At 22 years of age, singer/pianist Norah Jones holds the distinction of being the youngest artist on the Blue Note Records roster -- and of being one of the artists on the half-century-old jazz imprin

At 22 years of age, singer/pianist Norah Jones holds the distinction of being the youngest artist on the Blue Note Records roster -- and of being one of the artists on the half-century-old jazz imprint most likely to cross over.

A New York resident by way of Texas, Jones had been honing her amalgam of jazz, blues, country, and pop music with a trio in the big Apple for less than a year when she caught the ear of Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall.

"A friend's wife came to see us perform and told me that she worked in the label's royalties department and wanted to introduce me to Bruce," Jones recalls. "I laughed, because it seemed like an impossible dream."

Lundvall, whose open-door policy encourages employees to introduce him to new music, says that he was "floored to hear such a mature, beautiful voice and to learn that it belonged to someone so young."

A JAZZ-BASED DIRECTION

"Come Away With Me" (due Feb. 26 from Blue Note), Jones' Arif Mardin-produced major-label debut, showcases the singer's jazz and pop leanings on material penned by Jones and her trio, guitarist Jesse Harris and bassist Lee Alexander. Together, they cover songs by Hank Williams, J.D. Loudermilk, and Hoagy Carmichael that divulge Jones' myriad of influences.

"I heard demos of Norah performing jazz and pop songs and asked her in which direction she saw herself going," Lundvall recalls. "Norah's roots are in jazz, and she sees herself as a jazz artist, so that is the direction we took for her debut."

Jones says that she "has a lot of influences, so making this record was like a puzzle for me, because I was trying to figure out where I was going and how to show who I am. In the end, I definitely felt we succeeded."

The six-song demo Jones recorded for Blue Note, titled "First Sessions" and available exclusively on norahjones.com and at the singer's live shows, has proven to be a valuable marketing tool for Blue Note. According to senior VP/GM Tom Evered, 100 copies of the EP sold out at a recent Los Angeles show, one of which found its way to radio station KCRW, where Jones quickly became a fixture on the air.

Due to what Evered terms as an "overwhelming response" at college radio, Blue Note plans to focus radio promotion plans for "Come Away With Me" at the college level, beginning with the track "Don't Know Why," which will then be solicited to triple-A radio following the album's release.

Retailers are also starting to show interest in the project. "She has the potential to be a new-generation Diana Krall," says James Lonten, manager of a Borders Books & Music in New York. "She has a smooth delivery and an accessible charm that give her mainstream muscle. It will not be a surprise if she turns out to be a major pop superstar."

Jones is slated to appear March 10 in Charleston, W. Va., for a taping of the public radio program "Mountain Stage." She'll be sharing a bill at the Cultural Center Theatre with the North Mississippi All Stars, the Saw Doctors, and Rory Block.