insists Diana Krall on a March night in Vancouver. This proves a challenge. Adella Krall, 60, is deep in a crowd of black ties and evening dresses in a hotel banquet room. Diana, with a daughter’s instinct and the elevation of a killer pair of heels, locks on target. But between mom and child, dozens of guests want a word with the striking honey blond who happens to be one of the best-selling female artists in the history of jazz.
That evening, she is as SWonderfully elegant as a Gershwin tune from The Look of Love. Her sixth CD, a sultry selection of ballads and bossa novas, is approaching three million sales. At 37, the Nanaimo, B.C.-born Krall is a seamless blend of serious musicianship and A-list celebrity—a tough balance even without her trademark stiletto heels. But tonight she proudly cedes the starring role to Adella, for what proves to be one of her last public appearances before she died on May 26.
Diana had fretted over Adella’s fragile health, but her mother, while fatigued, was in high spirits. This was the Kralls’ fourth annual fundraiser for the Leukemia/Bone Marrow Transplantation Program at Vancouver General Hospital—a labour of love for Diana and look-alike younger sister Michelle, for father Jim, a music-loving accountant, and especially for Adella, diagnosed six years earlier with multiple myeloma, a generally incurable bone marrow cancer. “It was important to her,” her daughter says of the evening. She didn’t see herself in a battle with cancer, Krall adds. Rather, she treated the years since her diagnosis as a gift, the result of good medical care and advances in research.
Adella, ever the teacher-librarian, described her often-draining treatment for myeloma as though it were a learning experience. “I came home,” she told her rapt audience, “enriched and thankful.” Then it is Diana’s turn on stage, finding solace and expression at her black Steinway. The benefits have raised almost $500,000, the crowd bidding this year on such auction items as a pink suit donated by her friend, Sir Elton John, and a Sebring convertible featured in ads Krall does for Daimler Chrysler. The event will continue in Adella’s memory. “We are so thankful for the six years,” says Krall. “We want other families to have more time.”
Krall has homes in Vancouver and Manhattan, a relationship with New York screenwriter John-Paul Bernbach, and a crushing tour schedule. Her two-decade climb from piano bar anonymity to concert headliner began with the childhood gift of a music-filled household. The rest of it, though—the worldly piano, the singlemalt vocals, the storyteller’s gift—is the product of serious study, a U.S. music scholarship and mentors from the world of classical jazz.
She draws, too, on the oft-times lonely lessons of the road. “I feel very deeply about life,” she says. “I wish I didn’t sometimes.” Krall recalls a bleak day in Vienna this February, alone at the piano of her hotel suite, rehearsing for her forthcoming Christmas album. She was playing O Holy Night, the memories of family singalongs and Christmases past so vivid, she burst into tears. Krall laughs now at her bout of homesickness. Emotionalism, she says, is a Krall family trait. It makes for beautiful music. KEN MAcQUEEN
‘We are so thankful for the six years. We want other families to have more time/
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