Unless you've been living under a manhole cover for the past year, you know about the spectacular success of singer/pianist Norah Jones. Come Away With Me, her 2002 debut album, won eight GRAMMY awards and has sold more than nine million copies-an astonishing feat for any new artist, let alone one whose stylistic hallmark is quiet understatement. Jones' success proves that the world still hungers for strong, simple songs, performed with honesty and taste.

In her hit song, "A Thousand Miles," singer/songwriter Vanessa Carlton sees herself as "making a way through the crowd." Carlton does indeed stand out from the current crowd of young female singer/pianists. On her debut album Be Not Nobody, her heartfelt, confessional vocals combine with intricate, multi-layered piano and orchestral parts to create a distinctive whole.

Ask producer Justin Stanley to take sides on the digital vs. analog divide, and he'll give you an unusually sensible answer: "It's all about getting your ideas down freely without the technology getting in the way. Analog definitely has a sound, and the subject will always be debated. But the most important thing is accessing creativity as easily as you can."

"On the heavy side, we're inspired by bands like Alice in Chains, Nirvana, Metallica, and Tool," says frontman/guitarist Justin Stewart Cotta. "But then there's the more ambient, sonic stuff like U2 and Pink Floyd. And of course Hendrix, and even some old Elvis stuff-and above all, AC/DC."

Mississippi Delta roots. West Coast gangsta rap. Heart land rock and roll.

As one of the leading vibe and marimba players of his generation, Dave Samuels boasts a career distinguished by both critical and popular acclaim. In addition to his work with such jazz legends as baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan and jazz-pop icons Spyro Gyra, Samuels' own Caribbean Jazz Project won a Latin Jazz GRAMMY® for its 2002 album The Gathering. With a new Caribbean Jazz Project record, Birds of a Feather, out this summer, Samuels took a few minutes to tell us about his lifelong love affair with mallets.

As the sole drummer on Steely Dan's new album, Everything Must Go, Keith Carlock took over one of the most coveted drum thrones in pop music. How did it feel to claim the seat once occupied by legendary players such as Steve Gadd, Rick Marotta, and Hal Blaine?

Saxophonist Dave Koz describes his latest album, Saxophonic, as an exploration of the many moods of the horn. "This album feels like an adventure to me, with the saxophone leading me into new territories," he says. "I'm blending some cool new beats with traditional jazz, adding some African stuff, and then it's off to Ibiza for that coolchill, smooth jazz sound. It's really a journey through different influences."

Hot off his success scoring The Matrix: Reloaded, not to mention the Wachowski Brothers' two previous films, The Matrix and Bound, film composer Don Davis is definitely in demand. Before the phone rang with the next urgent "Get me Don Davis!" call, he filled us in on what it's like to be a top composer in this competitive business.

Singer-songwriter Gavin DeGraw is on the verge of releasing his debut album, Chariot, on J Records. Gavin's music is both hooky and emotive, combining urgent vocals with roots-tinged rock songwriting. We caught up with the 25-year-old New Yorker to talk about writing, recording and the nature of inspiration.

To the general public, he's best known as a judge for the TV show American Idol. But for those in the know, this is just the latest in Randy Jackson's impressive string of credits. From legendary session bassist to songwriter and record producer to artist manager and label vice president, Jackson boasts a seemingly endless list of accomplishments.

Stacie Orrico knows exactly what matters to her audience. "I like to write songs that have some depth and meaning and are really true to what I'm dealing with as a 17-year-old girl. You know, everything from my family to my relationships, good and bad. The mistakes I make, how I get through them-I like to put all that into my music, so other people my age can relate to it."

Rarely do two drummers--in the same band, no less--agree as completely as Shannon Larkin and bandleader Sully Erna of Godsmack. Now on tour with their latest album, Faceless, Larkin and Erna spoke to us during a recent soundcheck about the roots of Godsmack's brand of heavy, drum-centric hard rock.

Nathan East has played bass on many of the best-loved recordings of the past 20 years. In addition to his work with such legendary artists as Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton, and Barry White, East's own GRAMMY®-nominated group Fourplay has topped Contemporary Jazz charts numerous times since its inception in 1991. His latest efforts include sessions with Keb' Mo', B.B. King, and Luis Miguel. As East says, "There are definitely some good projects in the works!" Nathan spoke to us recently from his home in Southern California.

With songs performed by the Dixie Chicks, Faith Hill, Tim McGraw, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Martina McBride, to name a few, you'd think Annie Roboff could tell you what makes a hit song. But, she says, it's not that simple.

"I think I know when I've written a great song. But I don't necessarily know when I've written a hit, because there are so many variables. The record has to be made fantastically. It has to be performed by an artist who's in the right place at the right time. Then the song has to be released in the right order."

As drummer for gospel artist Fred Hammond, Marvin McQuitty is a driving force in the urban praise and worship movement. With a style that combines in-the-pocket grooves with subtle, expressive ornamentation, he's sometimes ranked alongside drum legends such as Omar Hakim and Vinnie Colaiuta.

Though originally from Texas, keyboardist Dean Sams of platinum-selling country band Lonestar feels right at home in Nashville. "It's an inspiration having so many great songwriters in the area," he says. "The culture of collaboration and co-writing here is unlike anywhere else. Co-writing is really what makes Nashville a great songwriting community."

For Steve Mazur, things are pretty good right now. The new guitarist for Canadian post-grunge band Our Lady Peace spoke to us from Maui, where the band is recording with legendary producer Bob Rock (Metallica, the Cult, Motley Crue). "I don't know how it could be any better," Mazur reports. "With Bob, and his studio, and Maui-it's like a fantasy."

.