Stay tuned

By Danielle Komis Palmer

Date | The Decatur Daily

Singer-songwriter Jesse Harris will perform Jan. 31 at Princess Theatre.

“Don’t know why I didn’t come,” sang Norah Jones in her sultry voice on her 2002 debut album that hooked everyone from young hipsters to Bingo-playing grandmothers.

Those well-known words — along with many others on that best-selling album — were written by singer-songwriter Jesse Harris and earned him a Grammy award in 2003. Jones also won a Grammy for the album “Come Away with Me” and she shot into stardom.

While many would bask in the glow of helping create such a popular album, Harris shies away from taking much credit. In fact, he says he is not quite sure why “Come Away with Me” became so wildly popular.

“It must have just come along at a time when people were needing that,” Harris said, who became friends with Jones in college and played music with her before she gained mainstream success. “I think it’s a genuine, honest album ... Norah has a distinct thing that people love.”

Local audiences can also find out what there is to love about Harris when he performs an acoustic concert at the Princess Center Theatre for the Performing Arts on Jan. 31 at 7 p.m.

Harris, who has released several albums as a solo artist and as part of a band, will perform songs from his latest solo album “Feel.” The album blends folk, rock, pop and jazz with an emphasis on percussive rhythms.

The Princess concert — in which Harris will mostly play his new favorite instrument, a six-string banjo — will also include songs from the soundtrack of Ethan Hawke’s 2007 movie “The Hottest State,” which Harris composed and produced.

New York percussionist Robert Di Pietro will accompany Harris. A discussion with Harris will immediately follow the concert.

“This gives you an opportunity to get to hear someone you’d usually hear in New York, but right here in Decatur,” said Princess Executive Director Lindy Ashwander. “These sort of artists work beautifully in our venue.”

Harris grew up listening to jazz music with his father, and frequented jazz clubs in his native New York City as a teenager. While he started out playing piano, he traded it for a guitar at 17 because he wanted to learn to play Bob Dylan songs.

“I was always fascinated with music and bands,” he said. “I started collecting records at age 10.”

However, it never occurred to him to become a musician, he said. He had always planned on becoming a writer. But when the songs began to flow through him, he was happy to embrace the variation of his dream.

His first CDs came out in the 1990s as part of the duo Once Blue. He later released five albums with his band, the Ferdinandos. While popular in the New York scene, Harris became a household name in the music community after Jones’ album came out with his “Don’t Know Why.”

He’d originally recorded the song on one of his own albums. When he discovered how great Jones sounded singing original songs, and not just the jazz standards she usually sang at the time, many of his songs ended up on her first album.

“I thought she was going to be very successful, but I had a different version of success in my head,” Harris said. “ I thought she was going to be a very successful Bluenote (label) artist and sell maybe 250,000 records or so. That would have been great. I just didn’t expect it to do what it did.”

Harris’ ability to tirelessly write songs spurred Rolling Stone to declare “Jesse Harris writes pensive and catchy pop songs the way some people dash off grocery lists.”

Harris’ songs have been recorded by numerous artists including Feist, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Madeleine Peyroux and The Black Keys.

Before the Thursday night concert, Harris will also conduct a songwriting workshop with Decatur, Austin and Horizon high schools Wednesday. The activities and concert are part of an arts-in-education residency made possible by the Sexton Foundation and a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.

“Our goal is to get as many people as possible to meet him and learn about him as a singer and songwriter,” Ashwander said. “The teachers are really excited about this and how it ties into the curriculum. It’s really a special opportunity that we can collaborate on this together.”

If you go

What: Singer-songwriter Jesse Harris in concert

When: Jan. 31, 7 p.m.

Where: Princess Theatre Center for the Performing Arts, Decatur

Tickets: $15-$22 or $10 for students and teachers; available online at princesstheatre.org or by called the Princess Theatre box office, 340-1778.