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Norah Jones on jazz's comeback and just having fun with her career

Norah Jones performs onstage at the 2015 MusiCares Person Of The Year Gala at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for NARAS

The first album from Norah Jones was the 2002 blockbuster Come Away with Me, which is exactly what her fans did, following the velvet-voiced singer over a rich career of zigs and zags. Now, with her latest LP, Day Breaks (out today), Jones returns to the slow and soulful piano-based sound of her early career. Her upcoming tour kicks off Oct. 18 in Vancouver, with no other Canadian dates yet announced. The Globe and Mail spoke to the nine-time Grammy winner recently in Toronto.

You played Newport Jazz this summer, as did Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper, who are a couple of buzzed-about players involved with Kendrick Lamar's hit album To Pimp a Butterfly. Is jazz having a moment?

It's kind of having a resurgence. It's cool again, right? [Laughs.] I like what's going on out there. I still listen to old records, though, mostly. But it's exciting to see people getting some recognition out there. For me, it's rooting for your home team.

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You go back a few years with Robert Glasper, right?

I went to jazz camp with him when I was 15 years old.

I was with him at the Blue Note 75th anniversary concert at the Kennedy Center in 2014, and it was awesome.

It's like we're still teenagers, but we're excelling at what we do. I've enjoyed hearing jazz come back in the mainstream more. You hear it in Kendrick Lamar's music or on the David Bowie album. It's nice. It's very broad, though. It's hard to define the genre with words.

Your new album, which is lovely, is not exactly the hip kind of jazz we're talking about though. Is that fair to say?

Sure. And I'm fine with that.

Then again, you've got drummer Brian Blade, organist Lonnie Smith and sax player Wayne Shorter on the album.

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Yeah, and that's pretty hip to me. You know, it felt exciting, playing with them. But at the same time it was comfortable. Which is a testament to how great they are as musicians.

Can you describe what it was like working with them?

There was a sense of awe, but there was also the sense of "I better bring my A game." There's only so much you can do though to prepare for recording with Wayne Shorter. It's not like you're going to overrehearse, you know what I mean? The magic is in the spontaneity. So, the key was to capture the right songs in the right moments.

You mentioned the Blue Note concert, which inspired you to make this album. Bruce Lundvall, who signed you to Blue Note, died last year. What was it like working with him, particularly after the smash success of your debut Come Away with Me?

I think Blue Note was as shocked at the huge success of the album as I was. Nobody expected it to get as big as it did. But I think because it did, that afforded me a little bit more freedom, too. Also, Bruce was never confining. If there was anything the money guys wanted me to do, Bruce was like, "Listen, they want me to get you to do this, but I don't care if you don't. You decide. I just have to tell you about it." I mean, that's great. It's like, "Okay, Bruce, you told me about it. Let's go to lunch next week." So, I've never felt pressure from that label, in the way you hear about it happening in the industry.

You've exercised that freedom throughout your career, especially lately, with a stylized pop album Little Broken Hearts in 2012, followed by an alt-country record with Puss n Boots in 2014, and now an album of leisurely melodic jazz.

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I'm enjoying this part of my career. It's not insane, but I still have an audience. It's a different world now. I made my money early on. My house is paid for. I'm just trying to have fun out there.

Still, we see new artists being referred to as the "next Norah Jones." The industry wants the next new thing. Wouldn't it be nice if Norah Jones could be the next Norah Jones?

I don't really care, to be honest. That's awesome for you to say, and it's not a bad question. But it's not what I'm in this for. If I had a crazy major success now like that first album, I'd probably cry. I'd have to go into hiding with my children. I just want people to enjoy my music. That would be great, you know? That would be great.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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