On November 16, 1964 in Nanaimo, Canada, a baby girl was born who had no idea how lucky she was. Indeed, jazz artist Diana Krall was blessed with the good fortune of being born into a family that was perfect to nurture her musical talent.
Diana began playing piano at age four. Diana’s father had a passion for record collecting; he was also a stride piano player, and in the evenings the family would often gather around the piano and sing together. Of her family, Diana said, “They were really poor – they’re coal miners – but they had a piano, so everybody played and I think my dad started taking some of the collection money on the way to church and buying 78s. That music was what they listened to, and people came over because they couldn’t afford to go out. Everyone came to their house and brought bottles – whatever they had.”
Diana’s grandparents also loved jazz, and she spent many weekends with them singing the classics. Diana’s interest in jazz further bloomed in high school when she began playing with her school’s jazz band. At the age of fifteen, Diana landed her first gig playing piano in a hometown restaurant.
In 1981, Diana won a Vancouver Jazz Festival scholarship that enabled her to study at the Berkeley College of Music. Diana studied for three semesters, but then returned to British Columbia. One night while she was playing in Nanaimo, renowned bassist Ray Brown was impressed by her playing and became her mentor. Ray convinced Diana to move to Los Angeles to pursue her career.
In 1984 Diana won a Canadian Arts Council grant, and Jimmy Rowles, who had played with jazz legends Billy Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan, became her new teacher. Jimmy encouraged Diana to sing as she played piano, thereby shaping Diana to become the great performer we know today.
After three years in California and a short stay in Toronto, Diana moved to New York in 1990. She landed a regular weekend gig with her own trio in Boston, and recorded her first album, Stepping Out, in 1992.
Diana’s third album, All for You (1996), was dedicated to her love for Nat King Cole, and it was this album that became Diana’s stepping stone to stardom. The album spent well over a year on the Billboard Top 10 Traditional Jazz chart. Diana was voted third in Downbeat Magazine’s annual top ten favorites poll, and was nominated for a Grammy in the best jazz vocalist category.
In 1997 Diana recorded Love Scenes. This immensely popular album, containing her hit song, “Peel me a Grape,” sold over 500,000 copies, and Diana earned another Grammy nomination for best vocal jazz performance.
1999 was a huge year for Krall. Love Scenes went gold, and Diana released When I Look in Your Eyes, which became a smashing international success. Krall finally won the Grammy award she had been nominated for twice previously, and When I Look in Your Eyes became the first jazz album to be nominated for the best album Grammy in over 20 years. The album topped the charts for over a year, and songs from the album were used in both television shows and movies.
In 2001, Diana released The Look of Love. The album topped the billboard charts. In Canada the album went quintuple platinum; Diana was the first Canadian jazz artist to earn this accomplishment. Her subsequent album, Live in Paris (2002), won the Grammy for best jazz vocal album. It was during this year that Krall was also named as one of the 25 most intriguing people of 2001 by People Magazine.
In 2003 Krall married British rock musician Elvis Costello, and in the year that followed she released Girl in the Other Room, which contained many songs written by Diana and her husband.
Despite the crossover success of When I Look in Your Eyes, this album was criticized for leaning too far away from jazz toward contemporary pop. Since that time, Krall has released From This Moment On (2006), Quiet Nights (2009), and Glad Rag Doll (2012), each with its own distinct flavor. From This Moment on favors large ensemble standards, Quiet Nights is Brazilian bossa-nova themed and employs a full orchestra, and Glad Rag Doll reproduces the jazz music from the 1920’s and 1930’s prohibition era.
Krall’s fame and popularity has led to many impressive performance opportunities. Krall has performed at Carnegie Hall and at the White House for President Obama. She also performed “Fly Me to the Moon” at Neil Armstrong’s memorial service.
Krall’s musical talents have influenced the works of many other famous musicians. Most notably, Krall has worked with Barbra Streisand, producing her music and playing piano on an album of Streisand’s in 2009. In 2012, Krall worked with Paul McCartney on his album, “Kisses on the Bottom.” Other artists who have been influenced by Diana include Lindsey Muir, Jamie Cullum, Norah Jones, Elisabeth Kontomanou, Katie Melua, and Renee Olstead.
Despite the critical reviews of “Girl in the Other Room,” Krall is planning the release of a pop album in the fall of 2014. The album tentatively includes tracks by Neil Young, Gordon Lightfoot, and a new composition by Paul McCartney.
Given Diana’s penchant to produce music across a range of styles, you never know what she’ll come up with next. According to Diana, “An album is just a snapshot of where you are at that time. Not all pictures of everybody are just in jeans and a t-shirt, or a ball gown. You have many different sides and this is a snapshot of where you are at that time.”
As Diana approaches her fiftieth birthday this November, she has the potential to take us to new places for years to come. If her future journey proves to be as bright as her past, she will surely earn her place in history as one of the vocal legends of our time.