Face the Music and Dance

Article excerpt

Growing up on the small island of Nanaimo, British Columbia, Diana Krall dreamed of becoming an astronaut. "I wanted adventure," says Krall. "I wanted to explore. I built rockets in my backyard." She didn't make it to the space program, but her friend Bob Thirsk did. He even took her CD with him on the space shuttle.

This week Krall releases her fifth CD, the heavenly "When I Look in Your Eyes" (Verve). In addition to her usual trio, Krall is now backed by a lush string section. The result is a richer, more textured sound; yet the orchestra never overpowers the intimacy of her voice. For her new sound, Krall went old school, collaborating with legendary bandleader Johnny Mandel, famous for his work with Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand. "He called me up and said, 'Well, Diana, I just think you're the sweet spot on the baseball bat'," Krall says, laughing.

At 34, Krall has carved a unique place for herself in the jazz world. Her arranging skills are sharp and witty; additions, such as the new intro that she and bassist John Clayton worked up for "Pick Yourself Up," show an increased musical confidence. Her two previous CDs, "All for You: A Tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio" and "Love Scenes," each spent more than a year at the top of the Billboard charts and each earned Krall a Grammy nomination. "Why Should I Care?" a tune she recorded for the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood's "True Crime," is an adult-contemporary radio hit. Says Jessica Sendra, jazz buyer for Borders, "She even sells better than Wynton Marsalis."

Over lunch at New York's Union Square Cafe, Krall is dressed in a simple black shirt, pants and dark glasses. On a jazz musician's clock, the raw oysters she slurps down at 12:30 are actually breakfast. She is as pretty as her early detractors accused her of being, not seeing past her blond hair to the intelligence of her music. Waiting for her entree, she playfully quotes a Fats Waller lyric, "My very good friend, the milkman, says/It would make his burden less/If we both had the same address/So I suggest that you should marry me." Krall's sense of humor comes across most clearly in her affection for novelty songs. (Each album includes at least one.) On "Love Scenes," it was the Blossom Dearie hit "Peel Me a Grape." On this CD, it's the sweetly seductive "Popsicle Toes."

Krall grew up listening to Waller and other classic tunes. Her dad played piano; her grandmother was a singer. …