ICONOCLASTS: Seth MacFarlane + Norah Jones make beautiful music together

What exactly do a smooth-voiced singer-songwriter and a rough-humored comic-animator have in common? Find out on this week’s ICONOCLASTS — tonight at 8P on Sundance Channel — when Grammy-winning chanteuse Norah Jones helps us see a new side of Family Guy auteur Seth MacFarlane.

The two began their unlikely collaboration when MacFarlane asked Jones to guest on his album of standards, Music Is Better Than Words (yes, really!). On tonight’s ICONOCLASTS, MacFarlane joins Jones in a Brooklyn recording studio where she is recording “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” for MacFarlane’s teddy-bear-with-an-adult-attitude movie TED — the first feature film MacFarlane has directed.

Jones also has a small role in TED, including a (typically un-PC, for MacFarlane) bit about her heritage — she is half-Indian (not, as Ted says, “half-Muslim and half-American”). Although she talks freely about her mother, including the music she exposed her to (Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles and old jazz), Jones assiduously avoids mentioning her father, the internationally esteemed sitar player Ravi Shankar, whom she spent very little time with growing up.

“Vocally, it doesn’t get any better than Norah Jones,” says MacFarlane. Her debut album, Come Away with Me (featuring the song “Don’t Know Why”), spent 150 weeks on the Billboard charts; she has earned nine Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums; and she has remained above the celebrity-culture fray despite her meteoric success.

Like Jones, MacFarlane started on his career path around age 7: For Jones, that’s when she started to play the piano; for MacFarlane, it’s when he started doing voices and impressions.

In college at the Rhode Island School of Design, MacFarlane created an early version of Family Guy called The Life of Larry — a video résumé of sorts that got him his first job, as a writer and animator at Hanna-Barbera.

Altogether, his shows Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show have been nominated for 14 Emmy Awards. “The jokes are bad,” says MacFarlane, “but they’re there.”

MacFarlane and Jones are a genuine odd couple (no, not like that — not a couple couple; in the Oscar-Felix sense). They share a love of music and a deep respect for each other, but he definitely makes her uncomfortable; she squirms when he mentions writing a barbershop quartet number that delivers an AIDS diagnosis.

Says Jones: “Seth is insane, and I love it about him. And he is a truly amazing musician.”

Sundance Channel and Grey Goose Entertainment present ICONOCLASTS every Tuesday at 8P.