Born into a musical family in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Diana Krall began her musical journey during early childhood. While her mother sang in church, her father, a stride pianist with an extensive knowledge of jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards, had a massive record collection that introduced her to many of the jazz and pop greats that would inform her own musical development.
"I was immersed in music growing up," Krall recalls. "My father has a vast collection; he collects 78 records, and that's how I first heard Fats Waller, Bing Crosby and Louis Armstrong. I connected with music on such an emotional level that it wasn't 'This is what I want to do,' it was 'This is what I have to do.'"
Krall began studying piano at the age of four, and subsequently played in her high school's jazz band. At 15, she began playing regularly in restaurants and bars around her hometown. At 17, she won a scholarship from the Vancouver International Jazz Festival to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Meanwhile, Krall's playing attracted the admiration of legendary bassist Ray Brown, who suggested that she move to Los Angeles to study with seminal pianist Jimmy Rowles. It was during that period that Krall began singing as well as playing. In 1990, after a three-year stint in L.A., she relocated to New York, where she began performing with her own trio.
Krall began her recording career in 1993 on Canada's Justin Time label, releasing her first album Stepping Out, recorded with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, a pair of jazz heavyweights who would remain longtime Krall collaborators. The debut disc reached Number Three on Billboard's jazz chart and caught the attention of noted producer Carl Griffin and veteran producer and label exec Tommy LiPuma, who signed her to GRP Records and produced her sophomore effort, 1995's Only Trust Your Heart. That album teamed Krall with a prestigious musical cast that included Ray Brown and Stanley Turrentine, and marked the beginning of a long and productive association with LiPuma, who would continue to produce Krall's albums for GRP, Impulse! and Verve.
Krall's third album was the acclaimed 1996 Nat "King" Cole Trio tribute All for You: A Dedication to the Nat "King" Cole Trio, which spent 70 weeks on the Billboard jazz chart and won the artist her first Grammy nomination. 1997's Love Scenes, recorded with guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Christian McBride, was an even bigger hit, reaching the top slot on the Billboard jazz chart and making unexpected inroads into the mainstream market.
Krall achieved both a musical breakthrough and a commercial watershed with her 1999 release When I Look in Your Eyes. The album broadened her sound, employing an expanded instrumental ensemble as well as orchestral arrangements by Johnny Mandel. When I Look in Your Eyes became an international sensation, going platinum in the United States and spending an entire year in Number One position the Billboard jazz chart. In addition to winning Krall a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, it also became the first jazz album in a quarter-century to receive a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year. Krall's crossover success was further reflected in her participation in the historic Lilith Fair tour in 2000, and the prominent presence of her songs on the soundtracks of TV's Sex in the City and such films as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.
Krall maintained her expansive musical approach for 2001's The Look of Love, a lush collection of ballads and bossa novas featuring arrangements by Claus Ogerman and tracks recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. The album confirmed Krall's status as a pop-culture phenomenon, achieving platinum status and reaching Billboard's pop Top 10. Her 2001 performance at the Paris Olympia was released as her first live album, Live In Paris, which once again topped the Billboard jazz chart and earned Krall her second Grammy award.
In 2004, Krall released The Girl in the Other Room, the first album on which she added her own compositions to her repertoire of standards and covers. Krall wrote half of the album's dozen songs, with lyrical contributions from Elvis Costello, whom she had married in December 2003. The move towards original songwriting was motivated in part by the death of Krall's mother, as well as the losses of her mentors Ray Brown and Rosemary Clooney.
Krall describes The Girl in the Other Room as "a very intense and creatively satisfying experience. After I lost my mother, I was not able to return to a lot of the songs I really loved, because I just wasn't feeling them. So I needed another way to express myself."
2004 also saw the release of the concert DVD Live at the Montreal Jazz Festival, as well as Krall joining Ray Charles on his bestselling Genius Loves Company for a duet of the Charles standard "You Don't Know Me."
In 2005, Krall released the holiday-themed Christmas Songs, a collection of spirited seasonal standards. Recorded with John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton's esteemed outfit the Clayton/Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the album marked her first venture into big-band arrangements.
Krall returned to the Great American Songbook, while maintaining the big-band format, on 2006's From This Moment On. A typically engaging mix of bittersweet ballads and effervescent swing numbers, the album was another Top 10 smash, while demonstrating Krall's ongoing determination to embrace new musical challenges.
Also in 2006, Krall teamed with Tony Bennett to revisit "The Best Is Yet to Come" on Bennett's all-star Duets: An American Classic. Krall and husband Elvis Costello topped off the year with the birth of twin sons.
While The Very Best of Diana Krall offers a sampling of her prior musical achievements, Diana Krall is firmly focused upon the future. "I can sing different songs now, because I'm a mother and a wife and I have different experiences," she notes. "And there's some songs that I can't sing anymore, because they were right for me then but not right for me now. It's been interesting doing a best-of record and looking back at what I've done, and reliving all the emotions that go with that. But I prefer to move forward."
“Wallflower, wallflower, won't you dance with me? / I'm fallin' in love with you”
—“Wallflower” by Bob Dylan
Musically speaking, Diana Krall is no wallflower.
By any standard this five-time Grammy® winning jazz pianist and vocalist is one of the most accomplished and distinctive musicians in the world today. Respected far and wide as a wildly successful recording and performing artist, Krall remains a true musical force. At any given moment she could be producing Barbra Streisand’s new album, serving as musical director and arranger for Paul McCartney or hitting the road for a good cause with Neil Young. As the record shows, Diana Krall has already done all that and much more. Along the way Krall has sold more albums than any other female jazz artist of the last 30 years, establishing herself as one of the best-selling and most beloved performers of her generation, one whose recordings thus far have earned her nine gold, three platinum and seven multi-platinum albums.
On Wallflower, Krall’s stunning and surprising new album for Verve Records, this world-class player has consciously chosen to hand over a little control to sixteen-time Grammy® winning producer David Foster in order, once again, to do something unexpected. On the new album she has recorded a collection of songs from the Sixties to present day, showcasing her considerable gifts as a vocalist in a bold and beautiful way. Krall sings a set of songs that include familiar popular classics like The Mamas and the Papas’ “California Dreaming” and the Eagles’ “Desperado,” favorite vintage songs by Krall’s musical heroes Bob Dylan (he inspired the album’s title track “Wallflower”) and Elton John (“Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word”). The album also features more recent gems like Crowded House’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over” and a wonderful new composition from Paul McCartney (“If I Take You Home Tonight”). Recorded in Los Angeles and New York, Wallflower is a tremendously refreshing and collaborative effort that reflects Krall in a gorgeous new light.
“I have to give a lot of the credit for this album to David,” Krall says. “He’s always said, `Let’s work together’ and finally the timing was right. I was ready to work with David and let him do what he does best. He did all of the arrangements and played a lot of the piano. He blew me away. I always knew David was good but I gained an even further appreciation for his talents as a producer and as a musician.”
That feeling proved to be extremely mutual.
“Working with Diana was fantastic,” says Foster. “I always wondered what it would be like working together. I never thought this would happen because I live in this `pop’ world and Diana lives in this `jazz’ world— or at least that’s how it’s perceived. But one of the many great things about Diana, after knowing her for 25 years, is that she’s truly an outstanding pop singer. Her ability to cross over into pop was a fabulous discovery for me. I’m sure Diana secretly knew about it all along. She tends to be way ahead of the rest of us.”
In making Wallflower Krall says, “it was a genuine pleasure to focus on my time in the vocal booth and let David really produce me. I thought, let’s make the kind of pop record David really knows how to do. I definitely gave my input about the songs and the musicians but for the most part I gave up the piano and the arrangements to him because I wanted this experience to be different— and it was.”
“I wouldn’t even pretend to go up against Diana as a musician because she is so talented,” Foster explains, “but she did allow herself to be produced, with a lot of input of course. She knows what she wants and doesn’t want to do. She runs so deep in the jazz world that she leaves me at the gate as a piano player and musician, there’s no argument there. The fact that she responded to my input was so exciting. We kind of fed off of each other.”
Foster says that he particularly loves the songs on Wallflower where he convinced Krall to play piano solos. “On songs like `California Dreaming’ and ‘I Can’t Tell You Why,’ Diana plays beautiful, simple, solid, picturesque piano solos filled with melody. They are almost sing-able. That’s part of who Diana is as a musician. Her solos have a real arc. Like a lot of the great jazz musicians she sees the end of the solo before she starts. That’s what separates the good from the great.” Foster adds “I pride myself on getting great vocals out of people and that’s what I think we’ve done here. Diana has made a lot of incredible records and her success speaks for itself. But this time I really drilled down on the vocals, finding the exact right key for her voice to get the maximum out of her. I go into every project with the false notion that I’m going to get a better vocal out of the artist than anyone ever has, before or since. Now that may be a false notion but it’s been my mantra. I told her that when you leave me that open canvas you’ll get the best of me.
As Krall puts it with a laugh “When I work I like to give people the freedom to do what they do. I’m not a lint picker. I believe in letting people play the way they play and then tweak from there. I followed David’s direction but stood up when necessary. We had normal disagreements but it was a very smooth process for me, especially after I threw him out on the street a few times. But seriously, we both grew up in the same part of Canada and there’s a kind of understanding there, a common ground.”
That connection even helped inspire some of Wallflower’s song selection. “If you think about anyone growing up, even if someone has an extraordinary talent in one area of music, that doesn’t mean that’s all they listen to,” Foster says. “Diana grew up on Vancouver Island just like I did, listening to pop music on Top 40 radio like every other teenager. The songs we’re doing on this album are songs she’s loved since childhood and she sings the hell out of them. Diana is a very musical person and she has a great feel for these songs. Wallflower is a just another amazing extension of who she is and what she can do.”
“A lot of the songs on Wallflower are ones I grew up loving on the radio and on vinyl, songs I heard at home. These are songs I’ve been singing to myself for years. I just needed the lyric sheet to make sure I wasn’t singing the wrong words all this time. I got the 45 for “I’m Not In Love” by 10cc. I listened to Bryan Adams all the time. My parents and I both loved Linda Ronstadt, who was my inspiration to sing ‘Desperado.’ I even had a Peter Frampton poster on the wall. I was just a typical teenager hanging out with friends, not just listening to jazz. When Krall hears “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word,” she can still remember the musical Christmas gift that keeps on giving, a prized copy of her hero and mentor Elton John’s album Blue Moves. “My biggest influence beside Oscar Peterson is Elton John,” Krall says. “I have a picture somewhere of Christmas morning when Elton’s Blue Moves album came out. I wanted that album so badly. The photo is of me when I was 16 with my mom and my dad holding that album. I used to listen to it downstairs on my record player. I had a Rhodes down there so I could play along. Over the years Elton has become like family. A while back we sang ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ together on my husband Elvis Costello’s TV show Spectacle. So many Elton songs mean so much to me but that one in particular is special.”
Recalling Neil Finn’s “Don’t Dream It’s Over,” Krall remembers “lying on my floor when I had a little tiny apartment in Pasadena, California, listening to that song over and over. I just loved it. That song has been going around in my head since I was about 22 and I really wanted to get it right. The lyrics still feel just right for the world today.”
Krall first heard Paul McCartney’s beautiful “If I Take You Home Tonight”, a previously unrecorded composition, when she was working closely with him on his 2012 Kisses on the Bottom album. “That experience will stay in my life and my music forever,” explains Krall. “When I asked Paul about recording the song, because he knew I loved it, he said ‘Sure.’ We talked about switching the lyrics around because of the gender but I generally like to keep the words the way they are, so in the end we didn’t change a thing.
Finally, Wallflower’s title track is a relatively unknown Bob Dylan composition that has become a personal favorite of Krall’s.
“I love Bob Dylan like crazy,” says Krall. “I’ve only met him a few times. I told him I love the way he plays piano. He said, ‘Well, you’re a piano player, so you should know.’ Dylan’s music runs so deep. From the moment I heard the demo version of “Wallflower” with Bob singing his song along with a dog barking in the background, I have loved this song. I’ve been performing ‘Wallflower’ for a year and a half now with my band and I just had to record it here.” Wallflower is a standout track featuring one of Krall’s most affecting vocals ever and some outstanding guitar work from acclaimed guitarist Blake Mills. “This is a song that I feel very connected to,” Krall explains. “I’m a bit of a method actor and ‘Wallflower’ is a part I really wanted to play.”
Says David Foster admiringly, “Diana can be a wallflower but she can be fierce too. She is a genuinely great and introspective artist in the studio and then a day later you see her onstage cutting loose, being hysterical, the life of the party. Diana is someone who can go to all extremes beautifully and she’s proves that over and over again. ”
Photo by Bryan Adams