Singer-Songwriter Steps From Shadow Of Famous Dad
By Sascha Brodsky, Heather Corcoran and Rhea Saran
Just six years ago, Norah Jones was another New York musician picking up gigs wherever she could. On April 18, Jones comes home to play Madison Square Garden. In the meantime, Ravi Shankar’s daughter picked up eight Grammy Awards and her latest album is getting rave reviews.
Jones has deep New York roots. Born in the city, Jones moved to Texas when she was four. She studied music at the University of North Texas in Denton and when she graduated she moved back east to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
In Brooklyn, she joined the band the Ferdinandos, and another group called Wax Poetic. To make ends meet, she waited tables at a restaurant on the Upper East Side. She sometimes played at the Living Room and Makor, a club that’s inside an Upper West Side Jewish center.
Word of her talents began to spread and in 2001, the president of the Blue Note records signed Jones to a contract. Two years later, her first album “Come Away With Me” won big at the Grammys for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist.
For Jones, her latest album, “Not Too Late,” is a bit of a departure, and a chance to break free. After the success of “Come Away with Me” brought the songstress Grammy Awards and airplay in coffee houses, book stores and waiting rooms across the country, Jones retreated, opting to focus on other projects. Instead of doing more solo work, she spent time with her country band, The Little Willies and collaborating with other musicians, like out-there singer Mike Patton’s experimental rock project Peeping Tom.
Now, on “Not Too Late,” Jones is back. The album shot to No. 1 on the Billboard charts shortly after its release. The album is the first time the singer has written all of her own material. Adding to the personal touch, Jones recorded the album with her bassist boyfriend in their home studio, opting for a rougher sound and political vocals. In “My Dear Country,” the artist sings, “Nothing is as scary as election day.”
But writing her own songs isn’t the only way the new, grown-up Jones is stepping out. Currently, she is back in New York, filming the leading role in “My Blueberry Night,” directed by cult favorite Wong Kar-Wai. In her big-screen debut Jones will act alongside megastars Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Natalie Portman. The movie, Wong’s first English language film, stars Jones as a young woman traveling across the United States, looking for true love. At first, the singer was worried about taking such a big role her first time in front of the camera. But the director, who has worked with musicians in the past reportedly said to her, “Ah, you’ll be fine.”
With a hit album and a much-anticipated film on the way, Norah Jones is sure to be more than fine.
Although any Norah Jones story invites the inevitable question about her famous father, Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar, the subject is really a non-issue for the talented singer. Jones deliberately avoids much commentary about the relationship because, as she has said many times before, she doesn’t want her press to be about him. Besides, it is a private matter.
The media scrutiny of her paternal relationship, at least initially, was primarily due to a 10 year estrangement between father and daughter, which ended shortly before she became famous in her own right. Jones was the product of a nine-year relationship between Sue Jones (a producer and former dancer) and Shankar. The young Jones saw her father on and off, a few times a year, until she was about 9 years old. Then came the estrangement—they didn’t reconnect until she was 18. Jones is very clear that she doesn’t resent her father. In an interview a few years ago, she even said she loves him. But, she added, she only spent a tiny portion of her adolescence with him.
Ultimately, Jones wants to be recognized for her achievements, not because of her lineage. A fair request, given that her music does stand on its own (eight Grammys prove it) – an accomplishment Shankar acknowledges, saying he cannot take any credit for her musical abilities.