Norah Jones Biography

Geethali Norah Jones Shankar, 30 March 1979, Brooklyn, New York City, New York, USA. Jones’ beguiling blend of jazz and popular music styles marked her out as one of the most interesting vocalists to emerge from America at the start of the new millennium.

The daughter of legendary Indian musician Ravi Shankar, Jones grew up in Grapevine, Texas with her mother. She attended Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, winning several DownBeat jazz awards during her time as a student. Jones then elected to study jazz piano at the University of North Texas, but during the summer of 1999 relocated to Greenwich Village where she began to make an impression on the local folk and jazz scene. She appeared with the fusion band Wax Poetic before setting up her own unit with her boyfriend Lee Alexander (bass), Jesse Harris (guitar), and Dan Rieser (drums), and recording the independently released EP First Sessions. Jones spent the rest of 2001 working on her debut album and performing live and in the studio with jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter. Come Away With Me, produced by soul veteran Arif Mardin, was released by Blue Note Records to strong critical acclaim in February 2002. Despite featuring support from respected musicians Bill Frisell and Brian Blade, the album was more notable for its pop, country and soul leanings and only briefly strayed into smooth jazz territory. Jones herself referred to the music as ‘mock soft-cock rock’. Perplexingly, Come Away With Me was lodged at the top of the Billboard contemporary jazz album chart for over 140 weeks from March 2002 to November 2004. After 46 weeks on the mainstream chart, Come Away With Me climbed to the number 1 position in January 2003. The following month Jones took home five Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist and Album Of The Year, and the album went back to the top of the charts in the USA and UK. The single ‘Don’t Know Why’ (written by Jesse Harris) was garlanded with three of those awards. Come Away With Me was undoubtedly a forest fire success, and though no one would deny its quality, such phenomenal sales (over 20 million worldwide) were largely a result of the 30-something dinner party syndrome.

At the start of 2003, Jones asserted her jazz credentials with an appearance on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz radio show. She also guested on OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and played with the Little Willies, a loose-knit country band she formed with Alexander, Rieser, singer-songwriter Richard Julian and guitar player Jim Campilongo. Jones confirmed her talent and commercial standing with her second album, Feels Like Home, which was released to great acclaim in February 2004. Equally confusing was that the album, unlike its predecessor, was missing from the Billboard jazz chart, yet reached the top of the mainstream chart. The album, which featured Lee Alexander and guest appearances from the Band’s Levon Helm and Garth Hudson (‘What Am I To You?’) and Dolly Parton (‘Creepin’ In’), saw Jones tackling material by Tom Waits (‘The Long Way Home’) and Townes Van Zandt (‘Be Here To Love Me’) alongside a number of co-written originals. One of these, ‘Sunrise’, won the 2005 Grammy for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Jones picked up a further two Grammy Awards the same year for her collaboration with Ray Charles on ‘Here We Go Again’, taken from Charles’ final studio album Genius Loves Company.

Following the release of the Little Willies’ self-titled debut in 2006, Jones completed work on her third album. Released at the start of 2007, Not Too Late differed from her previous albums in featuring exclusively self-written material. With Arif Mardin having passed away in summer 2006, production duties were handled by Lee Alexander. During this period Jones completed filming on her debut lead screen role in Wong Kar-wai’s My Blueberry Nights.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.