by Hans Ebert

Even her name wasn’t exactly hip or happening: Norah. I had aunts named Norah. But this was Norah Jones on that debut album cover featuring that exquisite face with those big expressive eyes and which pulled you in.

Of course, there was then that voice- so effortlessly special that it cut through anything and everything that was topping the charts at the time.

There was no need for algorithms and “data A&R” and “popularity by numbers” to convince Bruce Lundvall, the legendary head of Blue Note, and Brian Bacchus, the head of A&R at the time, to sign up this unknown young girl after listening to a three track demo featuring two standards and an original by Jesse Harris.

They heard a girl with potential, but this potential needed to be realised.

In the end, it was all about Norah’s god-given talent to take any song and make it her own.

Whether it was producer Arif Mardin’s idea or not for her to record the standard “The Nearness Of You”, let’s just be thankful that she did. It’s drop dead beautiful with no superfluous note nor any need to do anything more than she felt was necessary.

It’s everything “good” music is and if some wish to label her a “jazz” singer, so be it. Norah Jones is not bound by labels. Never has been.

I was at EMI when we first heard of Norah Jones. That was in 2002. It was THAT album cover that had us sold. It was the marketing tool needed to have this new artist stand out in the shelves of record stores.

Talking about the success of this record yesterday to a couple of people, mentioned was that, looking back, it was the photograph on this debut album that had many buying it and THEN discovering the voice behind the face.

Remember the music videos for “Come Away With Me” and “Don’t Know Why”? Not really, right?

These low budget videos were released during the height of MTV when video had killed the radio star and when the music channel was relevant and the marketing platform with the most effectiveness.

Someone forgot to tell any of this to Norah.

I remember that day when summoned by our global heads- David Munns and Alain Levy- and told to stop all advertising and marketing in the region of that first record. Norah didn’t like where we were taking her. She didn’t want the bells and whistles of MTV, or Channel [V]. All those marketing and promotional plans went up in flames.

Even during those early days, whatever Norah wanted, Norah got. After all, she was suddenly our best selling artist.

Though at the time some might have thought her to be acting like a diva, she was simply asserting her rights to be the artist she wanted to be on her own terms.

That’s how it’s always been for this reluctant superstar who’s been on more records than many know about without being credited and with nothing to do about the money. It’s always been for the love of the music. Some things are priceless.

I first met Norah in Singapore. She was there to promote her record. She came across as shy and awkward when around any hint of gawking, fawning or over- attention.

Mentioned was the rule: Do not to ask about her father. It was a sensitive and prickly subject. At the time, I had no idea who her father was. Was it surprising to hear that her father was Ravi Shankar, the great Indian sitarist who was such an influence on George Harrison? Not really. This might have had to do with being Asian, married to an American and having an Eurasian daughter.

As things turned out, Norah and our daughter looked remarkably similar and, when they met, got along very well.

Did I get along with Norah? I think so. There was that night at the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong when we finished off a couple of bottles of red and listened to her lecture me about being a good father. She meant well.

It was also during this visit to the city that she was happy to perform an intimate set for a small group of friends- mainly friends from the horse racing fraternity.

While listening these days to those talk about all the various strategies needed to have music heard and the emphasis placed on numbers, how to work the “system” by sometimes cheating it and often cheating themselves to win the fame game, I find myself astral travelling to the debut record by Norah Jones and her version of “The Nearness Of You”.

It’s a timely reminder that it always comes down to talent and how overanalysing and trying to “learn” marketing, especially about something as subjective as music, makes, and has made, so many lose their way and lose sight of the music- the importance of the song and what it does to one’s heart and mind. That elusive emotional attachment often goes walkies.

Norah Jones always reminds me why music is not a science, but how a song or a voice makes you feel. And how these feelings are kept under lock and key while music becomes the soundtrack to your life without you even knowing it.

That’s the magic of music. Always will be.

#NorahJones #thenearnessofyou #BlueNote #musicismusic #RaviShankar #songs #emotionalattachment #BruceLundvall