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Krall Back to Jazz 

by Marty Demarest


It's too easy to dismiss DIANA KRALL as just another pretty face combined with a bang-up marketing job. For starters, there's the pretty face. That it's featured throughout her albums, gazing through tousled hair in soft focus, doesn't help matters any. And the facts that she's appeared on Melrose Place and has had her albums sold in Starbucks lend some sense of finality to the case.


But let her talk about jazz for more than a few moments, and it becomes clear that the breathy keyboard-perched chanteuse is working at her craft with the best of them. When she last swung through Spokane, at the start of her first concert tour (in which she left the cozy confines of her well-honed trio and started performing parts of her show with an orchestra), she was concerned about timing.


"Tempos are the biggest challenge for me," she noted at the time, almost thinking out loud. "It's a challenge to get the tempo just right because you can split hairs with the tempo just being a little tiny bit slower or faster. It can affect the way I phrase something, or the way I feel about a piece. So tempo is, for me, key."


Now, back at the Opera House this Sunday, she's had some time to get comfortable with larger musical forces, and her timing couldn't be better. After picking up a Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammy for her album When I Look in Your Eyes, she released The Look of Love. It continued her exploration of Brazilian sounds and Bossa Nova swing backed by an orchestra, but it was anchored firmly in her love of standards like "S'Wonderful," and "Cry Me a River." And her intimate combo work continues to show a comfortable, almost unconscious integrity.


For Krall, the exploration of new genres and the self-imposed artistic stretching is something that's essential to her work. "It's not for the sake of just crossing genres," she explains. "But just artistically, for artistic reasons. There are a lot of Brazilian artists I'd love to work with. I'm open; if the music is good, I'm pretty broad-minded. I don't even consider myself a jazz singer, to tell you the truth. A jazz pianist, I do -- coming from a jazz tradition. But I don't consider myself in any kind of league with an Ella Fitzgerald or a Sarah Vaughn. But I do like to sing songs, and if something works, if it moves me -- if it works, if it's right -- I'll try it. If it doesn't, it doesn't. But I seem to go back to American popular song."


She also seems to have no problem coming back to Spokane. Aside from having some family history here, and being relatively close to her hometown of Nanaimo, B.C., one of Krall's most influential teachers, the great pianist Jimmy Rowles, was a Spokane native.


"Jimmy Rowles was one of the great teachers," Krall says about the man who first urged her to start singing at the keyboard when she studied with him as a teenager in Los Angeles. "I think the most important thing he taught me was beauty in music. When I was 19 years old, I really couldn't grasp that. I was trying to play fast -- trying to be technical and play as fast as I could. I never could. I still can't; I'm limited in many technical areas. But he used to tell me, 'It's not about hitting this octave. It's about singing a song and telling a story.' "


In addition to picking up some of his keyboard sensitivity, Krall may have also gleaned a few lessons in the stylistic diversity that was to inform her work. "He was coming from Wayne Shorter and Ellington," Krall explains. "He'd put on records of Ravel and Debussy for me." Krall goes on to add another lesson she learned from Rowles -- apparent to anyone whose heard her winking renditions of "Peel Me a Grape" or "Popsicle Toes."


"He had a tremendous sense of humor. So I'm still learning from things he taught me."
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