Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Krall, Diana

Pianist and singer Diana Krall has demonstrated throughout her career that one can pay respect to past masters and still please mainstream audiences. Krall's work draws on the legacies of Nat King Cole and Cole Porter with her refined and expressive vocal abilities.

        Diana Krall, photo by Jos L. Knaepen

Diana Krall was born on November 16, 1964 in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada. Diana and her younger sister Michelle grew up in a musical household. Diana’s father Jim was an accountant who amassed a sizeable record collection that the family enjoyed. Her mother Adella was an elementary school librarian that played the piano and sang.

Krall began her musical education at the age of four when she began to play the piano. Diana immersed herself in her father’s record collection listening to pianist Fats Waller and singer Bing Crosby amongst others. As a child, Diana spent her afternoons with her grandmother, studying piano and voice.

By the age of fifteen, Krall was playing piano in a local restaurant, though she sang as little as possible because of her lack of confidence in the voice. At the age of seventeen, Diana won a scholarship to the famed Berklee College of Music. Though her parents had a deep appreciation for music, Krall’s parents were apprehensive about a future in music. Diana studied at Berklee for eighteen months before returning home.

Two years later, Krall’s parents sent her to a jazz camp in Port Townsend, Washington where she met drummer Jeff Hamilton. A short time after, Hamilton’s quartet was performing in Krall’s hometown, with his friend bassist Ray Brown in the audience. After the show, Hamilton brought Brown to listen to Diana perform at a bar down the street. Similar to Hamilton, Brown was instantly taken with Diana’s talent.

During their time in Nanaimo, Krall invited Hamilton and Brown to dinner at her family’s home. Hamilton convinced Diana’s mother that she had the talent to have a strong career in music. Diana’s mother soon changed her mind about Diana’s career after listening to Hamilton and gave her blessing to pursue music.

Hamilton persuaded Krall to move to Los Angeles, a move that was made available with a grant she received from the Canada Arts Council. Upon her arrival, Diana began studying with pianist Alan Broadbent. Diana then took lessons with pianist Jimmy Rowles,who played with singers Billie Holiday and Peggy Lee. At their first lesson, Rowles told Krall stories about his experiences in the music industry. Rowles was one of the first people to encourage Krall to develop her voice.

Realizing that she would have more opportunities to perform if she sang, Krall began to build her voice and was soon performing at Los Angeles venues. In 1988, Diana moved to Toronto where she studied with multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson. Two years later, Diana made the move to New York City. Upon moving to New York, Krall studied with pianist Mike Renzi. Prior to her move to New York, Krall spent some time in Sandvika, Norway, outside of Oslo, performing in hotel bars.

In 1993, Krall released her first album Stepping Out on the Justin Time label. The album featured Hamilton on drums and bassist John Clayton. Subsequent to her debut, Diana signed a record contract with the GRP label. Her first release for the label was Only Trust Your Heart, which featured Brown and bassist Christian McBride. Saxophonist Stanley Turrentine also made an appearance on the album.

In 1995, Krall spent the summer performing at several jazz festivals in Canada with guitarist Russell Malone and bassist Paul Keller.

The following year, Diana released the album All For You on Impulse! The album was a tribute to Nat King Cole and was well received by fans and critics. The same year, the album was nominated for the “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” Grammy Award.

On “If I Had You,” Krall provides an emotionally potent rendition of this popular standard by evoking the thoughts of unrequited love that the lyrics express. The sparse instrumentation of voice and piano further allows the listener to feel the sentimental gesture of bittersweet love.

In 1998, Krall released a compilation of Christmas songs entitled Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. The same year, Diana released a cover of Waller’s “Peel Me a Grape,” which became a popular song in her repertoire. Diana was also included on the Lilith Fair tour, a tour primarily featuring alternative female musicians.

Krall won her first Grammy Award in 1999 for her album When I Look In Your Eyes. The album featured bassist Ben Wolfe, vibraphonist Larry Bunker and drummer Lewis Nash. Krall followed her string of successes with her 2001 release The Book of Love. The album was adored by critics and won three Juno Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy Award. The album was also nominated for “Album of the Year” at the 1999 Grammy Awards, ultimately winning for “Best Jazz Vocal Performance.”

A shining example of Krall’s work on the album is her rendition of “I’ve Got You Under My Skin, ” by Cole Porter. Krall supplements the mellow, almost bossa-nova feel of the song with her romantic rendition of the lyrics. Krall poignantly delivers each lyric with the support of an orchestra fully evoking the sensual nature of Krall’s voice. The further support of Malone adds to the gentle spirit of the arrangement.

In August 2000, Krall joined singer Tony Bennett on a twenty-city tour. A year later, Krall began her own headlining world tour that included a stop at the Paris Olympia. The concert was recorded and released as One Night In Paris and earned Diana the “Best Vocal Jazz Record” Grammy Award in 2002.

The same year, Diana suffered several losses in her life. Krall’s mother succumbed to cancer and her close friend and mentor Ray Brown passed away. The same year, Diana met singer Elvis Costello and married him in December 6, 2003. The following year, Krall released The Girl in the Other Room, the first to feature original songs. The album rapidly became her best-selling album to date. The same year, Krall appeared in the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely, in which she sang the song “Just One Of Those Things.”

In 2006, Krall released the album From This Moment On, which featured contributions from the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. On “It Could Happen To You,” Krall begins the arrangement with a brief, but affective piano solo that perfectly sets up the verse. Krall stylishly swings, adding clever inflections to her voice that make this standard her own. The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra enhances the song by adding restrained power behind her dynamic performance.

Krall has been the recipient of several honors throughout her career. In 2000, Diana was awarded the Order of British Columbia, the highest honor of achievement in British Columbia. Three years later, Diana was given an honorary PhD in Fine Arts from the University of Victoria. In 2004, she was inducted into the Canadian Walk of Fame and made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2005.

On December 6, 2006, Krall and Costello became parents of twin boys Dexter Henry Lorcan and Frank Harlan James. Krall is set to release her twelfth album Quiet Nights on March 31, 2009.

Select Discography

As Diana Krall

Stepping Out (1993)

Only Trust Your Heart (1995)

All For You (1996)

Love Scenes (1997)

Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas (1998)

When I Look in Your Eyes (1999)

The Look of Love (2001)

Live in Paris (2002)

The Girl in the Other Room (2004)

From This Moment On (2006)

Quiet Nights (2009)

Contributor: Eric Wendell