- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

He sings. He dances. He acts. And he insists he's in it for the long haul. "Versatility equals longevity," explains the 23-year-old Usher, who'll bring his Evolution 8701 Tour, featuring Faith Evans, Nas and Mr. Cheeks to the Nissan Pavilion on Saturday night.
Usher's latest CD, "8701," has gone multiplatinum since its release in August. He won a Grammy earlier this year for Best Male R&B; Vocal Performance. Although the press has been eager to anoint Usher the Prince of R&B;, he is quick to shuck such simplifications.
"That's a name I've been given," says Usher, whose full name is Usher Raymond. "But does that mean you're gonna get mad at me when I decide to do Broadway? Or take an acting role? I'm not one thing. I'm an entertainer. I've got to be able to do it all."
He's been steadily building his repertoire. His acting credits include starring roles in three movies a Western ("Texas Rangers"), a thriller ("The Faculty") and a drama ("Light It Up") and he is in talks to play Marvin Gaye in an upcoming biopic. In the fall, he went toe-to-toe with his idol, Michael Jackson, on the Prince of Pop's 30th anniversary celebration broadcast. In preparation for this tour, Usher studied intensely with choreographers to learn some new moves, particularly in break dancing. He brought so much energy to his dance that he dislocated a shoulder during rehearsals, forcing the tour start to be delayed several weeks.
"They [break-dancing coaches] told me, 'You can't call yourself a break-dancer if you don't get the scars,'" he said proudly. "So now I've got my scar."
He says he's calling his 50-city U.S. tour "Evolution" in tribute to the evolution of music "from the '50s all the way to 2002." It also represents a creative evolution for the young artist, who has grown up enough to assert more control.
"It's been a struggle," he acknowledges, to bring his performance, lyrically and onstage, to his audience. "This album has allowed me to get closer to it. I want to make my performance about an overall package, not just releasing a record."
Usher says he had a lot of input in producing "Evolution 8701," from opening acts to dance sequences to lighting and that it was exciting for him to see it all come together.
"I'm coming of age; this is my time. I've put together a magnificent show. It's an interpretation of me, and my interpretation of dance and song. I'm trying to make a show that everyone can understand and enjoy. When you can see their eyes buckle, all the hard work pays off when you know people love what you're doing."

Tomorrow night Norah Jones will have the stage all to herself at the 9:30 Club. This is Miss Jones' first headlining tour since releasing her debut CD "Come Away With Me" in February to critical acclaim.
After graduating from Dallas' Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (whose alumni include Erykah Badu and trumpeter Roy Hargrove) in 1997, Miss Jones majored in jazz piano at the University of North Texas. Two years later, she decided to spend a summer in New York to check out the music scene and never made it back to Texas. Instead she spent about a year performing in New York City clubs, first with the funk-fusion band Wax Poetic and later with her own trio. A demo she put together got the attention of Blue Note Records and by 2001, the then 22-year old singer and songwriter became the youngest person on the legendary jazz label's roster.
"Come Away With Me" isn't a typical jazz album. The 14-track collection of covers and original songs expertly blends pop, folk, jazz and blues in a way that makes Miss Jones gracefully skirt the bubble gum categories most young artists get stuck in. Listening to it, one is reminded of early Ricki Lee Jones or even Bonnie Raitt (minus her slide guitar). Her torch-lit renditions of classics, such as "The Nearness of You" and "Turn Me On," have a maturity that would be expected from someone born in the Roosevelt years, rather than the Reagan era. Original songs, such as the title track and "Nightingale," have a simplicity and a sweetness that's disarmingly refreshing.
Both Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly named her one of the top new artists of 2002. The early recognition, coupled with the exposure that a summer of touring will give her, might be enough to give Miss Jones the kind of chart and Grammy success of last year's piano-playing It girl, Alicia Keys. So if you're the type who likes to say, "I saw her when " better catch her now.

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