Jazz Musician, Diana Krall TalkAsia Interview Transcript
Airdate: March 16th, 2005
LH: Lorraine Hahn
DK: Diana Krall
LH: Hello and welcome to TalkAsia, I'm Lorraine Hahn. My guest today is Diana Krall, a singer whose soulful voice and musical interpretations have made her one of the bestselling jazz vocalists in history.
Born in Nanaymo, British Columbia, Diana was heavily influenced by her father's love of music from the 1920s and 30s; she started music lessons, learning to play the piano at the age of four and never looked back. Her ten year professional career has been full of awards including several Grammy's and Juno's.
And now she's turned songwriter with several original compositions in her latest album, The Girl in the Other Room.
Diana thank you very much for speaking with us, welcome to Hong Kong. You up until recently have really been known as an interpreter of songs by other people and I just mentioned you are now writing a lot of your own compositions. Why are you doing this?
DK: I met the right collaborator (LH: Being?) to write with, Elvis Costello. (LH: Right, your husband). Hm, my husband.
LH: Was it...was it something that you always wanted to do but never really got a chance to do?
DK: Yes because I think that I look at interpreting the music of great American songwriters, George and Ira Gershwin, Cole Porter, Sammy Con, Jimmy Van Heusen and you know, like a character interpreting a great play. So you have to believe in what you are singing about, but then you have the freedom to soar and play over the harmonies that these wonderful writers...songs like "My Funny Valentine" where if you listen to Miles Davis, or Chet Baker, which is very very different. So I found it a very creative, highly creative outlet for me, and I didn't really feel it was my time to write. I didn't want to start trying to rewrite Cole Porter or these Great American Standards that I was studying so hard. So...Elvis and I weren't trying to do that we were just...we just started to write.
LH: Right. Now this latest album, The Girl in the Other Room, you seemed to have even blossomed more as a songwriter. What do you put that down to? Just working with your husband or being more confident about your abilities?
DK: Oh never confident about my abilities; that's a constant battle. I think that's what drives us, it's the divine dissatisfaction. And when you have someone who loves you and who also loves you enough...that you trust who's going to say, "You can do better" or "Don't give up" or "Don't throw it in the fire yet. Take it out of the burning embers and let's keep working on it" or "Leave it alone and...just be, not analyze it too much."
LH: This album in particular had special meaning to you correct?
DK: Every album has special meaning to me, this was more outwardly personal.
DK: For me, The Look of Love was more of a preparation for me about loss and songs like "I Get Along Without You Very Well," "I Remember You," but this was more...very very literally personal about my experiences after my mother's death in "Departure Bay," which is the song that I sort of I keep close to my heart, I think the most from this album.
LH: Was it difficult to write that song?
DK: Well difficult is not the right word. (LH: Challenging?) Well it's always challenging but it's highly satisfying, highly...I think one of the greatest experiences I've had in my life was playing at the Olympia in Paris, and playing "Departure Bay." Now you're from Vancouver so you know you take the ferry boat from Vancouver Island, Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay, and as a kid you...wanting to be a jazz musician, that's the big city initially, from Nanaymo to Vancouver, and then Vancouver to New York. That's why I like Joni Mitchell, she talks about seaplanes and ferry boats, all things that I can relate to that are right at home. So you work so hard to be a jazz musician and go to New York City only to realize when you come home, the things that were ordinary to you are more extraordinary. And so I found it exciting to write about my hometown and then to go to Paris and play...start playing "Departure Bay" and having a Parisian audience clapping for that particular song. I thought how the hell did that happen?
LH: When you write, what is it...what is the process that goes through your mind? Is it just something that you wake up one day and you say, you hum a tune or you know is it something...a story you've seen. What's the process?
DK: The process is varied. It's the creative process so some days it comes easily to you and it's improvised and you turn on the tape recorder and you can transcribe what you've improvised and then you work with that as a basis. Or, there's no formula. Or...as an improvising piano player musician I can work it out in concerts.
DK Sometimes you sit down with a piece of manuscript paper and a pencil and it just (LH: Comes to you right?) Well not like in the movies but different ways, it's not any kind of set way. Some things are more difficult than others.
LH: You mentioned earlier about your collaboration with your husband, Elvis Costello. I wanted to ask you how he has influenced your approach to music and I guess visa versa.
DK: That's a very good question because one of the things I admire most about him is that you cannot categorize him. He is working on his ballet, he is working on a rock and roll record; he is incredibly open and knowledgeable about music and just follows his muse wherever he wants to go.
I trust him and I think when you write with somebody you must trust their judgment and...not their judgment that's hard for me to talk about. You trust somebody that they're going to tell you the truth and then you have to trust yourself and it's kind of getting a bit into sort of psychology. But I just admire him because he's a great musician and he's a great artist and it's hard for me to talk about because I'm kind of overwhelmed by the work that he's done.
LH: And what about the other way around. Have you influenced him at all?
DK: Well you have to ask him that.
LH: Alright, but he hasn't told you anything?
DK: Maybe. Whispered in my ear maybe.
LH: You have sold so many jazz albums in a fairly short span of time. What do you think...what do you put this down to really. I mean a lot of people have written about your looks and you know, the fact that you've been well marketed, etc.
DK: Yes I'm very lucky to have a record company who puts so much behind me. People ask me do you think the marketing and the album covers sell your albums -- yes, of course.
LH: I mean you've stopped all those glam poses.
DK: No I haven't. Wait until you see me tomorrow night. (LH: Oh ok!) I'm gonna be decked out baby! (LH: Ok I take that back). No I don't want to be put into that either well say, "No I'm not doing that anymore." Somebody said that she doesn't wear you know, dresses anymore. I'm like, "Uh...no!" I just do what I feel is right for me at the time. I do whatever I feel like doing and I fortunately have a record company who has stood behind me in every step of the way creatively. They've given me opportunities to do what I wanted to do creatively. I make my own decisions about my album covers. There's this kind of idea that they've made this, made me do this you know and I've always had my own concept of my covers and everything that I do is approved. And it's kind of an old topic and it's frustrating for me as you can tell to try to get around it without sounding kind of like...disingenuous you know?
LH: Right. Understood, understood. Well Diana we're going to take a very very short break. When we come back we'll talk to Diana about changing priorities and giving something back to the community.
LH: Welcome back to TalkAsia, my guest is Grammy Award winning jazz singer Diana Krall. Diana, what kind of a child were you? Were you somebody who always loved music, could play, outgoing?
DK: I don't think I can remember that far back. (LH: Oh no) Well you know, as you know growing up on Vancouver Island I was very lucky to be able to have the ocean and the mountains nearby, so I was a skier and rode horses and was very very and still am, like I prefer to be in the outdoors. But I also was very passionate about music and my dad collects seventy eight records so we listened to a lot of music like Louis Armstrong and Bix Spiderback and singers like Annette Hanshaw and Ruth Edding and Bing Crosby were singers I was listening to as a kid, and Fats Waller and Nat King Cole.
LH: Was anybody actually musical in your family?
DK: Well my dad plays piano, my uncle plays piano, my mother played piano and organ in church, sang in the choir, sang in the community choir, I couldn't you know couldn't get away from it. (LH: Could get away from it!) No and my grandmother was a really big jazz fan you know, so she loved...she loved more traditional jazz and but she loved songs and my dad collects sheet music so I'd have stacks of sheet music at home. And I just saw my dad about a month ago and we went through sheet music again and just all the original sheet music. It's really lovely.
LH: When your mother passed away I read that you had said that your priorities had changed. What did you mean by that?
DK: Did I say that? I think that dealing with loss and grief, there is not a plan, there isn't a...nobody can tell you how to grieve or how you're going to feel. And there's all these things that say, stages of anger, and priorities change...it takes a long time to process. Something that you know so well that's kind of not...touching it you know, but I think...I don't think my priorities changed but I think I'm still trying to learn how to: you can't always prevent what's going to happen to you but you can choose your response. And that you know it's ok to say no, it's ok to not do every single thing, but I'm a very driven person. I'm very driven artistically; I'm very passionate about what I do; I love playing the piano; I love singing, and finding balance is really really hard to do in this life. So my husband and I talk about it a lot. But I've always had pretty strong ideas of family and I had good examples so it's a process. (LH: That hasn't changed really right?) No no, it hasn't changed.
LH: Would you like to have family of your own sometime?
DK: Not if I keep this pace up, but yeah. I think about that. Yeah I would I would. But you know you end up being a bit...kind of like you're out here on the road for a year and a half touring a record, and it's really fun and it's really hard work and it's exhausting. It's all these wonderful things at the same time but you have to be careful you don't kind of lose track of time and feel like you're just...time just goes. So that's where the balance comes in. So I'm looking forward to taking some time off and just having...taking a creative breath and figuring out what I want to do next, yeah.
LH: You also spend time participating and sharing your work with charity organizations and you know, last time I saw you was in Malaysia for the F1 Gala, the tsunami relief. How important is that aspect to your work or to you as a person even, spending time and sharing that time with charities.
DK: Well, it's amazing what you can do in just playing the piano and singing for your own satisfaction and for you know all the wonderful things that come along with the success that I've been so blessed to experience. But I watched my mother who was a teacher, and a wonderful teacher/librarian and I watched her get well and how she had her days, definitely you know tough days, but she chose when she couldn't be a full time teacher, when she got well after her bone marrow transplant, which was for multiple myeloma, she was so impressed with the care that she received as were we, all of our family, that we started doing small benefits in Vancouver and we've kept going and she spoke at every benefit and was so inspiring by what she said and it was fun and I play the piano but I think it was my mother's words that so strongly affected people.
LH: So you do a lot of these things?
DK: I do what I can. (LH: Good) But I think it's important that you keep focused on something that is your thing and you do as much as you possibly can. But my thing is for Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation and for the bone marrow transplantation program in Vancouver. You see how it helps people so it's such a good way to do that.
LH: It is, yeah. We're going to take another very very short break. When we come back find out what it was about jazz that attracted the young Diana Krall. Stay with us.
LH: You're watching TalkAsia and my guest is Diana Krall, who has been described as a young girl who sings old songs with timeless authority. Diana why jazz? Why not pop, why not R&B, why not I don't know, some other type of genre? Why jazz?
DK: (Snapping fingers) Because of that. The indescribable swing feeling that you feel and when you listen to someone like Louis Armstrong or Oscar Peterson or Ray Brown, that's how I feel, I just feel good, I just feel like I just want to be in it. Or I listen to Carmen McRae sing or Ella Fitzgerald or you know, people that I admire that I get a chance to work with, people that I work with...the band that I work with. I'm sitting on the stage with my drummer Carine Rickens, my bass player that I'm working with Robert Hurst and great artists, Anthony Wilson playing guitar and on the bench sometimes I don't play anything at all I just listen.
LH: You're all very tight and you all exchange.
DK: We talk all the time about everything, about the music, about anything that we need to talk about. It's really open and it's a great vibe, it's a great place to be playing. And that's what you're doing; you are playing when you're up there. It's fun and it's exciting and there's lots of humour and also it can be very moving as well. And we're all telepathic with one another when we're improvising and you never know what's going to happen you have to take those risks in jazz music. That's why I love it so much because when you are, when it's right there it's like "Oh my God." And it's a great, it's a great experience to be playing this music. And it kicks my butt every night, it's challenging.
LH: Now you performed with Ray Charles, who recently got an award for lifetime achievement for his work. What was that like? I mean to get to work with a man like that?
DK: Really overwhelming and wonderful at the same time and you have to just experience the moment or else you can get so overwhelmed that you forget that you have to sing. And so it was a great experience. He really worked with me, he really had an idea of how he wanted me to phrase the ending of the piece we did together, "You Don't Know Me." And he was telling me, "Now I want you to sing 'No you don't know'" Until...just we went over and over it again and I was like, oh my God. This is an experience I'll never forget in my life and one of the most wonderful experiences I ever had in my life was to sing with Ray Charles. And it wasn't...it was in his studio and it wasn't any sort of separation we just, he just came down and he sat and played the piano and we were in the same room and I had my microphone. It was very natural and very...very (LH: Casual? Uh, no cuz it's Ray Charles! LH: So you weren't nervous?) But it was pretty exciting, it was exciting. It's definitely...I've had a chance to work with a lot of people and sometimes I can't believe it.
LH: Of all the big names that you've sung with, have there ever been any that really stand out in terms of having taught you something? (DK: Every single person I work with has taught me something) You pick out something from them? And they've taught you something?
DK: Yeah I find it. I find it sometimes not immediately, sometimes later, but I've always...because I was raised by you know father passionate about music, mother passionate about music, but also my mother was a teacher you know I was curious in wanting to learn and always have looked for that in all the people I meet. And they're not names necessarily; they're just people that you can...someone that you sit next to on a plane for five hours, who can teach you something. You know you just have to be really open to it and let it happen.
LH: When we think about jazz, we often think it's sort of an adult sort of genre, that you know teenagers wouldn't necessarily pick up a jazz album, but they are now. Why do you think...I mean there's a growing sort of acceptance of jazz, not only in a more sophisticated level but you know throughout the masses.
DK: It's just about this (snapping). I hate it when it gets too, too...it is a very complex process that when one...where you have to do your homework. If you want to call yourself a jazz musician you have to do your homework. If you're going to play with other jazz musicians they're gonna let you know, and you're gonna be out of there if you don't...I tell young singers, especially young women singers, I say if you want to be taken seriously then do your homework, learn how to play the piano, learn your keys so you can go and sit in with the band and you don't sort of say, "Ohh in this key or somewhere here." You say, "I want to play this in E-flat. Hit it."
DK: You know you have to do your homework, you have to do your homework, you have to study, but you also have to feel the swing and groove and once you're up there it's not about...it's not, it's not, you're not just in your own world. It's you listening and playing with other musicians and reacting musically from what they're doing and inspiring each other and it's complex.
LH: If I turn the clock back, rather clock forward, where do you see yourself (DK: Don't turn it too far forward. LH: How about ten years?)
DK: I don't live in the future. I try to live in the moment, I try not to think about that because it just freaks me out. And I just hope that I'm healthy and happy and still inspired and that I can still play music if I want to. You know that that's where it'll take me but I can leave you know, I mean when I go home to Vancouver Island and I'm on the ski hill or riding my horse and I can...I find...I'm so passionate about everything that I do you know, or my family or things that I like to do outside of music that are important to me that I need, you know I need to keep. It's important that that which gives you your initial strength and inspiration doing things that you don't lose some of those things.
LH: Very very true. Diana thank you so much (DK: Oh thank you)
And that is TalkAsia this week. I'm Lorraine Hahn, let's talk again next week.