Although there are arguably bigger names that have stopped to play in Tulsa recently (i.e. Eric Clapton, just this past week), perhaps none has caused quite the buzz that Norah Jones has when she announced her show this weekend at Brady Theater.
After debuting with Come Away With Me in 2002, Jones swept the 2003 Grammy Awards, walking away with five trophies in her arms, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Vocal Album. Perhaps the irony of it all was the fact that Jones was commonly considered a jazz artist, if only by association with her record label, Blue Note.
While there definitely was a jazzy overtone to that debut disc, Jones is, and always has been, far more than a jazz crooner.
With a sweetly smoky timbre that also draws on blues and pure pop, Jones honestly defies categorization, proving to be a consummate songstress. Her sophomore outing, Feels Like Home, followed a similar path while incorporating more of her outside influences and endearing her even more to the general public.
By the time Not Too Late arrived in 2007, Jones had truly outgrown her jazz label, expanding her palette to a country-ish croon and expanding her audience even more.
While some considered Not Too Late to be Jones' breakout album, the arrival of her latest disc, The Fall, in November of 2009 is the one that truly breaks her from her past labels.
Yes, the smooth croon is still there and slightly jazzy overtones, but Jones has grown into one of the generation's most versatile and affective female pop stars. While her appeal is undeniable when settling into love songs and ballads, her personality and the glint in her eye truly pops out when crossing into more upbeat pop.
The playfulness and ease that come through on the disc's lead single "Chasing Pirates" were an immediate signal that Jones was up to something more. The sound is more contemporary, the tones more sleek with a touch of grit. Even the new cast of players assembled for this disc indicates a growth, both as an artist and in direction.
Drummers Joey Waronker (Beck, R.E.M.) and James Gadson (Bill Withers) touch on opposite ends of the spectrum with their performances, as do guitarists Marc Ribot (Tom Waits, Elvis Costello) and Smokey Hormel (Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer). From the opening note to the last, it's obvious that the young lady that appeared on the scene seven years earlier has grown up and is asserting herself and her personality.
For those who know, however, Jones' true strength lies in her live performance. Her presence is even more intoxicating than her voice as she draws in the audience. For those who didn't realize this, the six bonus cuts included on the expanded version of The Fall, all recorded live at The Living Room, offer a glimpse of the magic.
If the added swagger of a live and smoky "It's Gonna Be" or the sultry "You've Ruined Me" don't prove the point, her reading of Wilco's "Jesus, Etc." drives it all home.
When it was announced that Jones would open her 36-city headlining tour behind The Fall in Tulsa, music fans in Tulsa were not so quietly astir. Although Jones could easily warrant a larger venue, she has opted to keep this leg of the tour small and intimate, opening the trek with an evening at The Brady Theater -- even more reason for fans to be abuzz, knowing there's nary a bad set in the house.
As Jones arrives in Tulsa, however, she's not keeping the spotlight solely to herself, though her catalogue could fill an evening by itself.
Instead, she invited Texas-based, singer-songwriter Sarah Jaffe to open the first week of shows, a pick that will not only complement Jones' style, but also open a host of new doors for the aspiring young artist that will be opening.
Having recently returned from a U.S. and European tour with Midlake, Jaffe is both honored and excited to be opening for Jones.
Jaffe said that while on tour with Midlake, she got a call from a friend that was an acquaintance with Norah Jones.
After sharing Jaffe's music with her, Jones was impressed and invited Jaffe to join her for the first week of the tour as well rejoin her for select dates in Texas in May.
"It all happened so quickly," Jaffe said. "It's a great opportunity, especially with my new record coming out and the chance to play in front of a larger amount of people. It's very exciting and the timing is perfect."
Perfect, indeed. Jaffe recently signed a deal with Kirtland Records, which will be releasing her full length debut disc, Suburban Nature, this spring. The disc will be released digitally on April 6, with retail distribution following on May 18.
A quick listen to Jaffe's work makes it apparent that, though the two artists differ stylistically, they will also complement each other nicely. Although tracks from Jaffe's debut EP, Even Born Again, are a bit more acoustically folk based, there's a similar sensibility to narrative and flow. Jaffe also has the kind of smoky, soulful voice that endears Jones to so many, while her timbre is slightly different.
"Clementine," which is streaming on Jaffe's Web site, HYPERLINK "http://www.sarahjaffe.com"; www.sarahjaffe.com, reveals an artist that, much like Jones, is blending genres and reaching audiences cross-demographically. Hints of country, indie-pop, blues and folk all intertwine with a delivery that is engaging and slightly mesmerizing.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of joining the Jones tour for Jaffe is the fact that the audiences will be there to actually listen and connect with her songs. Unlike a bar or club show, the venues and audiences on this tour are far more conducive for an emotional exchange.
"I don't know -- I have a hard time with genres and comparing," Jaffe said about fans relating her and Jones. "I think we just may be going about things and making music in a similar fashion. When you listen to Norah, I have no idea what to call it, but it's easy to listen to. It's just good music.
"I just know it will be nice to be playing in front of people who are coming to listen -- both to me and to her," Jaffe said. "She does set the bar for people to be quiet and listen, and I'm excited to be playing places like The Orpheum and Brady Theater.
"I may be a little green and naive about the music business in general, but I feel honored and lucky to be playing music and get this opportunity."
As for Tulsa, Norah Jones' concert Friday evening, March 5, at Brady Theater will be a special opportunity to see both artists in an intimate atmosphere. After wrapping up her 36-city spring tour, the venues will get much larger as Jones will be appearing at the Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tenn. this summer and participating on the 2010 Lilith Fair tour as one of the featured headliners in larger venues.
The addition of the fact that she's chosen to open the tour in Tulsa makes it even more special as those who have tickets to the sold-out concert will get the first glimpse of how she continues to evolve as an artist. Even so, Jones proves to be a great model as an artist and as a mentor as she opens her stage for artists like Sarah Jaffe to meet a new audience as well.
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