View From The Inside: Diana Krall Is Back
Diana Krall, one of the most successful and popular jazz artists of our time, released Turn Up The Quiet in early May. This eagerly anticipated project reunited her with prolific record producer Tommy LiPuma. Sadly, LiPuma passed away after the recording was completed but before its release, making the event somewhat more melancholy and less joyous.
Pianist/vocalist Krall was born on November 16, 1964 in Nanaimo, British Columbia in Canada. Known for her contralto vocals, her albums have sold over 15 million copies worldwide, including over 6 million in the U.S., establishing her as one of the best-selling musical artists of her time.
Krall is the only jazz singer to have eight albums debut at the top of the Billboard Jazz Album list. To date, she has earned three Grammy and eight Juno Awards as well as nine gold, three platinum, and seven multi-platinum albums.
Krall’s parents were Adella, an elementary school teacher, and Stephen James “Jim” Krall, an accountant. Her father played piano at home and her mother sang in a community choir. Diana’s only sibling, Michelle, is a former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).
Diana was playing piano herself by the age of 4 and playing jazz in a local restaurant by age 15. She went to the Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship before going to Los Angeles to play jazz. She then returned to Canada to release her first album in 1993. Krall’s mother died of multiple myeloma in 2002, shortly thereafter, bassist Ray Brown and actress/vocalist Rosemary Clooney also passed.
Krall and British musician Elvis Costello were married on December 6, 2003, at Elton John’s estate outside London. Their twin sons, Dexter Henry Lorcan and Frank Harlan James, were born December 6, 2006, in New York.
LiPuma died early in 2017 at the age of 80, and before ever knowing how well their disc would be received. Krall hadn’t worked with the producer since 2009 until she recorded this work last year. The two of them wanted to go back to the most intimate possible sound—with trio, quartet, quintet and strings for Turn Up The Quiet.
LiPuma was among a handful of music executives who helped shape and energize pop music in the ’60s with record labels like Blue Thumb, A&M and Elektra—a decidedly “uncorporate” crew that relied more on their basic instinct of what sounded good, rather than what might sell well.
Unable to suppress the fan in him, LiPuma would sometimes sit in on recording sessions. When he was put in charge of Verve
Elvis Costello & Diana Krall
Music Group he supervised the merge of a catalog of smooth, contemporary jazz artists like singer/songwriter/ guitarist George Benson and with the architects of modern jazz like saxophonist Charlie Parker.
Tommy indicated that he felt the legacy of what he was inheriting.
“There are times when I get overwhelmed by the amount of responsibility and work,” he conceded, in a 1999 interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
LiPuma won five Grammys for his productions and more than 30 nominations in a career that spanned more than five decades including collaborating with Krall on eleven previous albums.
Among the recordings LiPuma produced were Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable...With Love in 1991, which won the Grammy for album of the year, George Benson’s 1976 album Breezin’, which included the Grammy-
winning single “This Masquerade.”
Krall said in an interview for The Globe and Mail that LiPuma, “understood how I needed to evolve and not repeat what I’d done before.” Krall added, “Turn Up The Quiet came out of a very dark period. I would walk the seawall in Vancouver and listen to Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon and Lester Young and Ben Webster and Dizzy Gillespie, and a lot of Duke Ellington and Nat Cole.”
She said she just thought about how modern those pieces were.
“They were playing standards, but when you hear John Coltrane playing ‘Like Someone in Love,’ you don’t think of him playing the Great American Songbook to be nostalgic. So I started working with Tommy LiPuma on this very long process.”
Krall said they began with six demos, which were quite darker—songs that weren’t love songs.
“We started working with three ensembles and it kind of wrote itself. I think you get tired after a while of the world being in chaos and the chaos in your world. But I just went in with people that I love and know really well. I worked with Tommy for 25 years. I worked with Christian McBride for 25 years. I did question ‘Blue Skies.’ In these times, do I have the right to sing this?”
But then Krall said she stopped thinking about being nostalgic.
“These songs don’t represent any generation or marketing demographic—it’s a jazz record. It’s joyful. It just came out that way. And thank god for that...Tommy understood where it was going. We weren’t going down a planned theme road. We had a pile of 50 songs and everyday we asked ourselves what we wanted to do. I started thinking about ‘Isn’t it Romantic?’ for instance, and not fearing anything. I just thought ‘Bobby Short,’ and thinking about listening to Bobby Short when I was very young. So, I began seeing it as a vibe-out record where you don’t really want to get off the couch too fast.
After the passing of LiPuma, Krall reflected.
“The first interview of the day is difficult. But the second doesn’t make it any less painful. It was such a shock. He became suddenly ill. He was vibrant. I spent 25 years of my life with him and his wife, Jill. They were like my New York parents. The first time my husband Elvis Costello came to see me at Royal Albert Hall, he sat between my Dad and Tommy.”
Krall also told Wheeler how she had brought LiPuma to the White House for International Jazz Day.
"It was very emotional. He was turning 80. We also went to this restaurant. It was real school, a chophouse, right out of a movie. There’s an Argentinian pianist that I love. He plays right in the middle of the room. One time I sat in with him. He didn’t know who I was and he said, ‘You’re pretty good, but you gotta work on your left hand.’ I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard that before...’ He told me if I stuck with it, I could play in these kind of places.”
There is almost something extremely intimate about the way this entire disc was recorded. Krall’s voice is very soft and breathy, though always warm and inviting. Her vibrato can sometimes sound a little too delicate for comfort. On the other hand, with Krall taking command as bandleader, the resultant gain in the quality of her musicianship and the confidence it inspires more than offsets any doubts about the fragility of her vocals.
Diana Krall is first and always a jazz pianist. On the new album, she is most determinedly the bandleader. Krall has chosen the repertoire, helped conceive the ensemble arrangements and gathered three distinct bands for these sessions.
Chicago freelance writer Randy Freedman is a jazz connoisseur, photographer,
food critic, humorist and devoted music fan. He is a regular contributor to Chicago Jazz Magazine.