NEW YORK - When Norah Jones was 11, her mother took her to a big-band jazz concert at the University of North Texas campus near their home. The college boys were cute, but Ms. Jones was transfixed by the one woman on stage.
"She had this blond ponytail, and she looked so cool up there with all those guys," Ms. Jones recalled. "The music was really cool, and it just seemed like an interesting world."
Barely a dozen years later, Ms. Jones is the cool one.
She was drawn into that interesting world, and her debut disc, Come Away With Me, is attracting attention for its self-assured, sultry pop. She sounds a little like fellow Southerner Shelby Lynne - if Ms. Lynne were aiming to please a jazz audience.
With little radio airplay but some rapturous reviews, her disc has sold more than 160,000 copies and made Billboard's Top 40 albums, unusual for a release on the jazz-oriented Blue Note label.
"There's been so much overproduced junk out there for so long that when something like this comes out that's very pure, very direct and with a voice that will break your heart, people react to it," said Bruce Lundvall, Blue Note's president.
Ms. Jones listened to Bon Jovi and Nirvana growing up. But thanks to her mom's extensive music collection, she also was exposed to Billie Holliday, Etta James, Ray Charles and Bill Evans.
Ms. Jones started singing publicly at age 16 in the Dallas area and studied jazz piano for two years at North Texas.
She always wanted to make it in New York, however, and headed north after her sophomore year.
Armed with a three-song tape of her work, Ms. Jones made a contact with a Blue Note accountant who set up an appointment with Mr. Lundvall.
Mr. Lundvall was wearily expecting another Diana Krall sound-alike, but was blown away by what he heard. After blurting out one question, asking Ms. Jones where she was from, "I said, 'You're going to be signed to Blue Note Records."'
Only once before, for singer Rachelle Ferrell a decade earlier, had he offered a contract to someone on the spot.
"I was just totally captivated by the voice," he recalled. "It just drew you right in. She has this wonderfully seductive voice and she plays a great piano."
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