Singer/songwriter Norah Jones has sold 36 million records worldwide, won numerous Grammy awards and is now starring in her first movie, "My Blueberry Nights.” She talks about her journey in this week’s One on 1 with Budd Mishkin.
You might think that playing in front of sold out audiences or acting for the first time in a major motion picture constitutes pressure.
But not for Norah Jones.
"I played in a marching band competition in the middle of August in 110 degrees with a polyester suit on, now that's difficult. I think about five of us fainted on that show,” said Jones.
The working conditions have gotten a lot more comfortable for Jones than they were when she played the saxophone in the high school marching band growing up in Texas.
Her three albums have sold nearly 36 million records worldwide.
But now she is leaving the comfort zone of music to act in her first film, “My Blueberry Nights.”
"The first week of the shoot, really the first couple days, I was really freaked out because I thought, ÎWhat did I get myself into? I am the main character in, wait, a movie? I'm a musician, what am I doing here, you know? I don't even like making music videos,’" said Jones.
“My Blueberry Nights” is a movie about heartache and the road and ultimately romance. It opened the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.
Jones says seeing herself for the first time on the big screen was terrifying.
"It's like hearing yourself on the answering machine, you know, how everybody cringes when they hear themselves,” says Jones. “I think what was a harder thing for me than seeing my face big, was to hear my speaking voice, because I'm used to hearing my singing voice."
Another adjustment for Jones? Kissing actor Jude Law.
"I was a little nervous about it, but I also got to just lay there and pretend I was passed out, so I didn't have to make the first move, you know, luckily,” said Jones.
Aside from promoting the film, these are relatively quiet days for Jones.
She's off the road, back living here, occasionally playing small clubs with friends and other events in the city, taking a pottery class, enjoying the anonymity of New York.
"I walk down the street, nobody really notices me. I mean, I'm so short people probably don't see me, you know? But, New York is a really good place because nobody really cares in New York, they're doing their own thing,” she said.
But a lot of people do care.
Fans and fellow musicians, like those who have done duets with her, including Wyclef Jean, Ray Charles and Dolly Parton. Songwriters have even offered her their songs.
"I'm a huge Tom Waits fan, so I said, ÎHi, nice to meet you Tom Waits, I love you,'" recalled Jones. "And he said, ÎOh did you get the songs I sent you?’ And I said, ÎWhat are you talking about, you are Tom Waits!’”
That’s what happens when your first album sells 20 million copies.
But at the time, Jones was also introduced to the seamier side of celebrity. In the aftermath of Jones’ winning five Grammys in 2003, The Post put the location of her Williamsburg apartment on the front page.
"Oh my God! Yeah. I've tried to block that out of my mind," says Jones. “I remember at the time there was a picture of Saddam Hussein on one side of The Post and me on the other side and at the top it said 'Hunt and Destroy,’ you referring to Saddam Hussein, but I was like, ÎOh my God, what is this weird cover?’ It's terrifying.”
In February 2002, before the release of her first CD, Jones thought she'd hit the peak of her career, opening for Willie Nelson in San Francisco.
"I was such a huge Willie Nelson fan growing up. My mom flew out for the show. She thought, ÎWell, this is going to be it. This is her big moment,’” says Jones.
Little did she know.
Her journey actually started in New York. Jones spent her first years in Greenwich Village, then she and her single mom moved to a town outside Dallas.
Her father, with whom she had little relationship for most of her life, is famed Indian sitarist Ravi Shankar.
"Some people are more natural at playing music than others and I've always felt like I was meant to play music, you know. Maybe that's because my dad is a great musician,” said Jones.
The house was filled with music and Jones knew what she liked to play: jazz.
"The idea of improvising appealed to me,” she said.
But not classical, for a very simple reason.
"I don't like to practice!” said Jones.
Jones was studying music at North Texas State in 1999 when some New York musicians encouraged her to come north, and a family friend offered a summer sublet in the Village.
“Then halfway through the summer, I thought: ÎOh crap. If I stay, I'm going to have to get a job, and oh crap, I'm going to have to find a place to live that's not a nice, sweet apartment in the West Village,' you know,” she recalled.
She started waiting tables, played clubs and got a demo tape to Blue Note Records.
Only a few years later, she was playing to packed houses, garnering tremendous attention. The rise was rapid, the learning curve steep. And there is no course on how to prepare for the transition from unknown, to known around the world.
"I didn't really have anyone to talk to about that, but I kept myself surrounded by good friends who addressed it and you know I was lucky that way," said Jones.
“It just kept getting nuttier and nuttier. I wish I could have enjoyed it more cause most of the things that happened were amazing. I was so stressed out the whole time that I was a little bit, I didn't enjoy it as much as I could have. I wish I had enjoyed it a little more,” said Jones.
Jones says she rushed her second album to be done with the pressure of having to follow up the first. She recorded her third album in a studio at home, an intertwining of her personal and professional lives.
But Jones says the events in her personal life don't always dictate how she'll write a song.
“I've also had the complete opposite happen, you know been in a great relationship, write a bunch of breakup songs,” said Jones. “Sometimes there’s no rhyme or reason to it and sometimes there is.”
Jones is promoting "My Blueberry Nights," but the attention now is a far cry from the Grammy winning, SRO crowd, multi-million selling hubbub created by her first album.
Jones says she doesn't reflect much on those hectic days of recent past, perhaps helped in part by the happy ability to create a quiet life in the big city, with her friends and club gigs, pottery class and always, music.
"I went to performing arts high school and there was a big jazz program and we would do gigs,” said Jones. “A lot of my teachers made their living doing gigs and teaching some on the side and still making great music and loving music. I didn't doubt that I would be a musician, but I also didn't have a crazy career in my head for what I would do."
— Budd Mishkin
|ONE ON 1 EXTRA|
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