Final Thursday afternoon, Norah Jones took a seat at a piano in her dwelling and performed a sequence of minor chords, buzzing as she did. She was carrying a striped gown, hoop earrings, and a darkish cap of the type bought within the nook groceries of Brooklyn. New Yorkers had been marching, to protest the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, and Jones match the music to the second. The sequence of minor chords was Duke Ellington’s “Fleurette Africaine,” composed for a jazz pageant in Senegal within the early sixties, when the actions for nationwide independence in Africa had been filled with hope and strife. In her dealing with, the piece was a lamentation.
Her efficiency quickly drew consideration on Fb and YouTube, the place she has been posting movies and taking part in quick live shows since March.
With the town reopening, three months of stay-at-home orders are all of the sudden previous, and so, it may appear, are the at-home live shows: the ensemble collaborations throughout Zoom, the marathons of Beethoven and Satie, the crude movies provided by basic rockers as palliatives for restive audiences. In contrast with most, Jones’s at-home performances have been modest: small batches of covers and requests, performed earlier than a propped-up cellphone. However they symbolize a definite second in her profession. Twenty years after she broke in on the Dwelling Room, on the Decrease East Aspect, and eighteen years after her first document, “Come Away with Me,” received 5 Grammy Awards and made her well-known at age twenty-three, Jones’s onscreen front room has change into a refuge from her celeb, an ill-lit house the place she is drawing deeply from the house piano, as if returning to the supply.
As quarantine started, Jones had not too long ago completed recording her seventh studio document, “Decide Me Up Off the Flooring.” Blue Observe Data had produced a lavish video for “I’m Alive,” a music that Jones co-wrote with Jeff Tweedy, of Wilco. Posted on YouTube on March 13th, the video captured the simple socializing that the coronavirus pandemic had finished away with: it reveals an at-home drinks social gathering, a fantasia of meals, wine, friendship, and music, with Jones taking part in an upright piano and Tweedy strumming an acoustic guitar. And but the video put her music—once more—within the easy-listening class, making it an adjunct to jazz-and-cocktails type.
Jones posted her first at-home video the following week. The digital camera confirmed her sitting at an upright piano in a plain white room; a person in a plaid flannel shirt sat on a sofa close by, taking part in a lap metal guitar. The music was the Weapons N’ Roses energy ballad “Endurance”: “Take it gradual, issues’ll be simply advantageous . . .” (The video has been seen greater than 4 million occasions.) She posted a few movies of herself on guitar, doing songs from her rock band Puss N Boots. Then she settled on the piano, dug into requests, and located a weekly groove on late Thursday afternoons.
I’ve been biking by way of the mini-concerts ever since. The movies differ in size from below 5 minutes to almost a half hour, distinguished one from the following by the musician’s garments: black shirt, pink gown, inexperienced hoodie, star-spangled military jacket, black T-shirt silk-screened with a picture of the Golden Women. The room is sparsely furnished: flat-screen tv, guitar, equine bric-a-brac. Every web page carries a hyperlink to a special nonprofit group. The songs are joined with the smallest bits of speak. They’re one thing apart from performances, for Jones principally faces the piano, not the digital camera. They’ve the air of one thing overheard, as if she’s a neighbor within the house that your house shares a wall with.
And the music? The music is what Jones’s music has been all alongside: requirements, within the broadest sense, and originals akin to the requirements, all based on her economical, clever piano taking part in and her extraordinary voice.
Jones has all the time labored with bands that includes different sturdy musicians—whether or not they’re native heroes in New York or jazz standouts, such because the drummer Brian Blade—and their taking part in has been a part of the live shows’ attraction. As she performs solo, the music is uncovered, its bone construction introduced into sight. “Come Away with Me,” her first hit, is extra plaintive than seductive. “I Bear in mind Clifford,” a basic elegy for the trumpeter Clifford Brown, is stripped again to a religious; it is available in as a request from Jones’s personal mom, Sue Jones, who remembers Norah taking part in it time and again as a younger girl in Texas. John Prine’s “That’s the Means the World Goes Spherical”—a Johnny-and-June-style duet when Jones did it on the highway, with Richard Julian—is delivered as a matter-of-fact piece of testimony to mark Prine’s dying, from COVID-19. One week, Jones bears down like a scholar on an enveloping association of a composition by her father, Ravi Shankar, the celebrated sitarist. She had been booked to play his music in London on his centenary, in April. One other week, she performs a plonking, loose-limbed, this-one’s-on-us eighty-seventh-birthday set for Willie Nelson—the namesake of her alt-country band, the Little Willies—that includes “Completely Lonely,” a music as unsubtle as its title. “Rattling, Willie, that music is harsh,” she says to the digital camera.
The live-at-home strategy fits Jones ideally. It foregrounds her directness and pure musicianship, reminding us (as if we might have forgotten) that she is a very nice singer and a classy pianist. It relieves her of the burden of filling the large areas of summer season jazz festivals and their outsized expectations for prime quantity, daring emotion, and between-song patter. It skirts the query of style that has dogged her profession: Is she a jazz singer? A twenty-first-century chanteuse? An old-soul millennial with the American songbook in her bones? Does it matter? It doesn’t. On the highway, Jones has performed “Bessie Smith,” by the Band, with a full band. Executed at dwelling, on upright piano, the music joins her to essentially the most legendary selfmade music of current occasions—Bob Dylan and the Band’s “The Basement Tapes,” recorded in a home close to Woodstock, in 1967—and winds her music again to the period earlier than recordings, when music was made by individuals utilizing voices and devices to go the time, categorical fugitive feelings, and provides pleasure to others.
There are not any requirements on “Decide Me Up Off the Flooring”; Jones composed all of the songs, solely or with others. On the document, they foreground her attribute moods of melancholy and remorse. On the upright piano, they sound as darkish because the songs of Leonard Cohen. “Have been You Watching?,” written with the poet Emily Fiskio, is pure, smoldering accusation. “Tryin’ to Maintain It Collectively” sounds as if it was written mid-calamity: the singer working the stiff rope of that phrase to self-lacerating impact.
“Hah—that music was written two years in the past,” Jones informed me over the cellphone. It was left off the document for steadiness’s sake—“Acquired to eliminate one of many unhappy ones!” she mentioned sardonically—after which reinstated as a bonus monitor. “A pal of mine mentioned, ‘You must fake you wrote it final week’ ”—as a response to the churn of present occasions. “However I’m not that good a liar.”
She has been writing new songs in response to the current. “My six-year-old has been waking up in the course of the evening for 3 months now, and I stroll him again to his room and sit and await him to fall again asleep,” she informed me. “I strive not to have a look at my cellphone at midnight, however I used to be studying about all of the issues which can be taking place. A music will come to you, generally, and one got here to me.” She performed it proper after the Ellington piece in final week’s present. It’s a cross between a road scene and a lullaby, focussed on the necessity to “love, hear, and study.” Unidentified on YouTube, it seemed like an ordinary that Nina Simone might need sung—the sound of an artist making an attempt to maintain it collectively in a time of protest.