Jesse Harris first rose to national attention via Norah Jones' 2002 Grammy-winning album Come Away with Me, for which he played guitar and wrote the hit song "Don't Know Why." His own career, however, had launched well before his collaboration with Miss Jones. A native New Yorker, Harris grew up studying classical piano and guitar, focusing on the songwriting end first before mastering the actual musicianship. While in his early 20s, Harris joined vocalist Rebecca Martin in the band Once Blue, which released a self-titled album before both songwriters went their separate ways.
Harris' next project was the looser and more organic Ferdinandos, which included Tony Scherr on guitar, Tim Luntzel on bass, and Kenny Wollesen on drums. The band released a series of self-produced CDs and developed a following at the East Village club the Living Room. Such work in clubs led to Harris' working relationship with Jones, an emerging jazz artist whom Harris had met several years prior. He took a major part in crafting her debut album, Come Away with Me, whose commercial success helped bring Harris' songwriting abilities to the music community's attention. Collaborations with other contemporary artists followed, as did a label deal for the Ferdinandos. The group's major-label debut found a warm reception upon its release in 2003, and Setting Sun followed before the year was up. Harris proved to be a prolific musician in the coming years, issuing While the Music Lasts in 2004, contributing guitar to the Bright Eyes album I'm Wide Awake, It's Morning in 2005, and releasing a flurry of additional recordings (2006's Mineral, 2007's Feel, and 2009's Watching the Sky).