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Meet the singer who's wowing the critics

Meet the singer who’s wowing the critics. With her debut album ”Come Away With Me” in release, 22-year-old Norah Jones talks about her musical past and future

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Norah Jones
Nora Jones Photograph by Patrick Andersson

”Put on ‘orbits’!” says Norah Jones. ”I love ‘Orbits’!”

Her boyfriend and bassist, Lee Alexander, drops a 1966 Miles Davis album, ”Miles Smiles,” into the CD player. ”Orbits” is the first song. The melody is bitter and serpentine — compared with most of the cretin pop on the radio, it comes off like quantum physics — but Jones hums happily along. ”God,” she says, ”I haven’t listened to this record in forever.” Next, they switch to ”Witch Hunt,” from Wayne Shorter’s ”Speak No Evil.” It was cut on Christmas Eve, 1964, and it came out on Blue Note — the same jazz-utopia label that Jones is signed to. ”There’s no way to be as cool as Wayne Shorter,” she says. ”Who is that cool?”

This woman was born in…1979. Speak with the singer and pianist, and she’ll make loving nods to Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, and Willie Nelson but never utter the name Carson Daly. Her new debut album, ”Come Away With Me,” radiates a spate of musical styles whose commercial potency passed decades ago: West Coast jazz, Muscle Shoals soul, Austin twang, and smoke-ringed Gotham balladry. Precociously rich and seductive, her voice seems to well up from the age of Dinah Washington and Nina Simone.

Alert the men in black: We think Norah Jones is an alien pretending to be a 22-year-old. When she was studying jazz at the University of North Texas, her band was called Laszlo — after the character in ”Casablanca.” Despite a generation’s fetish for midriff baring, she’s chaste about what she wears. ”I don’t want to show my belly. I’m not quite comfortable with that,” she says. ”I want to be sexy. I don’t want to be slutty. I don’t want people to want me. I want to just look nice.” Here in her Brooklyn apartment there’s a rented Yamaha piano and a stand-up bass, but Jones and Alexander tend not to woodshed after 9 p.m., so the neighbors can’t really complain. ”Actually, they annoy us,” Jones laughs. ”It’s weird. I’m such an old lady in a 22-year-old body. I get so annoyed at, like, house music. That’s fine for a club, but God, don’t play it in the apartment!” The ”devil in Miss Jones” puns will have to wait. The only sign of vice sits on the kitchen counter, near the Cheerios: a bottle of Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape sent over by Blue Note chief Bruce Lundvall.

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