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Come Away with Me by Kelley Reese

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Come Away With Me



In some ways Norah Jones' success is due to the 1971 Cadillac she drove at UNT.

"That car was really awesome," she says. "It was just perfect beautiful and huge."

Because she drove a big car, Jones got the assignment to pick up jazz bassist Marc Johnson and his band from Denton's Radisson Hotel and bring them to campus for the clinic they were teaching.

Johnson's band included Jesse Harris, Tony Scherr and Kenny Wollesen, who all had a hand in the creation of Jones' much lauded debut album, Come Away With Me.

"That short ride from across the highway is, I guess, what started all of this," she says, "all of this" being a rather casual allusion to her exploding fame.

The buzz

Norah Jones
Norah Jones cleaned up at the Grammys with five individual awards for best new artist, record of the year, album of the year, best female pop vocal performance and best pop vocal album. Three other Grammys for song writing, engineering and producing were associated with the album.

With buzz from the music industry beginning to surround her before Come Away With Me was released in February 2002, it's almost no surprise that before the year was out, Jones had appeared on Saturday Night Live and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, or that she was named Best Young Female Singer by VH1, and Entertainment Weekly had ranked her ninth in its list of the top 12 artists of the year.

With a world tour supported by continued acclaim and exposure, it seems reasonable that after a year on the shelves the album has sold more than 6 million copies and won eight Grammy Awards.

But for Jones it's still shocking and uncomfortable.

"It feels like I hit my head," she says. "I just wanted to put out two or three albums and have people enjoy them. I never thought the kind of music I play would be this popular."

The music she plays is the music of grandparents wise and old and its exposed emotion connects with the essence of what is human in each of us.

And that not the car is the reason Jones' life has taken a fast-track journey into stardom.

New York bound

Of course, the guys from Johnson's band tease her about their role in her surreal escapade, claiming she first went to New York at their urging.

And just as good naturedly, she says that's not true.

"I always knew I'd end up in New York," she says.

  Norah Jones

Jones spent two years in the North Texas jazz program before going to New York.


But first she spent two years in the North Texas jazz program performing with the UNT Jazz Singers and the Zebras, a jazz piano group.

"When she arrived here she already had beautiful musicality and was aesthetically strong," says Dan Haerle, retired UNT Regents Professor of music.

And so his job was primarily to act as a proxy parent, he says.

"I never take any credit or responsibility for having influenced anybody's success," Haerle says. "When they're here we can guide them and try to positively influence their attitude about what it takes to achieve their goals, but any success anybody has always comes from their own talent and effort."

Because Jones' goal was to get to New York, she jumped at a chance to sublet the New York apartment of a family friend in the summer of 1999.

"When I left Denton, originally the plan was to just go up for the summer and come back to school but looking back, I realize I was ready to leave school and have my music be more than academic," she says.

That's why when she got to New York she broke out of the pure jazz incubator that North Texas provided for her and began experimenting with playing country and western, pop and blues.

Her album reflects all those influences.

In fact, Come Away With Me is an album that doesn't seem to exactly fit any genre because it feels beautiful everywhere. So the songs sound as at home on a Top 40 radio station as they do on jazz and adult contemporary music stations.

Good gigs

But even that radio exposure doesn't seem to matter much to Jones.

"I guess it's great that lots of people like the music I make, but even if only a few people liked it, I'd still make it just the same," she says. "I make music as a way to have it in my life. It's what I've always done."

Before she was discovered in 2000 when a member of the EMI Music royalties department heard her and arranged for her to meet the head of Blue Note Records — Jones had decided she wasn't going to suck the life out of her music by making a living playing crummy gigs for audiences who didn't care if she was there or not.

"I played in restaurants and piano bars for about a year, using my music as my job because I'd never thought about doing anything else," she says.

"But I was tired of the bad audiences, so I took a job as a waitress to make my living and planned on playing one or two really good gigs each week just before I signed with Blue Note."

These days, she has nothing but good audiences — and just a little bit of pressure to make a great second album.

"I know no matter what I do, people won't think it's good enough," she says. "So I'm just hoping to make a record I like and can be proud of."

It'll probably be fantastic, since those are the same criteria she used for the first.



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