Diana Krall, Sellout?

A few years ago, Gene Lees and I fell into serious agreement. It happened in one of our long talks over a glass of wine, or two, at the big table just off the kitchen in his and Janet’s house in Ojai. We were kicking around the peculiar effect that popular acceptance of an artist often has on the perception of critics and fellow musicians. We discussed the Modern Jazz Quartet, Cannonball Adderley, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Diana Krall, all of whom during their struggle upward were lauded by writers and colleagues.

In each instance, when the musician began selling significant numbers of records and moved from subsistence work in clubs into the remunerative realm of the concert circuit, reviewers who wrote praise the year before suddenly detected compromised artistic standards. Among envious musicians, the logic seemed to go like this: if I haven’t made it big and those people have, they must have sold out.
DianaKrall.jpgDiana Krall was the most recent example. She had rather quickly gone from moderate recognition to stardom. The predictable post-success sniping was underway, but Lees and I thought that her playing put her high in the second tier of current jazz pianists and that she might someday edge into the first rank. We agreed that her singing, always good, had improved in intonation, time feeling and maturity of expression. Attractiveness and the naturalness of her stage presence were adjuncts to her popularity, we said, not the cause of it. Salud! Then we probably went on to argue about something.

Not long after that, Gene met Ms. Krall and wrote about her in 1999 for Jazz Times. The piece was a character study. It was built on their conversations, the quotes arranged and set in the text in that incomparable Lees way. He makes the reader an eavesdropper, a technique light years beyond substituting transcribed verbatim interviews for writing. The narrative sections were straightforward, like this one:

She has a strong face, and when the stage lights hit it, it radiated, looking like a flower above her black pantsuit. She is an outstanding pianist. (Even if she grouses about what she considers a limited technique; but compared to what, Art Tatum?) She sits slightly sideways at the keyboard, to face the audience, as Nat Cole used to do; maybe she picked it up from his movies and TV shows. Again she got a standing ovation. Whether she likes it or not, she is the glamour girl of jazz. I just hope her singing success doesn’t take her away from the piano, as it did Nat Cole.

It hasn’t. To read the entire article, go here.

I thought about that conversation and that article the other day when one of those Jazz On The Tube e-mail links showed up. It turned out to be to a section of Ms. Krall’s 2001 Live in Paris DVD, which I had never seen. She is with a large orchestra conducted by Alan Broadbent. John Clayton is the bassist, Jeff Hamilton the drummer, Anthony Wilson her regular guitarist, and we get a couple of glimpses of the marvelous John Pisano on acoustic guitar. If this is selling out, I’ll take it.

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  1. says

    Well, well, well … Doug. I don’t know. Art Tatum? No one could compare himself with him, even Oscar Peterson couldn’t.
    Now, what I think, it’s rightly filed under “smooth jazz”; and it doesn’t belong somewhere else. I know, I know, the Germans, and their unfortunate classifications of music into “entertaining music” (U, as in “Unterhaltung”), and “serious music” (E, as in “Ernst”). But, that’s not my point.
    Ah, that music in the video is just too slick, and the piano solo is okay, but too many cliches for my taste. Call it arrogant, or snobbish, or even envious (it’s none of the three): I just don’t dig it, not my cup of tea; I prefer the guys ‘n’ dolls who play as if it would be the last solo of their lives.
    Okay, that might be a bit unjust, because none of us wants to see someone die during a concert. — Diana Krall and her success have nothing to do with it, ’cause I really wish every jazz musician any kind of success, be it financially, or musically. I just prefer the two things together.
    The music, the music, and the music. — And what we have here, sorry, is a hype in my opinion (which is *not* humble, I know).

  2. Dr. Mikel Baughan says

    Had the chance to see ‘Mrs. Krall Costello’ @ outdoor venue in Portsmoth, Va. She’s the real deal. Polished, romantic show. A touch of CLASS-a style much needed more these days (nods to MJQ, DBQ)! She surrrounds herself w/ a talented band-Clayton/Hamilton-(are you kidding me?)-she better have some chops to hang w/ those 2 nightly! Her husband, Elvis, is an incredible talent himself. (He can be heard on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” often.)
    My only sellout aspect about her is the record companies’ portrayal of her as sex kitten (personally not complaining!) on provocative CD covers, but that’s da bizniss I guess. “Sellout”, by definition, is Kenny G and the so-called ‘Smooth Jazz’ (elevator music) crowd, selling crap for big bucks to unconcerned masses………IMHO.
    RIP Mr. Lees!

  3. Marc Edelman says

    I like Diana Krall just fine but let’s not get carried away. She is in no way an “outstanding” pianist. There are fifty guys in NYC (and a couple of gals, including the excellent Renee Rosnes) who are in a whole other class than Krall. Unfortunately, forty of them make in a year what she makes in a night but I suppose that’s another story. And to compare her playing to that of Nat Cole’s, who was a great pianist, is especially galling.

  4. says

    No, Diana Krall does not “sell out”, not at all. Around ten years ago I listened to her trio performing at a Berlin nightclub and I was utterly impressed, but not moved.
    On the other hand, when I heard Tierney Sutton for the first time, the song she sang, “Blue In Green”, got to me immediately.
    So, taking a cue from, I believe, Miles Davis and asking myself: Can she project? I would say: Yes, both can.
    Diana Krall projects sincere professionalism on a very high standard.
    Tierney Sutton a bit more: the essence of a song.

  5. Bart Roderick says

    Well, here’s my *humble* opinion. I think the comparison of Costello/Krall to Nat Cole is apt: a musician who discovered another side of him/herself (vocalist and arranger). So, the technique of soloing (Diana has always been reserved there anyway) takes a back seat now to the overall impact of the song. What’s wrong with that? Musicians explore new areas of musicianship constantly. If they don’t, they become parodies of themselves. I also suspect that Elvis Costello and his focus on production and arranging has had an influence on the way Krall views her own music. The Art Tatum thing, though . . . there’s not much in Krall’s playing that reflects Tatum.