April 19, 2004


Norah Jones … and all that jazz
: She’s led jazz from the wilderness with a blend of languid vocals and melodic piano tunes. (Pat Kane, 4/18/04, Sunday Herald)

It’s hard not to be shocked by Norah Jones. This may seem like the most perverse of statements. How can the “queen of the downbeat generation”, the torch-carrier for “grown-folks music”, the peddler of “lullabies for grown-ups”, even – most insultingly – “Snorah Jones” be in the remotest way shocking?

Whenever any of the 14 million or so purchased copies of her debut album are played, across this weary and over-worked globe, surely the response is a collective sigh of stress relief. Those eyes, those lips, that serenity; the melodious thunk of her right hand on the piano, the hug-me-hold-me lilt of her Texan voice; the lyrics of escape and redemption, changing seasons, meaningful sex, private despair, unravelling families, quiet regret. She’s quite a package, is Norah Jones. But shock would seem to be the least credible reaction to her music.

Well, I’m shocked. And it’s mostly because I’m scratching my head at a phenomenon which seems to have shifted the centre of gravity in the music business in a direction I never though it would go. For years, I’ve heard jazz and rock musicians, lost somewhere at the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, moaning endlessly about how nobody could ever allow them to make “real” music.

Who could get the freedom to fuse musics together, to focus on quietness and textures as well as production trickery, to put performance and emotion in the centre of the frame – and then make a real career out of it? Hello, Norah. And after her, the deluge. Now touring in the UK with her new record, Feels Like Home, Jones enters a marketplace that resounds to the vibration of double-bass and piano wire, the susurration of languid vocals, and a jazz-tastic vibe that only a few years ago was being sliced and diced on The Fast Show (“A countrypolitan feel with Ray Charles stylings? Seminal.”).

Listen to some of her contemporaries, and it seems like there’s been a phalanx of talent battering at the door of the music business, waiting for the Jones effect to let them in. Whatever you want to say about teenagers and 20-somethings like Joss Stone, Katie Melua or Jamie Cullum, there is something startling – alright, shocking – about such jazz-blues-and-soul oriented artists getting their big promotional push. Perhaps it’s about more than just an ability to sing and play piano at the same time.

Only television seems to be lagging behind in the dejuvenilization of pop culture.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 19, 2004 7:23 AM

i still don't think she's all that great, and i would not place her in the 'jazz' genre.

Posted by: poormedicalstudent at April 19, 2004 1:01 PM