Singer and pianist Norah Jones took the music world by storm in 2002 with her soft, sultry vocals and understated playing style. She has since proven that her extraordinary debut was no accident: An ever evolving artist who is unafraid of leaving her comfort zone, Jones builds a buoyant pop sensibility and soft spot for country upon her already solid foundation in jazz training. The songstress recently added actress to her resume with a starring role on the silver screen.
Geethali Norah Jones Shankar was born in New York City in 1979, but grew up in Texas. The daughter of famed sitarist Ravi Shankar (Jones legally shortened her name when she was a teenager), Norah didn't follow the same musical path as her father, but she inherited his natural talent, nonetheless. As a student at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas, Jones won Best Jazz Vocalist and Best Original Composition in 1996.
On the success express
In 1999, while studying jazz piano at the University of North Texas, Jones was invited to take over the summer sublet of a friend in New York. Surrounded by the country's top jazz clubs and coffeehouses, the young musician was inspired to start writing her own material.
She began performing with trip-hop outfit Wax Poetic and assembled a band of likeminded songwriters that included guitarist Jesse Harris, bassist Lee Alexander and drummer Dan Rieser. In 2000, the quartet recorded a selection of demos for Blue Note and signed with the label shortly after.
Jones spent the following year working on material for her debut, as well as playing with Charlie Hunter. In 2002, at the age of 22, she released Come Away with Me. The "jazz-informed" acoustic pop album won the singer five Grammy Awards in 2003, including Best New Artist, and went on to sell over ten million copies.
The title's proposition was, apparently, prophetic: Critics and consumers were swept up in her lush, mellow soundscape. By the time the songstress arrived at the Festival in the summer of 2002, she was an unexpected international star. Her much talked about performance was followed by a highly anticipated encore when she returned in 2003.
In 2004, Jones released her sophomore effort, Feels Like Home, which accentuated the country stylings from her debut. The album sold a million copies in the first week alone, placing Jones back on her perch at the top of the charts.
Broadening musical horizons
In 2003, the singer became a part of The Little Willies, a group comprised of four other musicians (including her regular collaborators Alexander and Rieser) that sporadically performs at The Living Room in New York City. The quintet released a self-titled debut, featuring classic American covers as well as original material, in 2006.
In 2007, Jones offered fans a third solo album, Not Too Late. The recording marked a departure from her previous work (due in part to the death of her producer Arif Mardin in 2006), taking on a grittier sound and containing only original compositions, all of which she wrote or co-wrote.
That same year, the singer starred in My Blueberry Nights, a film by venerated Hong Kong director Kar Wai Wong, and contributed a song to the soundtrack. The film opened the 2007 Cannes Film Festival, where it was nominated for the prestigious Palme D'Or.
In November 2009, Jones released her fourth studio album, The Fall, produced by Jacquire King and featuring collaborations with country rocker Ryan Adams and Okkervil River frontman Will Sheff, among others.
February 2012 saw the release of a second Littles Willies album, For the Good Times. Jones' fifth album, Little Broken Hearts, came out a couple of months later. Produced by Danger Mouse, whom she had met a year before when working on Italian composer Daniele Luppi's Rome project, it saw the singer-songwriter explore a darker, melancholy-tinged kind of pop music.