Music

Sophisticated lady

Diana Krall has got the jazz world on a string

DIANE TURBIDE February 24 1997
Music

Sophisticated lady

Diana Krall has got the jazz world on a string

DIANE TURBIDE February 24 1997

Sophisticated lady

Music

Diana Krall has got the jazz world on a string

DIANE TURBIDE

Diana Krall, the jazz sensation from Nanaimo, B.C., is tired. “I mean sort of perpetually tired,” says the 32-year-old, who has won a nomination for best jazz vocalist at the Feb. 26 Grammys. “It’s been a bit overwhelming: lots of interviews and shows, and I’m still working out the material for the new recording I’m doing at the end of February.” Krall has spent much of the past two years on a world tour with 6 a.m. departures and a bad case of suitcase arm. There has been precious little time to see family and friends, although the singerpianist talks to her parents back home on Vancouver Island “every other day, at least.” As for a significant other in her life,

New York City-based Krall says: “Listen, I don’t even have a plant. It’s too crazy right now.”

Then she stops and smiles.

“But I want to make it clear, in case I haven’t already, that I’m having a lot of fun.”

been the subject of numerous profiles and reviews, including quite a few that focused as much on her looks as on her playing. One U.S. magazine compared her to Sharon Stone and panted about “lavish golden hair and a smouldering glare.” But all eventually get around to praising, even raving, about her accomplishments as a vocalist and pianist.

Those raves are well deserved. Krall’s alto voice slides easily from sultry to sassy in a beat. While she is the first to admit that her range is not wide (“I’m definitely not a belter,” she says), her phrasing and inflections can make an old song sound startlingly fresh. And Krall’s dexterity at the keyboard makes it easy to forget that there have been remarkably few jazz pianists who play and sing with equal ease: among them are some of Krall’s idols, including Shirley Horn, Carmen McRae (to whom Krall is frequently compared), Nina Simone and, of course, Cole. Much-sought-after guitarist Russell Malone, who plays on the Cole album and has performed with Krall from Mexico to Japan, says that her vocal and instrumental talents go hand in hand. “I think one of the reasons she sings the way she sings is because she is a musician—because of her ability at that piano.” If Krall’s renditions and arrangements of jazz standards have a ring of authenticity that belie her years, part of the explanation lies in the fact that she grew up steeped in jazz and pop music. Her father, accountant (and amateur pianist) James, and mother, teacher-librarian I Adella, have a vast collection of I records and sheet music. When I Krall was growing up in z Nanaimo, the whole family, d including younger sister * Michelle, would get together at Krall: from Nanaimo to a top-selling CD and a Grammy nomination Krall’s grandmother’s house to

play piano and sing, with the music of Fats Waller a perennial favorite.

At school, her musical education broadened. Band teacher Bryan Stovell recalls hearing her when she was 15. “Four bars into her first solo,” he says, “I knew she was destined to be at least an excellent jazz player.” When Krall was 16, Stovell introduced her to Toronto pianist Don Thompson (with whom Krall would eventually study for two years) and lent her albums by jazzmen Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson. “I think with giant talent like that you can be forgiven if you go the extra mile,” Stovell says. “She was interested in the whole gamut.”

That talent and passion won Krall a scholarship at 17 to Boston’s prestigious Berklee

Like most overnight sensations, Krall has been paying her dues for quite a while. Her third album, All for You, a collection of finely nuanced interpretations of lesser-known Nat King Cole tunes, has made her the subject of much “hot new star” media coverage. But the preternaturally poised Krall has been performing for most other life—including a gig as a 19-year-old soloist at a Nanaimo restaurant where jazz great Ray Brown walked in. Brown, a world-renowned bassist once married to Ella Fitzgerald, had been brought by a friend to hear Krall play. The evening was the beginning of a long association that saw Krall performing at Brown’s 70th-birthday tribute at the legendary Blue Note Club last year in New York. Last week, Krall wrapped up a five-day stint at The Top O’ the Senator jazz club in Toronto, where tickets were so coveted that even bar stools were reserved. In the audience was Enid Maclachlan, an elegant white-haired woman Krall had boarded with a decade ago. Maclachlan stresses that while Krall is

hugely talented, “she has also worked very, very hard to be where she is now.”

Where she is now seems to surprise Krall herself. Since its release last March, All for You has vaulted to the Top 10 on jazz charts, including a 47-week stay on the Billboard list that included a number 3 spot earlier this month. Late last year, Down Beat magazine, the jazz bible, placed Krall third in its annual readers’ poll, surpassing Ella Fitzgerald. (‘That’s so ridiculous,” Krall scoffs. “You don’t beat Ella Fitzgerald; it’s not about competition. It’s just a sign that you’re somebody’s favorite right now.”) And her CD has sold some 180,000 copies worldwide, a superseller in a genre where 10,000 copies is considered more than respectable. She has

MUSIC_

College of Music, which she attended for a year and a half. Mentor Ray Brown suggested Krall study with pianist Jimmy Rowles in Los Angeles, which she did in 1984 with the help of a Canada Council grant. After three years in L.A., Krall moved to Toronto to study with Thompson and perform at local clubs. By 1990, she had moved to New York but played most often in Boston, where she finally felt comfortable enough to sing as well as play piano. “I was working seven hours a night, three hours as a soloist and four with a trio,” she recalls. “It really gave me a chance to practise, to stretch, to work on the material.” During the same period, she made two CDs, Stepping Out (with Montreal’s Justin Time Records) and Only Trust Your Heart (GRP Records in the United States, which bought Krall out of her Canadian contract and released All for You under its Impulse! label).

Krall speaks ardently of jazz and its practitioners. Discussing All for You, she says: “We’re not trying to re-create the Nat Cole Trio. It’s more about the beauty of the music, the joy in it, and the simplicity, which is the hardest and most complex thing to achieve.” Her intensity about her music is leavened by a down-to-earth manner, a refusal to let the hoopla go to her head. She says that she is thrilled to be making an appearance in March on Garrison Keillor’s U.S. public radio show, A Prairie Home Companion—a family favorite along with several CBC Radio programs. “Keillor came to see my show in St. Paul, Minn.,” Krall recalls, “and wrote me a complimentary note on a napkin. I was so thrilled I called my mother.”

Her close family ties are what keep her grounded, Krall says. Last May, her 54-yearold mother was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, which has since been successfully treated with a bone marrow transplant. “So, despite the Grammy nomination and everything else, it was a very mixed year,” she says. “When terrible things like that happen, it shows you what’s really important And it taught me a lot about hope and strength and kindness, things I saw while my family went through this.” Playing music, Krall adds, was great therapy, “something that helped me work out all that angst.”

As she heads into a New York studio next week to record, Krall is still deciding which tunes she will perform. She spends hours listening to an eclectic group of musicians, everyone from Sarah Vaughan to Joni Mitchell to Loreena McKennitt. “Choosing the right material is the most joyful part,” she says. That may be true for Krall herself, but for her fans, the most joyful part is listening to what she does with it.

DIANE TURBIDE with ERICK THOMPSON in Nanaimo