On Her Latest, Norah Jones Returns To Old Influences Jones' new album, Day Breaks, includes a song inspired by "Compared to What," a jazz protest song from the late '60s, the lyrics of which she says are "still relevant so many years later."

On Her Latest, Norah Jones Returns To Old Influences

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Instead of Saturday morning, imagine it's late on a Saturday night, a smoky bar from the days of black-and-white photos and films. This is the mood that opens the new album by Norah Jones.


NORAH JONES: (Singing) The plot begins with you and me in dark-lit rooms. Your cigarette cuts through. I wear it like perfume.

SIMON: After forays into folk and pop, Norah Jones returns to jazz and the piano for her album "Day Breaks." She joins us now from our studios in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: Hi. Thanks for having me.

SIMON: You go back with jazz to when you were a teenager in Dallas, I gather.

JONES: I do. That's when I sort of first started listening to it and got mildly obsessed with it.

SIMON: Bill Evans and Billie Holiday, I've read.

JONES: Yeah. They were two of my favorites.


JONES: (Singing) Book pages left to turn. Our chapters we should burn.

JONES: I always sort of gravitated towards ballads, in general. And the intimacy of that music when it's slow is pretty special.

SIMON: Let's listen to a little bit from a track from this album that's getting a lot of play now. It's called "Flipside."


JONES: (Singing) Try get high but you wanted me low. Good things are happening but happening slow. It's some kind of mystery from long ago.

SIMON: Is it OK to hear this and think of "Compared To What" and Les McCann, yeah?

JONES: Yeah, that very much inspired this. I remember I was listening to that song and dancing and also feeling angry and, you know?

SIMON: Dancing and angry.

SIMON: Yeah, the lyrics of that song, you know, they're very defiant.


LES MCCANN: (Singing) President, he's got his war. Folks don't know just what it's for. Nobody gives us rhyme or reason. Half of one doubt, they call it treason.

JONES: They're very topical. And they're still relevant so many years later. And I think that's really interesting and sad and also makes you want to shout.


JONES: (Singing) You saw your reflection all over the news. Your temperature's well past 102. Put the guns away or we'll all going to lose.

There's just a lot going on. You watch the news, we're so hyperaware of everything now, too. It really will keep you up at night - guns, innocent people getting hurt, terrorism. I mean, politics is crazy, you know? It's a lot (laughter).


JONES: (Singing) If we're all free, then why does it seem we can't just be?

SIMON: Most of the songs on this new CD are originals by you or co-written by you.

JONES: Mhmm.

SIMON: But there are a few covers. Let me ask you about a Neil Young song you do - not one of his best known ones. First, let's have a clip from Neil Young doing the song "Don't Be Denied."


NEIL YOUNG: (Singing) When I was a boy, my mama said to me, your daddy's leaving home today. I think he's gone to stay. We packed up all our bags and drove out to Winnipeg.

SIMON: And now, if we could, let's listen to you.


JONES: (Singing) We packed up all the bags and drove up to Anchorage.

SIMON: Now, one of the first things you notice is you have a lot longer drives than Neil Young did.

JONES: (Laughter) Yeah.


JONES: (Singing) They got to Anchorage. She checked in to school.

I love that song so much. And I had a hard time singing those lyrics. They're so personal to him and talking about being a young boy and moving to Winnipeg. So I kind of changed the perspective. And I made it third person about a girl going to Anchorage, which is something that happened to me when I was 11. My mom and I drove up Anchorage from Texas to live for a little while.


JONES: (Singing) Used to sit on the steps at school and dream of being stars.

SIMON: You have a young family now.

JONES: Yeah. I have two little kids.

SIMON: They are, what, an infant and a toddler?

JONES: Yeah pretty much (laughter).

SIMON: I've heard that you have, perhaps, as well as a microwave, a piano in your kitchen.

JONES: I do (laughter). It's little. It's a little piano. It collects a lot of junk mail on top.

SIMON: Ever spill oatmeal on it?

JONES: No, my mom ingrained in me, very young age, never to put a drink on a piano. And that's always kind of stuck with me. So nobody gets to put any food or drinks on it (laughter).

SIMON: Norah Jones in New York. Her new album is "Day Breaks." Thanks so much for being with us.

JONES: Thank you.

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