In Residence: Norah Jones performs a Dolly Parton classic and new album tracks

Norah Jones. Photo Credit: Diane Russo.

Norah Jones’ music has a distinct sense of motion: compositions that sway, drift, and move in delicate patterns. Her songcraft has an appreciation of jazz traditions — the standards of which reside on her legendary record label Blue Note — but with an approach that willingly challenges them. Over the course of multiple albums, Jones has collaborated with artists across genres and styles (Dolly Parton, Billie Joe Armstrong, OutKast, Sharon Van Etten), and she continually turns the dial on her sound. 

KCRW DJ and Music Director Anne Litt has long been an admirer of her work, saying: “KCRW was an early supporter of hers. On every album, I learn something new about her. She is always exploring and allowing her day to day life to inform each album. So each is about the moment she is in right now.”

Her 2020 release, “Pick Me Up Off The Floor” is no exception. Working with Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) at his famed Chicago studio, Jones wrote an album’s worth of contemplative, personal, and political piano-driven pop. At a time when our connections are being challenged, this album gives voice to the fact that — on some level — we all face related issues. Her perspective has naturally widened as a mother, which we discuss below, and her knack for productivity has served her well during this unique quarantine period. Jones has produced live sessions from her home, caught up with reading, and, lucky for us, made time to record a session and join KCRW for a conversation as part of our In Residence series. 

Stream her session featuring new tracks and a classic cover of Dolly Parton’s “The Grass Is Blue,” and read more about how poetry inspires her, working with Jeff Tweedy, and her favorite albums on Blue Note Records.

Firstly, congrats on the new album. Certainly an unprecedented time to release a record but it seems you’re making the most of it with live streaming concerts and you’ve just released a new video. To that end, how do you stay motivated creatively during quarantine? And how do you think you’ll look back on this timeframe in the context of your career?

Thank you, it’s definitely a strange time to be releasing an album, but I know I wouldn’t have made it through this quarantine without listening to a lot of good music so I think music has a place even in a pandemic. I have really enjoyed doing the live streams because it's sort of the only way I’ve been able to be creative in this time. My kids are little, so we haven’t had a lot of boredom in my house! The live streams are so great to connect with other people but it’s also sort of my "me time” to just play music.

Norah Jones’ piano. Credit: Norah Jones.

You’ve collaborated with Jeff Tweedy on a number of projects and albums now — tell us about the musical connection you two have.

Jeff is so great, I’m a longtime fan and we’ve been friendly since the first time we met in 2002, but haven’t ever really gotten to play together. I was trying to do some mini collaborations to release singles in the last few years and he was one of my first calls. I went to Chicago to record at “The Loft” with him and Tom Schick — his longtime engineer and an old engineer and friend of mine — and his son, Spencer — who is a killer dummer — and we had a ball. We wrote and recorded four songs in three days. Two are on this album and two were released as singles last year as originally intended. I’d love to make more music with him. 

We understand that poetry inspired a lot of the new album. Can you tell us about that… specific poets or works?

Yes, actually my good friend, Emily Fiskio gave me some of her poems a few years back to write for a session I was doing and didn’t have any new songs. One is the song on the new album, "Were You Watching.”  After that she gave me a bunch of poetry books, Leonard Cohen, “ Book of Longing",  Yrsa Daley-Ward, etc. And I got really into it. Plus, reading Dr. Seuss to my kids every night and Shel Silverstein… my brain was a jumble of words and I wrote a few poems eventually that became songs on this album.   

What are your favorite books to read to your children?

Definitely anything by Dr. Seuss. “Oh, The Things You Can Think!” is a good one. “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish” is a personal favorite. And Shel Silverstein, “A Light in the Attic.”

Your music is released on such a legendary record label. Can you share some of your favorite Blue Note classic records? How about a couple “Sunday morning albums” from the roster.

Oh yeah, one of the perks is that they send me all the re-issued vinyl!

Cannonball Adderley's “Somethin’ Else,” Wayne Shorter's “Speak No Evil,” Herbie Hancock's “Maiden Voyage” all come to mind… but you truly can’t go wrong with the back catalogue.  

Another favorite Blue Note album of mine from the modern era is "New Moon Daughter" by Cassandra Wilson.

When we get back to live performance — where do you look forward to playing the most and why? Could be a venue, a city, an outdoor space.

I think Red Rocks is probably my favorite place to play. It’s always a party and you can’t beat the view.

— Written by Tyler Hale

Check out more In Residence sessions:
Jensen McRae
Peter CottonTale
Rufus Wainwright
Rocky Dawuni
Lianne La Havas
Blake Mills
Laura Marling
Aloe Blacc
Devon Gilfillian
Jonathan Wilson
Juana Molina





Edited for broadcast by - Paul Dreux Smith