Born on November 16, 1964, in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada; daughter of an accountant father and teacher, librarian mother; married Elvis Costello (a singer/songwriter), 2003. Education: Attended Berklee College of Music in Boston, MA. Addresses: Record company--Verve Music Group, 1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019. Management--Macklam Feldman Management Inc, 1505 West 2nd Ave., Ste. 200, Vancouver BC V6H 3Y4, Canada. Website--Diana Krall Official Website: http://www.dianakrall.com.
Canadian jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall became the toast of the international jazz scene, as well as to more mainstream audiences, during the mid-1990s. The late 1990s and early 2000s brought her a Grammy Award and three Canadian Juno Awards for her work, and even broader international acclaim. A modest yet commanding performer, Krall plays mostly her own interpretations of the old jazz standards accompanied by her relaxed, intimate singing style. She broke new ground in 2004 with her first release to include original material, the album The Girl in the Other Room, which also features collaborations with her recently wedded husband, rock singer/songwriter Elvis Costello.
Despite Krall's undeniable talent as a serious pianist and singer, her success drew attack from some jazz critics and fans who accused her of selling out to the popular culture by playing to a wide range of audiences; in 1998, for example, she appeared on two episodes of television's Melrose Place playing herself as a performer at a local bar and toured with Sarah McLachlan's all-female Lillith Fair concert.
Krall herself felt somewhat uneasy about her sudden fame. "Well, I'm shy. And I'm embarrassed," she admitted to Gene Lees in Jazz Times. "I feel like that when I walk out on stage and everybody claps. When we finish a show ... and people give me a standing ovation, I feel like saying, 'No, it's okay, sit down and don't bother.' I'm not comfortable with it. I love to make people happy but I'm not comfortable with that." Furthermore, Krall, who never expected to rise to the top of jazz and who just wanted to play the piano, found that standing in the limelight included its drawbacks, adding, "I think I put a lot of pressure on myself where it isn't necessary. I'm trying to handle it. I'm happy for my success, and I'm trying to enjoy it."
Family Fostered Her Love of Music
Krall was born on November 16, 1964, in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada, a town located west of Vancouver across the Strait of Georgia on Vancouver Island. As a child, Krall, the oldest of two daughters (her sister later became a police officer in Nanaimo), enjoyed a home always filled with music. Her father, an accountant, accumulated over the years an enormous record and sheet music collection and Krall's mother Adella, an elementary school teacher and librarian who later earned a master's degree in educational administration, played the piano and sang. Both parents loved music and old television and radio shows. In addition, the future jazz musician's great, great aunt performed in Vaudeville in New York City. "I couldn't have had more supportive parents," Krall related to Lees. "The most important thing for me is my family."
Nevertheless, Krall's parents at first held other hopes for their daughter's future. When one of her piano teachers told her mother that Krall possessed the potential to play jazz or pop music as a professional, Krall's mother recalled to David Hayes in Chatelaine, "I just smiled and thought, well, that's nice of her to say but Diana's going to university. I didn't want her playing in bars. I didn't have much regard for music as a career."
In many ways, though, Krall experienced a typical middle-class, small-town upbringing. She spent summers at the beach and winters on the ski slopes, listened to rock stars like Peter Frampton and the group Supertramp, and held dreams of exploring space as an astronaut, building model rockets with friend Bob Thirsk. (While Krall never made it to Canada's space program, Thirsk did, and he even took one of her CDs on the space shuttle with him.)
However, Krall, who began playing the piano at age four, was also drawn to the music handed down from her father's record collection, including recordings of Fats Waller and Bing Crosby. She started taking piano lessons and singing with her paternal grandmother. Every day after school, she would go to her grandmother's house to play piano and sing, but Krall would never sing at home because she never thought she had a good enough voice. By 15, she played piano in a local bar and restaurant, singing as little as possible. At age 17, she won a scholarship to attend the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. She studied in Boston for 18 months before returning to Nanaimo.
Earned Her Parents' Blessing
Krall's big break came two years later in 1983, when her parents sent her to jazz camp in Port Townsend, Washington. Through the camp director, Bud Shank, she met drummer Jeff Hamilton, a member of an influential west coast jazz quartet called the L.A. 4. A few weeks later, when his quartet was playing a show in Krall's hometown, Hamilton brought legendary jazz bassist Ray Brown (the first husband of singer Ella Fitzgerald whom Krall would later record with) to hear her perform at a bar down the street. Like Hamilton, Brown was impressed by the young pianist's talent. During their stay in Nanaimo, she invited the two musicians to her family's home for dinner, and Hamilton convinced Krall's mother that her daughter could "make it in jazz." Although her mother had previously disapproved of Krall pursuing a career in jazz music, an industry often known for disappointments, she changed her mind after spending time with Hamilton and Brown. She remembered thinking, "These musicians have distinguished careers. They're pretty real people," as she told Hayes.
Thus, with her parents' blessing, Hamilton encouraged Krall to move to Los Angeles to study, and she earned a grant from the Canada Arts Council to do so. There, she first studied with Alan Broadbent, but she found her most important influence and teacher in pianist Jimmy Rowles (1918-1996), who played with singers such as Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee. The first time Krall went over to his house to meet him, she ended up spending most of the day. He conducted informal lessons and told Krall old stories about Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and other jazz legends. "It was just as important to me to hang out and listen to stories as it was to practice and play," Krall told Lees. "He'd play for me, and then I'd play for him. But most of the time was spent with me listening to him play. And we'd listen to records. We'd listen to Ben Webster, Duke Ellington." Furthermore, Rowles, also a singer noted for his passionate, stylish vocals, pressed Krall to develop her voice.
With Rowles's encouragement, and because she realized she would earn more opportunities to play if she sang, Krall conceded and started performing in Los Angeles piano bars. Three years later, she moved to Toronto, then to New York in 1990, where she studied with Mike Renzi and for awhile commuted to Boston to work with a jazz trio.
"Stepped Out" with Her Debut Album
By now, critics, jazz fans, and record labels were taking note of Krall's soulful voice and confident piano skills. In 1993, she released her debut album on the Canadian label Justin Time entitled Steppin' Out, a forceful trio work with bassist John Clayton and friend Hamilton on drums. Following her debut, the record company GRP, one of North America's foremost jazz labels, signed Krall, and she released her second album in 1995. Her former mentor Brown also appeared with fellow bassist Christian McBride for the record entitled Only Trust Your Heart. In addition, tenor saxophonist Stanley Turrentine contributed to the recording as a special guest, adding more variety to the ensemble.
After a Canadian summer jazz-festival tour with guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Paul Keller in 1995, Krall made her next album, 1996's All For You, a tribute to jazz great Nat King Cole. Again, Krall illustrated the way in which she allows her music to breathe and encourages musical conversation within her band. "Alternately happy-go-lucky and smokey, All For You features Krall's single-malt vocals and accomplished piano playing (backed by guitar and acoustic bass) on a collection of mainly lesser-known standards (the classic jazz repertoire of songs written by the great Broadway show tune composers of the 1930s and '40s). A highlight: 'Frim Fram Sauce,' a novelty tune recorded by Cole in 1945," commented Hayes. The album, nominated for a Grammy award that year, topped the jazz charts in the United States for over two years and broke sales records (for a jazz recording) around the world. Jazz artists, especially newcomers, rarely see their albums appeal to such a wide audience.
Krall's next release in 1997, Love Scenes, further exemplified her continuing maturity and her band's cohesiveness with a more relaxed tone than her previous albums. Joined by Malone and McBride, the record built upon jazz standards of artists such as Irving Berlin, Harry Warren, Percy Mayfield, and George and Ira Gershwin. This release was also nominated for a Grammy award.
Then in 1998, Krall released a collection of favorite Christmas songs entitled Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. This year also saw Krall's popularity skyrocket, aided by her hit single, a Fats Waller tune called "Peel Me a Grape." She appeared on two episodes of the Fox network's Melrose Place, accompanied pop singer Celine Dione on her Christmas album, recorded a duet with alternative artist Sarah McLachlan, and joined McLachlan and a host of other female musicians for the Lilith Fair concert. Krall told Steve Dollar of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution regarding her playing Lilith Fair, "It was wonderful to hear teenage girls (yell for) 'Peel Me a Grape' and 'Go Russell!' I was sitting at the press conference with these women (Sarah McLachlan and others), going, 'Oh my God, these people are just as serious about what they do as we are.'"
Krall followed these successes with 1999's When I Look In Your Eyes, this time on the Verve label. John Ephland of Down Beat magazine noted that like her prior releases, Krall's most recent album continued her focus on "sultry standards, bouncin' swingers, a contemporary tune thrown in for fun." Other musicians featured for the album included Malone, Ben Wolfe and Clayton sharing duties on bass, Hamilton, Lewis Nash on drums, and Larry Bunker on vibes. The noted orchestrater Johnny Mandel also worked with Krall for When I Look In Your Eyes as director. The album won Krall the 1999 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance.
Krall followed When I Look in Your Eyes with The Book of Love in 2001, and this album won the singer no less than three Juno Awards (Canada's highest music honors) in 2002--those for Artist of the Year, Album of the Year, and Best Vocal Jazz Album of the Year.
The year 2002 was one of the most eventful of Krall's life, full of joy and sorrow in equal measure; that year she won the Grammy, but also lost her mother (to cancer), as well as two of her closest friends, Ray Brown and singer Rosemary Clooney. She also met rock star Elvis Costello. The two began a partnership that culminated in their marriage in 2003, and an album, The Girl in the Other Room, in 2004. This album is Krall's first to feature original material--pieces she co-wrote with Costello. "I wrote the music," Krall explained to Ashante Infantry in the Toronto Star, "and then Elvis and I talked about what we wanted to say. I told him stories and wrote pages and pages of reminiscences, descriptions and images and he put them into tighter lyrical form." The album quickly became Krall's best-selling album to date.
To those critics who accuse Krall of "going pop," the talented musician told Dollar, "I'm not out to please the jazz police, nor am I out just to win an audience. I'm just out to make the kind of record that I would love to put on and listen to."
by Laura Hightower and Michael Belfiore
Diana Krall's Career
Began playing piano in local bars at age 15; earned scholarship at age 17 to Berklee College of Music; attended jazz camp in Port Townsend, WA; discovered by drummer Jeff Hamilton and legendary bassist Ray Brown, earned grant from Canada Arts Council to study in Los Angeles with Broadbent and Rowles, 1983; moved to New York City to study under Renzi, joined jazz trio in Boston, 1990; released first album, Steppin' Out, 1993; released Only Trust Your Heart, 1994; released All For You, a tribute album to Nat King Cole, 1995; released Love Scenes, 1997; toured with Lillith Fair concert, released Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, 1998; released When I Look In Your Eyes, which won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, 1999; released The Book of Love, 2001; won three Juno awards, 2002; released Live in Paris, 2002; released first album containing original songs, The Girl in the Other Room, 2004.
Diana Krall's Awards
Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for When I Look in Your Eyes, 1999; Juno Award for Artist of the Year, Juno Awards, Album of the Year and Best Vocal Jazz Album of the Year, for When I Look in Your Eyes, 2002; International Musician of the Year, National Jazz Awards, 2004.
- Selected discography
- Steppin' Out Justin Time, 1993.
- Only Trust Your Heart Verve, 1994.
- All for You Impulse, 1995.
- Love Scenes Verve, 1997.
- Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas Impulse, 1998.
- When I Look In Your Eyes Verve, 1999.
- The Book of Love Verve, 2001.
- Live in Paris Verve, 2002.
- The Girl in the Other Room Verve, 2004.
August 30, 2005: Krall was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Source: Globe and Mail, August 31, 2005.
- Swenson, John, editor, Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide, Random House, 1999.
- Atlanta Journal and Constitution, December 6, 1998, p. L01.
- Chatelaine, September 1, 1997, pp. 52-55.
- Down Beat, September 1999, p. 52.
- Edmonton Sun, June 9, 1999, p. 11.
- Gannett News Service, March 8, 1999.
- Globe and Mail, February 25, 2004.
- Independent on Sunday, November 8, 1998, p. 10.
- Jazz Times, September 1999, pp. 34-39.
- London Free Press, November 21, 1998, p. C5.
- Minneapolis Star Tribune, October 30, 1996, p. 04B.
- Newsday, August 7, 1996, p. B07.
- Newsweek, June 14, 1999, p. 68.
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 27, 1993, p. 08D; March 17, 1995, p. 08E; September 19, 1995, p. 03E; March 8, 1998, p. D8; March 13, 1998, p. E4
- Toronto Star, May 2, 2004, p. D4.
- Washington Post, July 2, 2004, p. T6.
- Washington Times, August 26, 1999, p. C16.
- "Diana Krall," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 7, 2004).
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