Norah Jones has come a long way since her enigmatic hit single “Don’t Know Why” soared to number one on the Top 40 adult music charts in 2002. That song, and the album that contained it, “Come Away with Me,” took the 2003 Grammy Awards by storm. With eight nominations, she took home five Grammys for Best New Artist, Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and a technical award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical. The record was certified platinum (one million sold) six months after it dropped and diamond (10 million) in 2005. Not bad for a (then) 22-year-old musician.
But the description of singer, songwriter and pianist Jones as a “pop” artist is misleading. She is firmly grounded in the world of jazz, counting Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone as strong influences on her music.
Born in Brooklyn (as Geetali Norah Shankar), Jones is famously the daughter of Indian classical music giant and master sitarist Ravi Shankar. She grew up with her mother in Grapevine, Texas, and attributes her early musical education to her mother, concert promoter Sue Jones.
“My mom had this eight-album Billie Holiday set,” Jones told the BMI publication MusicWorld in 2002. “I picked out one disc that I liked and played that over and over again. ‘You Go to My Head’ was my favorite.”
While in high school, she won Down Beat magazine’s Student Music Award for Best Jazz Vocalist (twice) and Best Original Composition. Pursuing her dream of becoming a jazz singer, Jones relocated to New York in 1999 and soon picked up gigs around town and quickly caught the attention of the legendary Blue Note Records, signing a deal with that company, a subsidiary of EMI, two years later.
Though jazz was—and is—her first love, Jones effortlessly moves among genres both as a songwriter and performer, demonstrating her versatility on collaborations with musicians as diverse as Herbie Hancock, Willie Nelson, Outkast and the Foo Fighters. Her 2014 record “Little Broken Hearts,” one of her most experimental outings to date, was produced by Brian Burton, aka Danger Mouse, whose previous work includes producing The Black Keys, Gnarls Barkley and Beck.
The Boston Globe raved, “There are enough good musical ideas here to keep the mind from wandering and brings her squarely into contemporary pop without sounding contrived.”
This will be Jones’ debut appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and her show is highly anticipated. Her most recent album, “Day Breaks” was one of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Top 50 Albums of 2016.”
Nate Chinen of The New York Times wrote that the album “…brings her back into the jazz fold without taking the safe or familiar route…it features prominent jazz artists like the saxophonist Wayne Shorter and the bassist John Patitucci.”
Norah Jones performs Sunday evening at 9:40pm on the Jimmy Lyons Stage, accompanied by the incomparable rhythm section of drummer Brian Blades and bassist Chris Thomas.