Diana Krall keeps busy performing, not to mention producing a record for Barbra Streisand, but her kids still come first
According to Diana Krall, she’s just another working mother, even if her terms of employment are slightly more glamorous than those encountered in your typical factory. She doesn’t begrudge the time she spends on-stage, far from it. But what really matter are the hours she gets to spend with the two-year-old twins, Dexter and Frank, that she and her husband, Elvis Costello, are raising at home in West Vancouver—and on the road.
“This morning, I was up at 5 o’clock with Frank, telling stories in the dark,” she reports. “And later we were painting, and we went to the Royal Ontario Museum to see the dinosaurs. So that’s my job, right now. My job is to be Mommy, and to do great shows at night, and to have a good time.”
Krall laughs: from what I can make out over the long-distance line from her Toronto hotel, the kids are bouncing on her bed, and all three are enjoying themselves immensely.
Family bliss? Well, it’s not all a bed of roses. Costello is off on his own tour, performing his song cycle The Juliet Letters with the Brodsky Quartet, and Krall’s missing him. But that’s what you get when you marry a musician, and there are compensations. After all, it’s not every working mom who gets to produce a record for Barbra Streisand.
The Nanaimo-raised singer and pianist is riding high on the chart success of her own bossa nova–inspired Quiet Nights. Equally interesting, though, is that she’s recently made the jump from artist to producer. And although that’s by no means an unusual career path, it is rare that a novice gets to kick-start her new direction by working with one of the world’s biggest stars.
Their initial connection was entirely accidental, Krall reports. “I was pregnant and I was at a small dinner party where Barbra was also there. She was just about to start a tour, and she said, ”˜I need some inspiration. I need some song ideas.’ And, you know, I like to make mixed tapes, so I sent her some songs that I thought might be interesting for her.”
Krall’s choices were astute enough that Streisand and her people made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Naturally, she said yes—with some caveats.
“We had a dinner meeting and they said they really wanted to work with me, and I said, ”˜Then we’re just going to make it the way I know how to make records.’ ”
By that, Krall means that much of the as-yet-unreleased Streisand record was recorded live in the studio, not pieced together in an endless string of overdubs. The result, she indicates, is revelatory.
“She did a tremendous job,” says Krall, “and it sounds amazing to hear her in such an organic setting. It was a much different process for her, so we had to find a middle ground where she felt comfortable. But it was great, because we did some vocals live with orchestra, and some with quartet—a whole sequence of just her vocals and quartet, which I love. And I sent her a Tony Bennett/Bill Evans record, so she did ”˜You Must Believe in Spring’, which is just stunning, with Bill Charlap at the piano. But I had to really talk her into not putting strings on it.
“I’m really proud of this record, and she should be, too,” she adds. “I’ve heard she’s very happy with it, so that makes me happy.”
Krall’s delight extends to her own new release, which also came about in organic fashion. She’s long had a particular passion for the songs of Joí£o Gilberto, who penned three of Quiet Nights’ 12 tunes, including the title track. But the disc really didn’t take shape until she ran into a party of young Brazilian skiers on the slopes of Cypress Bowl; inspired by their high spirits, she decided to explore his songs in more depth. Once that decision was made, she enlisted arranger Claus Ogerman and producer Tommy LiPuma, the music-business veterans she worked with on 2001’s multiplatinum The Look of Love.
The three have established a friendly and efficient working process: they get together with Krall’s band to discuss the material, and then Ogerman goes off to write the arrangements. Once he’s done, the musicians learn his charts and record them as a quartet; only then do the strings and horns come in. Krall notes that working this way makes for recordings that combine the spontaneity of a jazz session with the velvety elegance of orchestral pop, adding that the sessions also benefited from the fact that they followed closely on the heels of a lengthy European tour.
“I was in really good shape when I went in,” she says. “I was in such good shape, vocally. I’d been playing every day, so I was able to do all these tunes in one or two takes. It wasn’t a conscious effort. It just kind of came out that way, and then when I listened to them back, I liked what was happening.”
And it’s true that Krall’s performances are among the most immediate and emotionally resonant of her career. They’re certainly not overly thought out, and the singer says there’s a good reason for that: “I was too busy with my kids!”
Diana Krall plays the Orpheum on Wednesday and Thursday (May 13 and 14).