Don’t Know Why Norah Jones
March 10, 2012 by staff
Don’t Know Why Norah Jones, This was written in 1999 by a songwriter and guitarist named Jesse Harris. A few weeks after he wrote it, he recorded it with a violinist and released it under the name Jesse Harris and The Ferdinandos. He sold the album on his web site.
Harris knew Jones because they were both musicians in New York City, but he didn’t have Jones in mind to sing this because she was a Jazz singer. When he joined Jones’ band in 2000, he considered using a female voice on the song and offered it to Jones. She changed the key to fit her voice and added a drum beat. She still thought of it as just a demo, but it got the attention of an executive at Blue Note Records, who offered her a record deal. Harris wrote four other songs on the album as well.
This was recorded as a demo in one take in October, 2000. Harris played guitar and almost stopped the take because he didn’t like the mix in his headphones. He kept going and was glad he did, since that was the keeper. Jones and her band were willing to do another take, but the engineer, Jay Newland, thought it was perfect and wouldn’t let them. They did try some more takes in another session, but the results were too convoluted, and Jones was assigned to a different producer, Arif Mardin. He had worked with many famous artists, including Aretha Franklin, and was brought in to capture Jones’ distinctive sound. He did this by keeping the original demo take and adding some guitar and a vocal harmony, which made Jones harmonize with herself.
This first got attention when it was heard on US public radio stations, which typically have a very mature and upscale audience. This helped get it played in coffee bars, bookstores, and other retail venues. Jones was just 21 when this was recorded, but she appealed to the older crowd because of her sound and her father. Her dad is Ravi Shankar, an Indian musician famous for teaching George Harrison how to play the sitar. Most of the MTV generation had no idea who he was, but the public radio audience did.
The first few months after the Come Away With Me album was released, it was priced around $8. This encouraged people to buy it and helped market the album through word of mouth, as most people who bought it gave it a good review. This was known as the “slow build” strategy.
Jones cleaned up at the Grammys, winning all five awards she was nominated for in 2003. This won for Record Of The Year and Song Of The Year, while the album won Best Pop Vocal and Best Engineering. Jones also won Best New Artist and performed “Don’t Know Why” on the show.
Even after he was nominated for a Grammy for writing this (Record Of The Year), Harris continued to play small clubs in New York City for tips. The night of the Grammys, he was scheduled to play a club that fits about 80 people.
Jay Newland, who engineered the recording, said he was trying to make this sound like the records he grew up listening to in the late ’60s and early ’70s, especially Joni Mitchell.
This song was almost the victim of record company stupidity. When the album started selling and the song was apparently a hit, Virgin Records, who owned Blue Note, thought radio stations would prefer a different version and remixed it with a dance beat and processed vocals. Jones thought it sounded ridiculous and insisted on distributing the version from the album to radio stations.
Jones performed this on Sesame Street with lyrics lamenting the letter “Y” – “Don’t know why Y didn’t come.” The letter “Y” eventually shows up, everyone gets along and we learn something in the process.
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