Born March 30, 1979, in New York, NY; daughter of Ravi Shankar (a world renowned sitar player) and Sue Jones (a nurse). Education: Attended University of North Texas.
Booking agent —Monterey Peninsula Artists, Attn: Joe Brauner, 24 E. 21st St., Ste. #802, New York, NY 10010. Manager —Macklam Feldman Management, Ste. 200, 1505 West 2nd Ave., Vancouver, BC V6H 3Y4. Record company —Blue Note Records, 304 Park Ave. South, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10010.
Sang in church choirs starting at age five; began taking piano lessons at age seven; performed first gig at an open mic night on her 16th birthday; performed with band, Laszlo, throughout high school; solo gigs at a restaurant, 1997–99; moved to New York and started playing nights in Greenwich Village, 1999; performed with Wax Poetic, 1999–2000; recorded with Peter Malick Group, 2000; released Blue Note EP, First Sessions, 2001; Come Away with Me released, 2002; appeared on the Tonight Show , 2002; toured with John Mayer and Charlie Hunter, 2002; performed at a Willie Nelson tribute show, 2002; toured Japan and Europe, 2002; performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, 2003; performed at the Tribeca Film Festival, 2003.
Student Music Award for best jazz vocalist and best original composition, Down Beat, 1996; Student Music Award for best jazz vocalist, Down Beat, 1997; Grammy Awards for album of the year, record
She has been compared to some of the greatest singers in music history, from Nina Simone to Billie Holiday as well as Sarah Vaughan and Joni Mitchell. Norah Jones came to widespread fame quickly and almost effortlessly. She was signed to a record contract the day she auditioned. Her quiet, reflective album took the Grammys by storm in 2003 despite competing with such established artists as rocker Bruce Springsteen and rapper Eminem.
Jones is a combination of hard–working jazz musician and guileless young woman. Her voice is what captures her listeners. Jeff Gordinier of Entertainment Weekly described it as follows, "Precociously rich and seductive, her voice seems to well up from the age of Dinah Washington and Nina Simone." She had dreams of a future cultivating her piano playing and her singing repertoire. Jones never expected her first album to go triple platinum and beat out the professionals in the pop music category.
Jones was born March 30, 1979, in New York, New York, the daughter of Sue Jones and the famous sitar player, Ravi Shankar. Jones's mother and Shankar were never married, and eventually separated after Norah's birth. Soon afterward, the younger Jones and her mother moved to Texas, where Sue worked as a nurse to support them. Jones grew up in Grapevine, a suburb of Dallas, but moved into the city of Dallas so that she could attend the Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.
While growing up, Jones had very little interaction with her father, who had become famous in the United States for his work with the British rock group the Beatles. Despite years of separation, she ended up establishing a closer relationship with him while she was in college. She explained to Entertainment Weekly 's Gordinier, "It's not a secret. But I didn't grow up with my dad. [I]t's not something that contributed to my musical upbringing."
Jones' musical influences came from her mother's record collection, which included artists such as Aretha Franklin and Etta James. She also found a set of Billie Holiday records that she listened to constantly throughout high school. She discovered singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell while in college. Other early influences included musicals. She recalled to Jim Macnie of VH1.com that she memorized the songs from both Cats and Phantom of the Opera. She also enjoyed the film West Side Story for the energy of the gang scenes, not the romance of the love story.
Jones exhibited musical interest at age three when her parents noticed her listening intently while Shankar practiced his sitar. By age five she was singing in her church choir. She eventually learned to play several instruments but felt most comfortable with piano. She briefly attended Grapevine High School where she played saxophone in the marching band. Her interest in jazz blossomed when she was in high school. Her talents were recognized early on by the premiere jazz magazine, Down Beat. She was awarded the Student Music Award (SMA) for Best Jazz Vocalist two years in a row. She also showed talent as a composer. In 1996, she was awarded an SMA for Best Original Composition.
Jones's first public performance as a solo pianist and singer came on the day of her 16th birthday. She performed "I'll Be Seeing You," a song made famous by Holiday, during an open mic night at a coffeehouse. She continued to hone her performing skills by playing in the band Laszlo, named for a character from the film Casablanca. After high school she attended the University of North Texas where she majored in jazz piano. On weekends she would perform solo at a restaurant, an experience which she claims as an important part of her development as an artist. She told VH1.com 's Macnie, "[T]hat was the best practice I could have ever had. That's where I learned to coordinate my singing and my piano playing."
The summer after her sophomore year in college, Jones moved to New York City to get a taste of the jazz scene there. She subleased a friend's apartment and worked as a waitress during the day; nights she would perform at venues throughout Greenwich Village. In addition to her solo gigs, she contributed her talents to bands such as the Peter Malick Group and Wax Poetic. She told Josh Tyrangiel of Time, "It was pretty much everything I wanted." Even though she was satisfied with the work she was doing, she became frustrated when she was not signed to a record label after almost a year of passing her demo around. She wanted to return to Texas, but her mother encouraged her to stay in New York and keep trying. Jones told People, "My mom said, 'As much as I want you to come back, you should stay. Otherwise you'll feel like a failure.'"
Failure was not in Jones's future. Instead, she won the dedication of Blue Note employee Shell White. White was in the audience the night of Jones's 21st birthday, and was so impressed by Jones's performance that she vowed to help Jones get a recording contract. Through White's intercession, Jones presented her demo to Blue Note chief executive officer Bruce Lundvall. Lundvall, who has always accepted unsolicited material, met with Jones and was impressed. He explained to Time 's Tyrangiel, "Norah doesn't have one of those over–the–top instruments. It's just a signature voice, right from the heart to you. When you're lucky enough to hear that, you don't hesitate. You sign it." It was only the second time during his tenure as head of the record label that Lundvall had signed an artist on the spot.
Right off the bat, Jones recorded an EP with Blue Note titled First Sessions, which was released in 2001. She continued to record throughout 2001, working with legendary producer Arif Mardin, who had produced for singing stars such as Aretha Franklin and Dusty Springfield. Her voice and the piano were emphasized, and even though Blue Note is decidedly focused on jazz, Jones was allowed to interpret songs her own way. The end result was an album that defied categorization. When Lundvall first heard it, he wanted Jones to rerecord some of the songs. However, Jones was eventually allowed to maintain her musical integrity, remaining true to the style she had cultivated for years. Produced at a legendary jazz label, containing jazz standards as well as old country hits and new songs with hints of the blues and pop, Come Away With Me added up to a best–selling debut album.
Released in February of 2002, Come Away With Me slowly accumulated interest as listeners discovered Jones's quiet and sultry sound. The media campaign for the album was based on giving those who heard it a sense of discovery. Mardin, the producer on Come Away With Me, explained the appeal of Jones's style of music to Entertainment Weekly 's Gordinier, "People are bored with formula records. There's a certain age group that would like to get their hands on records that feel natural.…"
Despite the low–key marketing of the album, it was gaining increased attention as 2002 wound down. Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly both included Jones on their lists of top new artists. By late 2002, the album had created a low–level buzz. On January 7, 2003, that buzz was turned up several notches when the Recording Academy published their list of Grammy nominees. Jones's subtle and nuanced debut album had received a not–so–subtle eight nominations. As testament to Jones's unassuming nature, she was sleeping when the Grammy announcements were made.
On Grammy night, Jones walked away with an armload of awards. She won in each category for which she was nominated: Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. The album also won three other awards: songwriter Jesse Harris won for Song of the Year for "Don't Know Why," Arif Mardin won Producer of the Year, and Jay Newland and S. Husky Höskulds won the Best–Engineered Album of the Year. In total, Come Away With Me won eight awards, putting Jones in a tie with Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys—other women whose albums had won as many awards at the Grammys.
Throughout the hype that led to Grammy night and afterward, Jones maintained a nervous humility. She explained to Larry Flick of Billboard, "It's such a blessing. It's so far beyond what I could ever imagine might happen for me and my music." When questioned about what she would do next, she told Flick, "I just keep doing what I'm doing, nothing more. This is a once–in–a–lifetime moment.… My objective is to enjoy this moment and then put it on the side and get on with what I've been doing all along, which is to make music."
At 24 years of age, Jones has made plenty of good music. What she hasn't done a lot of is prepare for the pop starlight. She is nervous at interviews, afraid of saying too much. When asked who made the dress she wore Grammy night, she had to ask someone to check the tag. Jones excused herself from a press conference by stating she had to go to the bathroom. She is not a contrived pop star. She explained her intentions to RollingStone.com , "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."
One reason for wanting to eschew celebrity is her inherent shyness. Her sound and her performing style have been portrayed in many articles as seductive, moody, and romantic. Jones takes issue with these portrayals, explaining to Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly, "It's funny, this image thing, because I'm not soft–spoken and romantic.… I'm pretty much loudmouthed, obnoxious, and silly." She further explained, though, that she is nervous around strangers and that her nervousness probably comes off as mysteriousness.
Despite her intentions, Jones has become a pop star. Her recording label asked her to do a video for her album. Then they asked her to do it again. Her album has sold millions. She told RollingStone.com that she had agreed to do a lot of the things she originally had said she did not want to do. Still, she takes it all in stride, recognizing that she has a larger audience than she ever dreamed of attaining. Already gifted with an incredible talent, she has the time to mature into an even more impressive expression of that talent. Eric Felten of the Washington Times reviewed a concert she performed in June of 2003, "Miss Jones' voice had more strength to it than on her debut record, with a potent emotional core more yearning than vulnerable, more womanly than girlish. The young singer, already impressive in her subtle ability to emote, is clearly growing as an artist."
First Sessions, Blue Note, 2001.
(Vocals) Songs From the Analog Playground, Blue Note, 2001.
Come Away With Me, Blue Note, 2002.
(Guest appearance) Get Your Glow On, 301, 2003.
(Piano and vocals) Peter Malick Group/Norah Jones, Koch, 2003.
(Guest appearance) Willie Nelson and Friends: Live and Kickin', Lost Highway, 2003.
Feels Like Home, Blue Note, 2004.
Billboard, March 8, 2003, p. 1.
Entertainment Weekly, March 22, 2002, pp. 72–73; December 20, 2002, p. 36.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, February 24, 2003; March 6, 2003.
People, February 24, 2003, pp. 61–62.
Time, March 18, 2002, p. 84.
Washington Times, June 23, 2003, p. B5.
"Jones Sweeps Major Grammys," CNN.com , http://www.cnn.com/2003/SHOWBIZ/Music/02/03/grammys/ (August 16, 2003).
"Norah Jones," AskMen.com , http://www.askmen.com/women/singer_100/149c_norah_jones.html (August 16, 2003).
"Norah Jones," RollingStone.com , http://www.rollingstone.com/features/coverstory/featuregen.asp?pid=125 (August 16, 2003).
"Norah Jones: Quiet Is the New Gold," VH1.com , http://www.vh1.com/artists/news/1459679/05082002/jones_norah.jhtml (August 16, 2003).
— Eve M. B. Hermann