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What did Norah Jones and her sister, Anoushka Shankar, do in Encinitas? ‘We went to Target a lot!’

Norah Jones and her half-sister, sitar virtuoso Anoushka Shankar, are shown in New York in 2003.
(Theo Wargo / WireImage)

Bonus Q&A: Jones, a multi-Grammy Award-winner, also discusses her music, moving from Texas to New York at 20, and why she couldn’t take her piano to the top of the Empire State Building

It’s been 20 years since the release of Norah Jones’s gently captivating debut album, “Come Away With Me.”
The album went on to sell more than 27 million copies worldwide and earned Jones six Grammy Awards. It was a swift and heady rise to prominence for the then-23-year-old troubadour.

“It was a whirlwind! And it was definitely turbo-speed,” Jones tells the San Diego Union-Tribune in the cover story in today’s weekly Night & Day:

The singer-songwriter, who has long shunned the spotlight offstage, is San Diego-bound on a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary of her debut album

In this bonus Q&A, Jones reflects further on her music, her career, her rise to prominence and why she liked to shop at Target when visiting family in Encinitas in San Diego’s North County.

Q: Do you still have your alto saxophone? And, if so, when is the last time you played it?

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A: It’s in my closet and I probably haven’t played it since ninth grade. So, I’m afraid to open it, but someday...

Q: How cold was it on top of the Empire State Building in January when you and your band performed The Beatles’ “Let It Be” and “I’ve Got a Feeling?”

A: It was freezing! I don’t know how we got through that, but the recording sounds so good. We actually did it over Christmas when I was doing all the (videos) for my Christmas record.

Q: Was playing on top of the Empire State building inspired by The Beatles having done their last performance in January 1969 on the roof of Apple Records in London?

A: I think that started the whole thing. I wasn’t the one who planned it; it was was a record company idea. And, at the last second, I realized they couldn’t get a piano up the Empire State Building’s elevator! So, we had a vintage Wurlitzer electric piano, which I loved. But when we got up on top of the building, there was something about antenna (frequencies) and we couldn’t use it.

Q: Have you taken a deep dive into Peter Jackson’s extensive “Get Back” documentary on The Beatles?

The six-hour-plus documentary will be exclusively shown by Disney+ over three nights on Thanksgiving weekend. It paints a markedly different picture of The Beatles than the 1970 documentary, “Let It Be.”

A: I did a mini-dive. I’m chewing my way through it. I’ve been waiting for this tour to start so I can finish it.

Q: Are your kids going out on the tour with you?

A: They’re coming for part of it. They’re more excited than anyone about the tour!

Q: I first spoke to you in early 2002 to preview your first tour, when you were the opening act for John Mayer. My wife interviewed you in July of that year and you had just performed at Paisley Park outside Minneapolis, at the personal invitation of Prince. Was that a “pinch-me” moment?

A: Definitely. I had so many of those special things happen. It was so special for me to meet Prince and play for him and see him play. It was amazing! Larry Graham was playing bass with Prince at the time.

Q: Did you or Prince sit in with each other?

A: We did not play together. But he was super-kind and we talked about piano.

Q: Did he give you any advice?

A: Not really. It was a brief meeting. But the fact he invited us made me so happy. I feel like (famous) people don’t give advice that much... It’s funny; I feel like artists are a little shy about (giving advice), even the older ones who have already been established, unless (you) ask for it.

Norah Jones and Anoushka Shankar accept a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of their father, the late Ravi Shankar, at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards Special Merit Awards Ceremony on Feb. 9, 2013 in Los Angeles.
(Michael Kovac / WireImage)

Q: Ray Charles wrote so many great songs, as you know, and then he stopped writing. I asked him what his criteria was for selecting songs by other writers, and he told me he felt he had earned the right to change the music, if he wanted. But he said that if he didn’t immediately connect with the lyrics in a deep way, why bother? What’s your criteria for cover songs?

A: I don’t really look for outside songs very much. In fact, I never do. In the beginning of my career, (singer-songwriter) Jesse (Harris) was my best friend, so me singing his songs felt really cool and different. It was nice for both of us. My bass player (on “Come Away With Me”) was Lee Alexander, and I sang his songs. We were a couple at at the time and it felt very natural.

I felt close to those songs even though I didn’t write them. I love to choose covers I connect with in some way. People send me songs a lot and I have felt way more inspired these past five years, as a songwriter, than I ever have. I don’t look for outside songs. Sometimes a cover will strike me to add to the set and that’s always fun.

Q: What happened five years ago?

A: I started doing this thing where my plan was to put out a (new) single every month, so that I could collaborate with different people and keep the music rolling without worrying about a huge album release or it being stressful. You know, once I had little kids I wasn’t looking to promote an album for a year.

So, I ended up doing something every few months with someone (songwriters) I knew or didn’t know. And we’d write songs together, record them and put them out. Also, playing with Brian Blade on the drums has been one of the most inspiring things in my whole life. He has really brought my songs to life and we’ve been playing together more on this tour, even though he played on my first album.

Q: On the alternate version of “I’ve Got to See You Again” on your “Come Away With Me” box set, Kevin Breit is credited for playing “guitar, tenor banjo and micro cassette recorder.” That is a credit I’ve never seen before on any album. What exactly did he play on a micro cassette recorder?

A: (laughing) I mean, my memory is vague, but I think that’s exactly what it sounds like. He was trying to mess with something in the studio and I think he used it on the guitar to record part of the song.

Q: I remember you telling me years ago that one of the reasons you signed to Blue Note Records is that you were a big fan of Cassandra Wilson’s albums for Blue Note and of the production work on them by Craig Street. Was getting to work with Craig an incentive for you to sign with Blue Note?

A: For me, yeah... I hadn’t even been thinking of record deals yet. I had just moved to New York and was trying to find my niche as a New Yorker and as a New York musician. Once I was the label, Cassandra’s “New Moon Daughter” was one of my favorite albums that (wasn’t) 50 years (old). That is such a special album and she’s so special. Her voice is so haunting and that album was put together with the beautiful production by Craig, with all these amazing musicians.

I was in love with Kevin Breit’s guitar playing on “New Moon Daughter” and knew I wanted it on my album, too. Cassandra’s songs are great, the covers they chose are great, and (the album) has such a beautiful mood.

Norah Jones performs at the 89th Annual Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree Lighting Pre-Tape at Rockefeller Center on Nov. 30, 2021 in New York City.
(James Devaney / GC Images)

Q: There used to be a credit union on the main floor of the building where I worked and for about a year after “Come Away With Me” was released it would be playing every time I went into the credit union. The tellers told me they loved it, and not as background music...

A: That’s sweet. I’ve heard a lot of stories from people and it’s beautiful to hear that love coming back. Especially in the beginning, it was so strange how you make a thing — a record — and put in out and it swims around the whole world and it touches people in different ways. That’s sort of the magic of recording music and putting it out there.

Q: Your mother was not happy when you dropped out of college to move to New York. But when you got discouraged in New York and wanted to move back to Texas, she encouraged you to stick it out another year.

A: I think I just got the “New Yorker blues,” which I think everybody gets that first year in the big city. I had a friend in New York, so I was not alone-alone. But I had the blues. I was waiting tables and was frustrated because in Texas I could make enough money on a weekend (music) gig to pay my rent. But in New York rent was higher and gigs didn’t pay hardly at all.

The legendary Indian musican, a 20-year Encinitas resident, transcended styles and borders with his hugely influential music

I don’t think anything specific happened after (that phone call). But it really wasn’t that long after that that I started singing songs with Jesse and playing at (the New York music club) The Living Room. And the feeling I encountered there was a whole world of new avenues and different ideas for music.

Q: Your late father, Ravi Shankar, lived in Encinitas, just north of San Diego, with his wife, Sukyana, and your half sister, Anoushka. Did you come to San Diego very often to visit them?

A: Yeah, in Encinitas we sort of reunited when I was 18 and I met my sister for the first time when she was 16. I did spend a lot of time in Encinitas, not in San Diego proper.

Q: Did Anoushka take you to any of her favorite hangouts here?

A: I guess we went to Target a lot! And Marshall’s.

Q: Um, why did you to Target a lot in Encinitas?

A: (laughing) Well, I moved from Texas to New York when I was 20, and I missed going to Target and Marshall’s! So, that’s where we would go in Encinitas.

Nora Jones, with Regina Spektor

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park, 200 Marina Park Way, downtown

Tickets: $54, plus service charges

Online:ticketmaster.com


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