Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine

March/April 2009: Steve Turre

Diana Krall:
When I Look in Your Eyes

Written by:

Diana Krall is possibly the most successful artist in the history of jazz. Her sultry looks, laid-back vocal delivery, prodigious piano chops, and savvy marketing have made her albums consistently top of both the jazz and pop charts. Many jazz critics have reacted negatively to the slick packaging and marketing, but it has helped her achieve a level of success that was previously attainable only by pop and rock musicians. For an artist so successful, she remains humble and unassuming, and gives the impression that she’s not comfortable with the attention she’s receiving and would rather be anonymous, playing piano in a combo at an after-hours club in New York City.

Krall grew up in Nanaimo, British Columbia, where she started taking piano lessons at age four and played in her high-school band. Her family figured prominently in her musical development, particularly her father, who was a huge fan of Fats Waller’s music. As her talent became more obvious, word spread quickly about the piano prodigy from Nanaimo and she received a scholarship to study at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Later her friend and mentor Ray Brown advised her to go to Los Angeles and study with Jimmy Rowles. It was good advice. Rowles had accompanied Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Peggy Lee and had vast knowledge about singing and playing the piano. Rowles’s own laid-back, slightly melancholy vocal delivery had a huge impact on Krall.

Krall’s knowledge of music is extensive. She is a musical story-teller and has a strong commitment to the lyrics of each song. She excels at recreating classic songs for today’s audience. Her 1998 CD When I Look in Your Eyes (Verve #065374) is a sensual masterpiece featuring twelve late-night songs that cover the many moods of love.

The title track, Leslie Bricusse’s “When I Look in Your Eyes,” is a largely forgotten song from the 1967 movie Dr. Doolittle. Krall’s orchestrated version is so much her own, you quickly forget that in the movie Rex Harrison sang it to a seal.

Two classics from 1936, Irving Berlin’s “Let’s Face the Music and Dance” and Cole Porter’s “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” feature innovative bossa nova arrangements. Krall shapes these songs and gives them personality, but their true genius lies with the arranger and one of the producers of the CD, Johnny Mandel.

Mandel is a highly versatile musician. He has written several standards, including “Emily,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” and the “Theme to M.A.S.H.” One of his great strengths is knowing how to arrange music for singers. He’s written for many of the best, including Frank Sinatra and Shirley Horn.

When Mandel and Krall first started discussing When I Look into Your Eyes, he told her that her voice was the sweet spot on a baseball bat. To a former tomboy from Nanaimo, it was the right thing to say. Their collaboration is magical. Mandel participated as an arranger, producer, and conductor on seven of the twelve songs. He raised the musical bar even higher for Krall by introducing lush strings, quiet horns, and languid tempos. Krall rose to the occasion.

Krall also shines when she returns to her roots with a quartet or trio. From the 1950s, Bob Dorough’s chestnut “Devil May Care” swings with newfound glory. From the Frank Sinatra songbook, there is the beautiful ballad “East of the Sun (West of the Moon).” Diana’s rendition is intimate and soothing.

It doesn’t matter what setting Krall performs in on this CD because there are two constant elements throughout—her voice and the piano. As a vocalist, she is one of the best torch singers. As a pianist, she’s confident and highly imaginative.

choice cuts features a CD from Ross Porter’s book, The Essential Jazz Recordings (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2006).

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