Keeping up with Norah Jones
- Ricky Lo () - March 6, 2005 - 12:00am
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.

That’s how a music critic described the impact of Norah Jones on him and, I’m sure, on other people who have become instant fans of Norah, loving her and her music at first hearing.

And that must be how music-lovers will feel when they troop to Norah’s concert at the Araneta Coliseum on Saturday, March 12, part of her Asian tour with Manila as her seventh stop (her itinerary includes Singapore last Feb. 27, Thailand last March 3, Korea yesterday, Beijing on March 7, Shanghai on March 9, Hong Kong on March 11, Taiwan on March 14, Australia on March 16 and 17, and New Zealand on March 29 and 30).

That, too, was how I felt the first time I listened to such Norah Jones songs as Come Away with Me, Nightingale, Don’t Know Why, Feels Like Home and The Long Way Home. To paraphrase an old popular song, (you) can’t help falling in love (with Jones).

That’s why I got excited when the office of Arnold Vegafria (whose company, ALV Events Int’l, is producing Norah’s Big Dome concert) asked me to do a 10-minute phone interview with Norah who was then in New York. Before that, I did a little more research on Norah whose father is the great Indian sitar artist Ravi Shankar whose music largely influenced the late Beatle George Harrison (who used the sitar as background of some of his songs).

Norah’s concert is presented by Globe Platinum in cooperation with Motorola and Dunhill, together with Bench, Rustan’s Essences, Nescafé Classic and ABS-CBN. (Other sponsors are Globe Girlfriends, Petron Blaze, Chivas Regal, Skechers, AMA Computer University and Hotel Inter-Continental, Norah’s official residence while she’s in Manila, with
The Philippine STAR as one of the media partners.)

A 10-time Grammy winner (Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, etc.), Norah Jones was born on March 30, 1979 in New York City. Her mother, Sue Jones, was a dancer, producer and a nurse – and a great music lover who greatly influenced Norah. According to one write-up, Sue Jones had a nine-year relationship with Shankar, towards the end of which Norah was born. Norah saw her father a few times a year until she was nine and then not until she was 18 when she was introduced to her half-sister Anoushka, a sitar player trained by Ravi Shankar himself.

"My mom and I have always been very close," Norah was quoted as saying. "She is my best friend. She had to make a lot of sacrifices early on in my life to make sure I got to do what I wanted to do. Although I do love my dad very much, I did only spend a fraction of my adolescence around him...I love my dad and I think he’s a brilliant musician..."

When Norah was four years old, she and her mom moved to the Dallas suburb of Grapevine, Texas. She began singing in church choirs at age five, began piano lessons two years later and enrolled in Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts.

Her debut album, Come Away With Me, was released in 2002. It won several Grammys. Her follow-up album, Feels Like Home, was released in 2004.

Here’s what I got from my 10-minute phone Conversation with Norah Jones:

Hi, how are you?

"I’m okay. And you?"

I’m okay, too. Good morning, Miss Jones! It’s 2:30 in the morning here in Manila.

"Oh, no! Is it?"

You’ll be in Manila for your concert on March 12. Your first time here, isn’t it?

"Yes, it is!"

What have you heard about the Philippines?

"Not much."

Filipinos are great music-lovers.

"Oh, great! I can’t wait (to be there). I’m excited! I want to find out more about the Philippines."

I’m curious. How much of you and your music is Asian?

"Not that much. My dad is Indian but I don’t know that much about it. My music is not Asian at all. I mean, I listen to all kinds of music. Everytime I hear Asian music I’m kind of influenced by it somehow just like I am by other types of music."

Who are the artists who have influenced your music?

"Oh, gosh, a lot! There’s Bob Marley, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash. So many of them! I grew up on their music, and that of Aretha Franklin, too."

The jazzy types, yes?

"I didn’t really get into jazz until I was in high school."

What got you interested in jazz?

"I don’t know. But I remember my mom taking me to watch big bands perform. It was cool! Very interesting. At home, my mom was playing R&B and classic soul all the time. She never really played jazz. But after hearing those big bands perform, I got hooked on jazz music. I decided to take up jazz piano lessons."

Of course, you play the piano so well. Have you tried playing the sitar?

"No, I haven’t."

What other musical instrument do you play?

"The saxophone."

You learned a lot about music from your mom.

"As I’ve been saying in interviews, my mom had this extensive LP collection and song from ‘oldies’ radio, including an eight-album Billie Holiday set. I usually chose one album that I liked and I listened to it over and over again."

What was your favorite from that Billie Holiday set?

"You Go To My Head."

I wonder, did you get any pointers from your dad?

"Not really...No, I didn’t."

What’s your inspiration when you compose songs?

"I write better when I’m sad."

Oh, yeah? Why?

"I don’t know. You just feel more...I don’t know...sensitive?...when you are sad. It’s just easier to write a song when you’re sad. When you’re happy, you gonna go take a walk and keep on smiling."

As a composer, what songs do you prefer?

"Simple country songs. Actually, I’m drawn to all kinds of songs. Good songs. Just simple good songs. I feel comfortable with simple good songs. If I don’t understand the song, I’m not going to sing it well, so why sing it at all?"

Like Come Away with Me?

"I wrote that song two years ago when I went to New York. It’s one of those late-night songs."

Would you remember the first song that you’ve ever sung?

"Oh, that was too long ago. I can’t even remember what it was."

What song do you find most touching?

"You know, there are so many songs that I can’t think of just one."

What kind of music do you love to listen to?

"It depends on the day."

How has success changed you, if it ever did?

"It has changed my way of life. Now, I have a nice apartment and I’m able to do things I wasn’t able to do before, which is great! But I still have the same friends and I still go to the same places. So, nothing much has really changed."

Away from work, what do you do? How do you enjoy yourself... how do you relax?

"Staying out with my friends, the same old friends."

What do you enjoy doing the most?

"Watch a movie. Read a book. That sort of stuff."

What kind of movies do you like?

"Oh, anything. Funny movies."

If you were not a singer/songwriter, what would you have been?

"I don’t know. Probably...I don’t know."

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