Norah Jones Tops Summer Streaming Chart With Intimate, Soul-Stirring Mini Concerts

Norah Jones
Victoria Will/Invision/AP
– Norah Jones
appears on the cover of Pollstar’s Sept. 28, 2020 issue.

It all began with “Patience,” the 1989 ballad by Guns N’ Roses. After warmly smiling into the camera while sitting down at her piano bench, Norah Jones starts playing the opening notes of the hit single and sweetly singing in her iconic, breathy voice: “Shed a tear ‘cause I’m missin’ you,” a lyric so many of us can all relate to as we continue social distancing or grieving loved ones.

Jones posted the video on social media March 19, shortly after the coronavirus first hit the U.S. and shut down the touring industry. The five-minute performance – which has now been viewed more than 5.1 million times – ended up launching a weekly at-home livestream series that Jones has continued for the past six months (and counting) and has earned her the top spot by an artist on Pollstar’s Q3 chart. Between the Q3 timeframe of May 5 through Aug. 19, Jones has posted 16 mini-concerts (not counting a one-song bonus performance on May 20 and videos for NPR’s Tiny Desk and Amazon Music) that have totaled more than 6.9 million views with roughly 25,000 shares on Facebook and YouTube, second only behind the Opry Live series. Overall she’s posted more than 30 videos since March with more than 18 million views.
But the videos have never been about streaming numbers or racking up social media shares. When asked what first inspired her to share the cover of “Patience,” the 41-year-old singer/songwriter explains that it was simply about the joy of sharing an awesome song.     
“My husband was playing [‘Patience’] when we were in the first week of lockdown,” Jones says. “We were making dinner and we were eating with our kids and it came on and it just made me feel so good. That song is from my childhood and it’s a great song, great recording, lyrics, everything about it is great. 
“I thought, ‘Oh, we should play that song. That would be fun to sing those words right now’ – and it was. It felt good to play.”
Power Duo:
Douglas Mason / Getty Images
– Power Duo:
Norah Jones appears as a special guest during Mavis Staples’ set at Newport Folk Festival on July 27, 2014, in Newport, R.I., marking Staples’ 75th birthday. Staples was supposed to join Jones on tour in 2020.
The videos have also made fans feel good, with Jones’ soothing, timeless voice bringing a sense of much-needed peace and comfort during a time when we’ve been hit with one tragedy after another, from COVID-19 and its subsequent layoffs, evictions and food insecurities to a reckoning with racial injustice, along with devastating wildfires, tornados and hurricanes.  
While Facebook and YouTube’s comments sections can be notoriously toxic, argumentative and crass, Jones’ pages are filled with notes from fans thanking her for the live-streams and sharing how the at-home concerts have gotten them through difficulties, with several describing her incredible vocals – which somehow manage to be both soft and raspy – as “the voice of an angel.” A sample comment: “Norah’s sessions from home are one of the few things I consider positive from this pandemic. They are like heaven in a bottle. Thank you so much for doing this, Norah.” Another says, “Healing these darkest of times. Thank you.”
Jones explains that after sharing the “Patience” cover she decided to start livestreaming mini-concerts from her home in upstate New York because, “I just thought, ‘Well, people are all home right now. Maybe people want to hear a small set of songs. Maybe not. But honestly, I needed a little moment to myself to play music. And so it was a good excuse to do that, take that 20 minutes for myself. And then I decided to just start taking requests because I thought, ‘Well, I might as well.’ (laughs) And then it just sort of evolved from there.”  

Come Away With Me:
– Come Away With Me:
Norah Jones performs a June 18 livestream concert at her home in New York. The 20-minute set began with the song “What Am I To You,” a track from her 2002 debut album.

Initially the livestreams were posted a bit sporadically, sometimes twice a week on random days, the sets varying in the number of songs, until Jones got into a groove of posting the videos on Thursdays, with most sets consisting of four songs. She notes, “I didn’t really know how many songs to do at first, but more than four felt overwhelming for me because it just didn’t feel easy or fun. Then less didn’t really feel like a set.” From a fan perspective, the four-song sets are also just the perfect length, short but powerful, similar to the charm of NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concerts.”  
The setlists have included a mix of Jones’ previously recorded material and covers, made up of fan requests and her own selections. 
“I like being reminded of something that I haven’t played in years,” Jones says. “It’s almost like a gentle nudge to remember things that I haven’t connected with in a long time. And there’s even been a few requests for songs that I’ve never played. Of course, I do songs I want to do. The setlist, it’s tricky because it’s all mellow, it’s all solo, but I try to get a good balance of songs in there.”
The livestreams have also been a good opportunity to share tunes from her seventh studio album, Pick Me Up Off the Floor, which was released in June on Blue Note Records, and the 2020 sophomore album from her side project Puss N Boots, Sister.

Jones rehearses for the livestreams, explaining that she has to “play through stuff and feel comfortable enough to not mess it up – I’ve messed up plenty though. (laughs) That’s fine. I feel like that’s part of the thing, what it is.” 
She adds, “I usually start mulling it over on a Tuesday. I make a bigger list and then I narrow it down and then play through stuff and see what feels right and what maybe I need to practice more.”

Norah Jones and Willie Nelson
Stephen Lovekin / FilmMagic / Getty Images
– Norah Jones and Willie Nelson
take the stage at “Willie Nelson & Friends” 70th birthday tribute concert at the Beacon Theatre in New York City on April 9, 2003. During Jones’ “Live At Home” concert series she dedicated one episode to Willie Nelson songs.
Jones has lots of material to choose from when looking through her own archives, featuring a range of genres including jazz, folk, blues, pop and country. In addition to her seven critically acclaimed solo albums, she’s released albums with her alternative country side projects The Little Willies and Puss N Boots. Jones also released a 2008 self-titled album from her alternative rock band side project El Madmo and teamed up with Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong for the 2013 collaborative album Foreverly, a reinterpretation of The Everly Brothers’ 1958 album Songs Our Daddy Taught Us. 
Since March, Jones has performed more than 120 songs and hasn’t repeated a tune yet. Covers have included Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied,” the jazz standard “Peace” by Horace Silver, “That’s The Way That The World Goes Round” by John Prine, “The Grass Is Blue” by Dolly Parton (and featured on Puss N Boots’ new album), “For The Good Times” by Kris Kristofferson, and “Straight Up” by Elliot Wolff, recorded by Paula Abdul. 
Standout shows during the livestream series include an April 29 set in celebration of Willie Nelson’s birthday, a July 16 set featuring a guest appearance by Jones’ Puss N Boots bandmate Sasha Dobson, a June 4 set dedicated to the family of George Floyd “and all the families of those who have died unjustly at the hands of people in power,” and an April 7 set in honor of Jones’ father, the late, great Indian classical musician/composer Ravi Shankar. 
Jones was supposed to be in London on April 7 playing a concert of music by Shankar in honor of what would have been his 100th birthday. With COVID putting a halt to those plans, Jones instead posted an at-home performance of one of his Western compositions, “I Am Missing You.” Following the success of “Patience,” the Shankar cover was her second-most viewed livestream so far with more than 1.6 million views.
The livestreams are not montized on Facebook. Rather, nearly every video Jones has posted the past six months has been accompanied by a caption linking to a charity, encouraging fans to donate. The featured nonprofits have included the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Farm Aid, Feeding America, Restaurant Workers Community Foundation Emergency Relief Fund and Campaign Zero.
“I’ve always been kind of shy about putting myself out there so, to me, it made sense to link to these charities because people are needing help and I’m always looking for stuff to donate to and to turn my attention to, you know, get out of my own head,” Jones says. 
Homeward Bound:
AP Photo / Victoria Will / Invision
– Homeward Bound:
Norah Jones is pictured June 8, 2020, at her home in New York.
She adds, “Every time I want to do something I feel overwhelmed by the amount of charities out there. So I’ve done a lot more research recently. And my manager actually has helped me a lot with navigating which ones are best. Even if somebody is having a hard time, they might want to give $5 and that counts. Every little bit helps.”
Like so many artists posting livestream concerts during the pandemic, the videos have given fans an intimate peek into their favorite artists’ homes. While the award-winning, critically acclaimed Norah Jones is a household name – and has been ever since the release of her 2002 debut, Come Away With Me – with more than 50 million records sold worldwide over the course of her career and nine Grammy Award wins, she is known for being shy and holding her private life dear. But at a time we are all craving connection, Jones has let fans in, inviting us to her living room. The first video featured Jones casually sporting the loungewear of quarantine, wearing a comfy, zip-up hoodie and her curly hair pulled back in a tiny ponytail, accompanied by her husband on a lap steel guitar. Another video, posted March 31 as a birthday tribute to her Puss N Boots’ Sasha Dobson, features a guest appearance from one of her two kids, who pops up for a brief moment as she plays electric guitar.
If not for COVID, Jones would have spent the spring touring with Puss N Boots in support of the trio’s new album and the summer on the road on her own headline tour in support of Pick Me Up Off the Floor, joined by special guest Mavis Staples. Summer dates included stops at venues such as the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles and Bethel Woods Center for the Arts in Bethel, N.Y., along with festival appearances like Newport Jazz. Norah Jones’ at-home concerts provide fans with a front-row seat to her performances, a throwback to the intimate nightclub shows she started playing in the early 2000s such as at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco.
“Right when the pandemic started, there were a lot of artists naturally getting into livestreams. And she does ‘Patience’ and immediately you could tell it cut through,” Arjun Pulijal, Senior Vice President of Marketing for Capitol Records, says. “It got so many views and so many shares and people just gravitated toward it. We knew that something special was happening right away. We also saw it reflected in her socials, all of those posts were her most engaged with posts and her followers grew across the board.” 

Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper of Puss N Boots:
Steve Jennings / WireImage / Getty Images
– Norah Jones, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper of Puss N Boots:
perform at the 28th Annual Bridge School Benefit Concert at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, Calif., Oct. 26, 2014. The band had to call off 2020 tour dates because of COVID.
With so many artists putting on livestreams, it can be hard to stand out. Some acts have chosen to relocate their socially distanced performances from their homes to sound stages or empty venues, complete with full production and lighting effects. But Jones has kept things simple – just herself and the piano or guitar.  
“I think the reason it’s so successful is, yes, her voice and the song interpretations. But I also think it’s something to the point that it’s really been about the music,” Pulijal says. “They haven’t been about anything except Norah, and it’s always [filmed from] the same angle. It’s like a sense of home for people because, you know, things have been so crazy this year. … The key word is genuine. There’s no autotune, Norah thrives in that space where it’s just focused on her voice and musicianship.”
Jones’ booking agent, Marsha Vlasic of Artist Group International, concurs: “There’s a reason why she’s been honored with having the most streams because each one of them is warm and gentle and emotional in a very simple way. She’s the type of artist that doesn’t really have to say much. Just her body language gives off enough that you feel satisfied with. Her smile is a beautiful one and her voice and her grace … She makes you feel comfortable.”
For Jones, who has normally shied away from social media, the livestreams have given her a chance to connect with fans while in-person concerts are still ramping back up. 
Norah Jones
– Norah Jones
is joined by her Puss N Boots bandmate Sasha Dobson for her July 16 “Live At Home” performance.
“It brightens my day to have that time to play music and connect with people. I don’t really want to go online and be talking … I don’t want to write an opinion piece on current events, because there’s a lot of that already out there and I think my time is better spent playing music for people. That’s how I wish to connect.
“I’ve appreciated the comments so much and it feels like it’s been really good energy. That’s all I want to do is give good energy. You know, there’s no point in me doing anything other than that.” 
Live From Here:
Diane Russo
– Live From Here:
Norah Jones poses for a photo to promote her latest album, Pick Me Up Off The Floor.
Reflecting on the reaction to her debut album in early 2002 and how fans have now connected to the melancholic, yet hopeful, themes in Pick Me Up Off The Floor and her livestream concerts during the pandemic, Jones says, “I remember when my first album came out and it was after 9/11, people used to tell me, ‘Well, I think the reason it was successful is because people are looking for comfort right now. And [Come Away With Me] is soothing in a way. And I was kind of like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I don’t know.’ When people tell you what they think about your success and why you’re successful, it’s hard to really understand at the time. 
“But 19 years later, I think music in general – I mean, people turn to music in times of distress, whether it’s something loud and they want to distract or dance … everybody wants something different. Everybody has their little things that help them through periods of time. So for me to do these [livestreams] I feel like if there’s just one person who likes it, it’s worth it. And it’s worth it for me if nobody likes it. It feels good. And I think we can all use whatever we can get right now.”
A digital deluxe edition of Pick Me Up Off The Floor is due Oct. 16 on Blue Note, featuring 17 of Jones’ at-home performances.