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Author: Richard J. Skelly. Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 8, 2000. All rights
For Diana Krall’s Standards, a Grammy
Mac Rebennack, a.k.a. Dr. John, the great New Orleans
pianist, guitarist, songwriter, and producer, is often asked for advice
from up-and-coming piano players. The good doctor, always humble,
doesn’t tell his eager students to study his recordings. Instead,
he urges them to check out his influences: Professor Longhair,
James Booker, T-Bone Walker, and a host of other now somewhat-forgotten
piano players and guitarists.
One can imagine 33-year-old vocalist and pianist Diana Krall saying
the same things to up-and-coming young jazz vocalists. The ever-so-humble
Canadian singer, raised in British Columbia, is still getting used
to her newfound stardom and fame, such as it is in the jazz world.
Even before winning her Grammy last week, Krall was selling out theaters
around the U.S., Canada, and throughout Europe. And Saturday’s shows
at McCarter are no exception: there remain just a few standing-room
tickets for her two concerts (the second added by popular demand),
on Saturday, March 11, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, March 12, at 3 p.m.
One can just imagine a backstage conversation with Krall and an admiring
teenage jazz piano player. She would tell the young woman to study
the recordings of pianists like Fats Waller, Nat King Cole, Jimmy
Rowles, and Dave McKenna.
A native of Nanaimo, a town just west of Vancouver, British Columbia,
Krall’s parents both played piano. She was surrounded by great jazz
and blues at an early age, by way of her father’s extensive record
collection. Her father is a chartered public accountant and her mother
a teacher with a master’s degree in education administration.
Krall has a sister who now works as the by-laws officer
of their home town. When the two girls were young, they loved swimming
and skiing, taking advantage of the natural beauty a place like British
Columbia affords. She began taking piano lessons at age four, and
eventually performed with her high school jazz band. As a teenager,
she had already begun her professional career, playing three nights
a week at a local restaurant.
Krall began singing with her grandmother, and she says she still sounds
a lot like her. Krall recalls going to her grandmother’s house every
day after school where the two would play the piano and sing. "I
just sang there, never at home," she told an interviewer for Jazz
Times magazine (September, 1999). "I didn’t think I had a good
enough voice. Then I started getting piano bar gigs. I sang as little
as I possibly could."
Also as a teenager, she attended trumpeter Bud Shank’s summer jazz
camp in Port Townsend, Washington. Through Shank, she met many of
her future mentors and supporters in the jazz world, including bassist
Ray Brown, John Clayton, Dave McKenna, Monty Alexander, and Jeff Hamilton.
The late pianist Jimmy Rowles had a huge impact on Krall. She loved
his piano playing, and later, introduced to him by John Clayton, got
the chance to learn from him. She would visit the pianist at his house,
where he would urge her to "sit down on the couch and ask questions."
So she did. But she also sat down on the piano bench and played for
Rowles. And Rowles played for her, naturally. Most of that time was
spent with Krall listening to Rowles play piano, and the two jazz
heads would also listen to classic records by Ben Webster, Duke Ellington,
Bill Evans, and others.
Krall attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a jazz scholarship
in the early 1980s, and then lived in Los Angeles for three years
before moving to Toronto. By 1990, she was based in New York, performing
with a trio and singing. After releasing her debut on the Canadian
label, Justin Time Records, Krall was noticed by one of the heavyweights
in the jazz world, legendary producer Tommy LiPuma. LiPuma has produced
classic jazz albums by Miles Davis, Shirley Horn, Dr. John, and Jimmy
Scott, among others. LiPuma signed Krall to GRP Records, and she recorded
her second album, "Only Trust Your Heart," for that label
in 1994. Krall recorded her third album, a tribute to Nat King Cole
called, "All For You," followed by "Love Scenes" in
1997, for GRP’s Impulse subsidiary.
By this point Krall had established a major-league reputation. She
left the jazz clubs for the most part to headline or share top billing
at jazz festivals, and give concert performances in theaters.
Krall’s most recent recording, "When I Look In Your Eyes,"
outclassed the competition to win this year’s Grammy for best jazz
vocal album. It is on the Verve label, where LiPuma — one of the
original "music men" in today’s record business who started
his career packing boxes at a record distributor — is currently
ensconced. Using the significant arranging talents of Johnny Mandel,
who also did arranging work for critically-praised records by Scott,
Horn, Natalie Cole, and Michael Feinstein, producer LiPuma worked
again with his longtime engineer, Al Schmitt. The Los Angeles-based
Schmitt is a legend himself, having recorded the Jefferson Airplane
and dozens of other ground-breaking rock ‘n’ roll, blues, and jazz
artists in the 1960s. Dr. John calls Schmitt "the best in the
One listen to "When I Look In Your Eyes," reveals
LiPuma’s incredible attention to detail as well as Mandel’s considerable
skills as an arranger. Mandel adds strings in just the right spots
on classic, Great American Songbook vocal tunes like Irving Berlin’s
"Let’s Face The Music and Dance," Cole Porter’s "I’ve
Got You Under My Skin," and Jerome Kern’s "Pick Yourself Up."
Krall’s vocals are at times subdued, sensual and smoky, as on "Popsicle
Toes" and "I’ve Got You Under My Skin," and at other times
can be perky and forceful, as on "East of The Sun (and West of
the Moon)," and "Pick Yourself Up," a tune popularized
by her hero Cole.
Backed on the album by guitarist Russell Malone, bassists Clayton
and Ben Wolfe, drummers Jeff Hamilton and Lewis Nash, vibraphonist
Larry Bunker, as well as Mandel’s string players, Krall the piano
player displays a deft touch, coming up with complex melodies that
still succeed in sounding light and simple. Although she is only 33,
she’s smart enough to know that what the late trumpeter, bandleader,
composer, and New Jersey resident Dizzy Gillespie once said is true:
"It’s not the notes you play, it’s the notes you leave out."
Krall, like anyone who is as hot as she is in the jazz world, is currently
the target of potshots from veteran jazz critics and jaundiced club
owners. Some complain she doesn’t write her own songs. Krall does
do her own arranging; it can be found on her earlier albums as well
as on "When I Look In Your Eyes." But as she points out in
the Jazz Times interview, "Charlie Parker, Miles, Ahmad Jamal,
they were all playing standards."
Two SRO audiences at McCarter Theater (capacity 1,000 plus seats)
await her standards and her originals with eager anticipation.
— Richard J. Skelly
The singer and pianist in concert. Both performances SRO. Saturday,
March 11, at 8 p.m., and Sunday, March 12, at 3 p.m.
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