By the mid-twentieth century, the jazz world had an abundance of superstars whose names were familiar even to those uninterested in music; legendary characters like Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgeraldand Nat King Cole. Those days are long gone, of course, but just when the idea of revisiting a jazz superstar seemed an absurdly fanciful notion, came Diana Krall.
A Canadian from British Columbia, she arrived on the music scene in the early 1990s at a time when grunge, Britpop and techno dominated both the airwaves and the pop charts. It couldn’t have been a worse time for a young jazz artist whose repertoire consisted mostly of jazz standards. But Krall managed to find an audience and, by the end of the decade, not only had a handful of Grammy nominations to his name, but also two platinum albums. Against all odds, Diana Krall had helped bring jazz back onto the radar of the general public.
Krall’s career reached another level with his sixth album, 2001 The gaze of love, who focused more on his singing than his piano playing, framing his honey-toned contralto voice with opulent orchestral backgrounds over a series of ballads and bossa novas. The album quickly went multi-platinum across the world, turning Krall into the rarest of rarities; a true 21st century jazz superstar. In the wake of the album, a succession of accomplished albums and a few concert DVDs consolidated his fame. And, in an effort to show off some versatility, Krall wasn’t averse to taking creative risks; she abandoned her basic repertoire, the Great American Songbook, on pop-tinged albums The girl in the other room (2004) and Wallflower (2015).
What follows are 20 songs that represent Diana Krall at her best, including finger-clicking swingers, beautiful ballads, and some stellar collaborations. All testify to the exceptional nature of Krall’s talents.
Born in 1964 in Nanaimo, a city on Vancouver Island in Canada, Diana Krall grew up in a family where playing and listening to music were popular pastimes. “I received piano lessons and was lucky enough to be raised in a very musical environment,” she revealed to Blues & soul magazine in 2001. “My dad is a record collector and my grandparents were very musical, so it’s a very natural thing for us to hear and play music, especially jazz.”
Krall’s love for jazz continued to blossom in high school, where she played piano in a jazz band; and by the age of 15 she was already performing professionally at local venues. Her determination to become a jazz musician was fueled after attending a concert by Canada’s most famous jazz pianist in 1980: “I went to see Oscar Peterson when I was 16, which had a huge impact on me,” she recalled in 2001.
Keen to succeed as a jazz musician, Krall practiced and played endlessly and won a scholarship to the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston. but it was meeting LA Four drummer Jeff Hamilton at a music camp that proved to be a significant development in his musical life. “That was my big break,” Krall said Blues & soul. “Jeff encouraged me to come to Los Angeles where I studied with (singer/pianist) Jimmy Rowles and (bassist) Ray Brown.”
Diana Krall’s Swing Songs
Mentored by Rowles and Brown, Diana Krall blossomed into a confident performer and in 1992 released her debut album Get out of on Canadian independent label Justin Time. With his mix of piano swingers – which included his sassy reading of Nat King Cole’s 1943 hit, “Straighten Up And Fly Right” – and luxurious ballads, all drawn from standard jazz repertoire, he proved a debut. impressive 28- Age. She also received a glowing endorsement from her mentor Ray Brown who wrote of her protege in the liner notes: “I think there’s a lot of soul in this lady.”
Get out of put Krall on the radar of major label GRP and into the orbit of veteran producer Tommy LiPuma, whose credits ranged from Miles Davis to George Benson. He directed his debut for the label, in 1994 Trust only your heartwhich opened with a cover of Louis Jordan’s “Is You Is Or Isn’t You Ain’t My Baby”, transformed into a succulent slice of swinging soul jazz brought to life by Stanley Turrentine’s gruff tenor saxophone.
As Krall’s recording career progressed, her albums became more ballad-oriented, but every once in a while she showed that deep down she was still a committed swinger; as evidenced by his vibrant big band playback of Sinatra’s classic, “Come Dance With Me”, one of the album’s key tracks From now onwhich she recorded with the Clayton/Hamilton Orchestra in 2006.
In concert, Krall refused to dilute the jazz content of his music and often served up tunes that showcased his piano skills; like the heartbreaking version of Peggy Lee classic “I Love Being Here With You”, which opened his 2002 album Live in Paris.
Diana Krall’s creamy contralto voice, with its dark, velvety texture and richly expressive tones, is well suited for intimate ballads. Producer Tommy LiPuma harnessed this talent on several collections of slower songs, which no doubt helped Krall become a worldwide phenomenon in the late 1990s and 2000s.
On Dave Frishberg’s bluesy track “Peel Me A Grape”, from his 1997 album love scenesKrall showed her skill in working slower materials using an earthy side à la Peggy Lee, where she convincingly transformed into a temperamental and demanding temptress.
Slower songs on later albums were less playful and more nuanced in nature; like the non-album single “Why Should I Care,” which framed Krall’s luscious vocals with soft, billowing clouds of luxurious strings. (The song was co-written by legendary actor/director Clint Eastwood and was heard during the closing credits of his 1999 film, true crime).
Recorded the same year, Leslie Bricusse’s slower “When I Look In Your Eyes” – the title track from Krall’s fifth album – which underscored the painful quality of the singer’s voice; a hymn of desire where Krall receives exquisite support from Russell Malone’s guitar filigrees and Johnny Mandel’s sublime orchestral touches.
Another top ballad performance in Krall’s repertoire is the smoldering torch song “Guess I’ll Hang Out My Teas To Dry”, a melancholic ode written by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne which has been recorded by Everyone, from Sinatra to Linda Ronstadt.
The Bossa Novas
Diana Krall’s affinity for the subtle sensuality of Brazilian bossa nova rhythms first appeared on When I look in your eyes album; with the help of veteran arranger Johnny Mandel, she transformed two jazz standards from Great American Songbook – Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face The Music And Dance” and Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – and slowed them down in lush-toned poems underpinned by sweet Latin syncopations and imbued with a tender eroticism.
Krall went all-Brazilian on her next album, 2001’s multi-platinum The gaze of love; its title track was a magnificent reconfiguration of Burt Bacharach and Hal David Casino Royale tune first waxed by Dusty Springfield in 1967. The arrangement was done by the late German arranger Claus Ogerman, whose resume ranged from Frank Sinatra to bossa nova architects João Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. He was persuaded to come out of retirement to write lavish cards that draped Krall’s voice with luxurious bands of soft strings and soft woods.
Other bossa nova style gems from The gaze of love included a reworking of George Gershwin’s “S’Wonderful” – which echoed Ogerman’s arrangement of the same song for João Gilberto Amoroso album in 1977 – and a truly spectacular version of “Dancing In The Dark”, a standard previously recorded by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett.
Diana Krall Pop Songs
While some may have lamented the decrease in jazz content on some of her records in the 2000s, Diana Krall’s experiments with pop songs reflected her desire to take creative risks. 2004 The girl in the other room was mostly self-written and moved away from standard jazz repertoire. It also contained Krall’s version of “Black Crow”, a song written by another of the singer’s idols; fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell, whose influence was almost palpable on the songs “Narrow Daylight” and “Departure Bay”, two storybook confessionals that Krall co-wrote with her new husband, the British singer/songwriter Elvis Costello. (They married in 2003).
Krall also put jazz and his piano on the backburner with his 2015 album Wallflower, where she offered mostly deft David Foster-produced renditions of classic 60s and 70s pop and rock songs; they included his impassioned version of the Eagles’ country-rock anthem ballad “Desperado.”
Duos and collaborations
One of the first people Diana Krall duet with was Tony Bennettwhen she appeared opposite the veteran crooner on his 2001 album Playing With My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. The two reunited for a full album in 2018, love is here to staywhich included a delightfully playful rendition of “Fascinating Rhythm” by George and Ira Gershwin.
Other noteworthy collaborations in Krall’s catalog include a tender reading of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s 1970 breakup song “If You Could Read My Mind,” sung as a duet with fellow Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah McLachlan and a striking stylistic change in the form of Bob Dylan. frontier-style ballad of the waltz, “Wallflower”, featuring the distinctive fretwork of American guitarist Blake Mills. (Both tracks appeared on Krall’s 2015 album, Wallflower).
Although Diana Krall has been categorized as a jazz ballad – which has sometimes been a source of frustration for her – the 20 songs we have selected reveal that she is much more versatile than we think. While jazz is where she made her name, over time she has proven herself to be a daring musician with daring expeditions into other genres.
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