Weekend Extra: The Diana Krall Phenomenon

Most of the sniping about Diana Krall follows the pattern of fire that successful jazz artists have long Krall Montreuxdrawn when they achieve even moderate success in the commerce of show business. The list of those charged with selling out when they became solvent includes Nat Cole, Dave Brubeck, the Modern Jazz Quartet, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley and, in his final crossover phase, Miles Davis. In recent years, market demand for jazz has not been high enough to develop many targets for critics who lie in wait to cry sell-out. Diana Krall is an exception. Not an innovator as a pianist or as a singer, she is talented in both areas, personally attractive, and has strong—if understated—leadership ability. She does not sell records orA. Wilson Montreux attract crowds in numbers approaching those of even low-level pop and rock stars, but as jazz audiences go in the new century, hers is sizeable.

Ms. Krall hires first-rate accompanists. She molds them into bands whose pleasure in working with her and in working together is evident. When inspired, she is capable of splendid solos. She knows to avoid Hurst Montreux 2set pieces when the music is finding its way. Audiences react to those qualities. All of that came to mind after someone sent me a link to a performance by Ms. Krall and her quartet at the 2010 Montreux Jazz Festival. Her band forRiggins Montreux the occasion was Anthony Wilson, guitar; Robert Hurst, bass; and Karriem Riggins, drums. As the concert proceeded, the band got tighter rhythmically and by the time they reached “Cheek To Cheek” about three-quarters of the way through, they achieved a riveting degree of cohesion.

Fair warning: If you decide to watch directly on You Tube rather than here on the Rifftides screen, the video of the concert features commercial breaks randomly inserted with no regard for what’s happening in the music. The viewer has the option of bailing out of each commercial after a few seconds. The production technique is irritating, but it’s the price for seeing an otherwise free performance. Either way, there is an opening airplane montage that must have something to do with something.

Have a good weekend.

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  1. says

    What I admire most about Krall is that she has only modest talent as a singer and pianist and yet delivers more than credible performances as a jazz influenced performer.

  2. André Growald says

    I think Ms.Krall’s piano is getting better every day! Her singing has always been very good but her piano is improving, improving, improving! Thanks for posting such a precious gem!

  3. Charlton Price says

    Give thanks for this greatest 50 minutes of small group sounds you are likely to have heard all year. If you can’t spare 50 minutes right now, move the cursor to about 30 minutes for “Cheek to Cheek” and the tag-end “Walk on By” — that will take you back 40 years to when when We The People wanted to believe that we knew how to make love not war.

    I’d like to believe, too, that Diana is channeling here her piano teacher Jimmy Rowles — the mordant wit, the surprises of tastefully altered chords and phrasing — her and his piano persona.

  4. Andrew Homzy says

    Wow – at 30:45 Ms Krall says: “This is a song by George Gershwin”.

    She should have been in your or my history courses and learned that “Cheek To Cheek” is by Irving Berlin.

    I wonder if Krall, like far-too-many “jazz musicians” and “singers” thinks that “Take The ‘A’ Train” is by Duke Ellington, that “Take Five” is by Dave Brubeck, that “Twisted” is by Joni Mitchell.

    True, the performance is an interesting interpretation—built on some concepts of rhythmic modulation espoused by Mingus.

    Yours in Nanaimo – Krall’s hometown,


  5. David Hill says

    I personally care for Diana’s music a great deal, and feel her unique expression more than makes up for an occasional mistake on who composed what standard. Can’t we leave jazz elitism to the likes of Wynton Marsalis? And Andrew, I would have thought you’d appreciate some of Diana’s vocal phrasing, in particular her use of glissandos that are, to my ears anyway, very reminiscent of Johnny Hodges. Do I enjoy everything Diana has produced? Surely not, but no artist fulfills that standard, so why bother and bash her for a simple mistake?

  6. George Ziskind says

    With Diana Krall’s piano playing getting some attention here, I figured I would finally present to the rest of the world a remark about her made by a superstar of the business.

    I tune the radio on many weekends to Jonathan Schwartz. And now he has his own streaming presence on the web, 24/7, called “TheJonathanChannel.org”. (For those who don’t know, Schwartz is the son of the great composer Arthur Schwartz.) Jonathan devotes his life to making certain that the great American songbook is with us forever. Bless him for that.

    On two broadcasts (in the last six months) he has told of a fairly recent visit to California during which he was a guest at Johnny Mandel’s Malibu digs. During his “report” of the visit, he mentioned that Mandel said to him (I paraphrase a tiny bit), “. . . Diana’s current playing is on a level with Oscar Peterson.”

    This totally floored me. Can anyone explain to me how a brilliant composer (not to even mention any of his other talents) like Johnny Mandel could have said such a thing? He’s getting senile? He’s a master of the put-on?

    After several months of this fermenting in my mind, I still cannot explain such a remark. It puts me in mind of the remark by Sen. Lloyd Bentsen in his 1988 debate with Dan Quayle, “I knew Jack Kennedy – and you’re no Jack Kennedy!”

    • David says

      If Mandel said that, I’m sure he was referring to musicality and not just sheer technique. I can’t verify, but have heard that Diana started as a pianist and was advised to sing if she wanted to make it in jazz. It’s to her credit that she doesn’t seem to have let success go to her head. When Parade asked her how she achieved such popularity when so many talented jazz pianists and singers are struggling, she simply replied, “I have good legs.” As for whether she can play and sing, I won’t express an opinion as I believe the above video speaks for itself. Re: the mis-speak, I’ll just note that I, and friends of similar vintage, have trouble remembering each other’s names. As I’m writing this, I can’t even remember the title (much less author) of the very familiar tune quoted at 41:02 and I’m sure that “Joshua” (45:08) is often credited to Miles Davis by hip jazz musicians.

      • Doug Ramsey says

        The song she quotes at 41:02 is “You Are Too Beautiful” (Rodgers and Hammerstein, Flower Drum Song, 1958).

        • Doug Ramsey says

          I goofed. “You Are Too Beautiful” is by Rodgers and Hart, from the 1933 musical Hallelujah, I’m A Bum. I was misled by the usually reliable Lissauer’s Encyclopedia of Popular Music in America. I knew better and did not double-check. The 1958 Broadway musical and subsequent film Flower Drum Song had a Rodgers and Hammerstein song called “You Are Beautiful,” which is close in title, not in beauty or durability. The Rifftides editor should have caught the error, but his mind was on vacation.

    • says

      Well, he just wanted to be friendly, ’cause the great Johnny Mandel, the ingenious composer, has nothing to lose. Nevertheless do I love Diana Krall’s latest CD, the “Glad Rag Doll” album (if that’s actually her latest?). — Her piano has indeed improved, as André Growald said above. She freed herself from many jazz cliches over the last decade, and she starts to swing for real.

      — Lady Krall is one of those rare popular jazz artists who are also able to communicate with the, well, the Fasepook generation, if you allow me this little pun, a deliberate typo, just because I don’t wanna advertise them. They got enough so-called, err, “friends” 😉

  7. says

    In the early winter of 1990, I produced a for-broadcast concert by Diana Krall, featuring bassist Pat Collins (she had known him since high school) and drummer Klaus Suonsaari, who I think was her partner at the time. Diana had moved to NYC by the concert date, having been a Torontonian for several years before that, but had agreed to do the concert before shipping out.

    I hadn’t asked her to perform as a singer — she really only sang occasionally then — but a head cold caused her to beg off doing one or two vocals I asked for, just to show her versatility. I paraphrase her remarks: “Anyway, most people don’t want to hear me sing those old standards I love…” so it was a straight piano trio gig.

    The tunes: Tom Harrell’s “Bells”; “502 Blues” by Jimmie Rowles; the Berlin standard “How Deep Is The Ocean”; Freddie Hubbard’s “Thermo” and “Song Flower”; and it wrapped up with “This Is For Albert” by Wayne Shorter.

    Diana Krall has ALWAYS had good jazz chops…