat Student Music Awards for Best Jazz Vocalist and Best Original Composition in 1996, and earned a second SMA for Best Jazz Vocalist in 1997. After graduation, Jones entered the University of North Texas, nationally renowned for its music programs, where she majored in jazz piano. She also sang with a band called Laszlo, playing what she describes as "dark, jazzy rock."
In the summer of 1999, Norah accepted a friend's offer of a summer sublet in Greenwich Village. She came to Manhattan and never returned to North Texas State.
"The music kept me here. The music scene is so huge, I found it very exciting. I especially enjoyed hearing amazing songwriters at little places like The Living Room. Everything opened up for me."
For about a year beginning in December 1999, Norah appeared regularly with the funk-fusion band Wax Poetic (now signed to Atlantic). But she soon assembled her own group with Jesse Harris, Lee Alexander, and Dan Rieser. In October 2000, this lineup recorded a selection of demos for Blue Note Records. On the strength of these recordings and a live showcase, Jones was signed to Blue Note in January 2001. Norah sang two songs (Roxy Music's More Than This and Day Is Done by Nick Drake) on guitarist Charlie Hunter's Blue Note album Songs from the Analog Playground, and has frequently performed live with Hunter's group.
Norah began recording the songs of Come Away With Me in May 2001, doing preliminary work with producer Craig Street at Bearsville Studio in Woodstock, New York. In August 2001, the singer and her musicians went back to work, this time with Arif Mardin at Sorcerer Sound in Manhattan.
"I was nervous at first. I didn't want some amazing producer who'd done all these famous records to come in and have me be scared to tell him what I thought. But Arif is the nicest guy in the world, very easygoing. He was there to keep my act together and make sure I got a good record. Arif had great ideas."
"I never thought I'd have a record like this. I thought it would be at least five years before I'd reach that point. This is really the record I wanted to make."