Diana Krall ... and jazz

March 22, 2002



Though they're far outnumbered by her fans (she's the best-selling jazz artist in the last 25 years), Diana Krall's handful of detractors have charged that the comely blond Canadian makes jazz music for people who don't really know or love jazz.

Now, I can't claim the expertise in this genre that I have in pop or rock (and my own handful of detractors would dispute that I know anything about either of those fields). But it does seem as if the assaults on Krall are motivated by a certain snobbish elitism. Sure, she has courted and seems to actively be enjoying her success. But it's not as if Krall's torch-song/cabaret role models did anything different.

  Diana Krall





* 8 p.m. Saturday
* Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State
* Sold out





The 37-year-old singer clearly knows and loves jazz history, and she's been choosing songs wisely from the beginning of her career, drawing from the likes of Rodgers & Hart, Irving Berlin, George Gershwin and Cole Porter, and paying tribute over the course of an entire album devoted to Nat King Cole.

On last year's "The Look of Love," Krall coaxed the revered Claus Ogerman out of retirement to arrange the strings, and her sultry bossa nova grooves were propelled by the world-class rhythm section of bassist Christian McBride and drummer Peter Erskine. But ultimately, it all comes down to The Voice, and here's where my rocker's perspective comes in handy.

Like Debbie Harry, Chrissie Hynde, or Justine Frischmann of Elastica, Krall's dark, sensual, smoky vocals deliver more than just lilting and lovely notes. They convey an attitude. There's a hint of irony, a bit of cool, postmodern detachment, but most of all an underlying strength and self-assurance that brings new depths of meaning to the traditional romantic lyricism of the album's 10 tunes, which are carefully sequenced to chart the arc of a very modern relationship.

I spoke to Krall by phone from Los Angeles.

Q. You're crossing into a realm where people who wouldn't say they're jazz fans are buying your records. Do you enjoy breaking down those arbitrary walls?

A. I don't like to be put in a box. People are saying, "She's not jazz anymore, she's pop now." Well, I'm only pop because I'm popular. The youngest tune I'm doing was written in '64, it's "The Look of Love" by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. That's not contemporary music--I'm not covering Peter Gabriel tunes or something, which other jazz artists who I admire and respect do, like Dianne Reeves. I think jazz is about doing what you want to do, it's not about being put into a box. And every jazz musician that I admire and respect, I think they'll agree.

Jazz can be very intimidating to a newcomer. It's like art or anything else: You should buy art because you like it, not because somebody tells you it's fabulous. The story with jazz is it should move you. I think that my job playing music at a concert is not to show people my Bud Powell licks. It's to move people, to have people pop their fingers, and to do it with integrity and honesty and respect to the people who created this art form. When people come up to me and say, "I don't really like jazz, but I like you," if they go away from my concert and go to the record store tomorrow to buy a Nat King Cole or a Miles Davis record, then that's great. Not because it's my job to educate, but because it's my job to turn people on to stuff that's great.

Q. A lot of hay is made out of the fact that you're an attractive woman and a very sensual presence onstage. I'll ask you the same question I'd ask Madonna or Liz Phair: Is that overplayed?

A. No, it's cool. I am a very sensual person. I grew up in a highly charismatic family--a very sensual, passionate environment that my parents really encouraged.

Q. I have to interrupt to ask about something I read: Was your sister really a Mountie?

A. Yes, she was Royal Canadian Mounted Police. She was a Fed! But my parents were very much like, "Go! Do what you want to do. No stereotypes!" At the same time, it was like, "Be the passionate, sexual person that you are." My sister and I are both very much like that, and I think that music is very sensual. When I go listen to jazz musicians that I play, there's this highly charged energy, and a lot of it is just that you put your whole being into it. Like I've said before, wearing Dolce and Gabbana has nothing to do with the way I interpret Cole Porter. It's two different things, but I am what I am, and I refuse to apologize for that.

Sure, it's been marketed. But I choose my pictures. The biggest misconception is that the record company has that much control over who I am. I basically conceptualize my own arrangements; I play the piano; I pick my own clothes, and my album cover was my own dress that I bought at a department store two years ago in Canada. It's been highly controversial, my album cover, and that's frustrating, because I think the music is the most important thing. When I was driving my little Toyota Tercel at 19 years old to study with Ray Brown, that wasn't celebrity-driven. Yes, I've had tremendous success. Yes, the album cover has helped. But if I've prompted people to take the time to discuss my legs on my album cover, there are also not that many people who got Claus Ogerman out of retirement! So I feel good about my life, and I work my ass off at this!

Q. I know that you're touring and recording constantly. Do you envision doing another project like the Nat King Cole record that focuses on one artist?

A. Yes, I do. I've been thinking about it for years, and I've recorded a few of her tunes, and if I was going to do another concept record, I think it would definitely be Peggy Lee. I'd love to play her in a movie, too. She wrote great tunes and she was a sexy woman and she sang "Fever." I loved her as a performer, and I loved her as an actor. She was in "Pete Kelly's Blues" and was nominated for an Oscar. She was subtle; she didn't show her body a lot. She used a wink and a hip movement and you got more from that than if she was shouting from a megaphone. I admired her for her understated style.

Q. Did you ever get to meet her?

A. No, and I regret that. It's a disappointment. But I get to play her music every night. I start with it and finish with it. And again, the music is what it's all about.

I'm just trying to play beautiful music. I always have, and I always will. I just love to play. Whether it's Billy Joel or Cole Porter, my heart is in American popular song.