Amid Swirl of Activity, Jazz Singer And Pianist Diana Krall's Star Rises
Grammy nominee speaks of honesty, simplicity, finding her voice
'What time does your day start tomorrow?" For most people, such a mundane question would elicit a somewhat predictable response. Not so for jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall.
She is one of the fastest-rising artists in the contemporary jazz scene. And since earning a Grammy nomination for her 1996 disc "All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio," Krall has been on the road virtually nonstop. So we can forgive her for occasionally confusing one day with the next.
A recent visit to Paris to promote her latest record, "Love Scenes," provided a glimpse into the daily life of this young celebrity. In the brief 48-hour stopover, Krall and the members of her trio juggled sound checks with interviews and performances. In such a traffic jam of scheduling, downtime is rare. They eat when they can. They sleep when they can.
Amazingly, Krall has scratched out the time to record three discs in the past three years. She has built her reputation around reinventing classic standards such as "They Can't Take That Away From Me," "Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby," or "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me."
Krall and her current piano-guitar-bass trio play a straightforward style of jazz. They sign it with their own signature. But they also let the music speak for itself.
"Simplicity, I think, is the key," she explains over a short but thoughtful lunchtime interview. "I'm not worried about playing fast. You can't go out there trying to win any races. The most important thing is that you make people feel something. The music has got to be honest. What you're doing must be honest."
In this increasingly high-tech industry, where musical production often takes precedence over the music, Krall's simplicity stands out with refreshing integrity. And her increasing popular success is a testament to the timelessness of the music. Sales of "All for You" have exceeded 250,000, and "Love Scenes" recently held the No. 1 slot on Billboard's jazz charts for 11 weeks (it's now No. 3).
Russell Malone has played guitar with Krall for the past year and a half. He says her strong point is that "she just has good taste in music. She has an excellent sense for picking the right songs. A lot of groups just want to play their own tunes, but I like playing other people's songs, too. Gershwin and Ellington are so well constructed. Every time we play them I find something new."
If Krall is certain about one thing, it is that her musical values are right for her. While growing up in Nanaimo, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, music filled her household. "Everything from classical music to boogie-woogie." But it was during her years at Boston's Berklee School of Music and after that she found her own musical voice.
Toward the end of her Paris visit, Krall and her trio took the stage for a sellout show at the Grand Rex Theater. Despite the helter-skelter swirl of activity that surrounds the trio offstage, Krall, Mr. Malone, and bass player Ben Wolfe played seamlessly.
At one point, Malone ran away with a guitar solo, playfully mixing in familiar licks from other genres and songs. The result: a brief smile from Krall and a loud laugh from the audience. It was clear that this trio knows the meaning of entertainment. They have played together frequently, and they are only getting better with time.
With Krall, Canadian music has produced another definitive female voice, joining pop and rock stars such as Alanis Morissette and k.d. lang. While any connection with these disparate voices may only be kinetic, Krall insists that her current album is very much about her Canadian roots.
She acknowledges that the sultry album cover, which implies romantic love, is a bit misleading. "I didn't realize it at the time," Krall reflects. "But throughout this record, there are references to rain, the ocean, mountains, and the strength in love."
Krall knows that she has hit her creative groove. But she also knows that such a groove, like the rhythm, is ever-changing. For her, the Grammy nomination is no status symbol but simply a window with increased opportunities to play and grow.
"I didn't find who I was as an artist in my first record, or even my second or third. It is an ongoing process, and I just want to keep searching, to keep curious. I have an idea of the sound I want now, but maybe next year it will be a different sound."
The sound could eventually include songs of her own. She says the thought is appealing. But regardless of what direction her music takes, one thing is certain: It will remain simple.