Diana Krall’s emergence as a popular jazz artist didn’t occur overnight. Year’s of study and terminally long engagements helped shape her sound. Recently, she collected her first Grammy award for Best Jazz Vocalist and two Jazz Report Awards; Female Vocalist of the Year and Musician of the Year. Her current recording When I Look In Your Eyes has passed double platinum sales in Canada and moving quickly towards Gold status in the United States.
Bill King: Can you pinpoint the moment when everything just seemed to fall in place for you?
Diana Krall: It was when I realized I had the creative freedom to be the artist I really wanted to be without worrying about compromising what I had to do. I worked really hard commuting to a gig in Boston while living in New York for about four years. Even with a recording out, I was still doing it.
As a new artist, I was struggling to make a living, but it was an opportunity to keep learning and playing especially since it was a seven-hour gig per night. It was hard schlepping through the snow and the long train rides, but I wanted to stay in New York.
I was talking with someone the other night who was congratulating me on my success. I told them one of the most important things about success is that it allows you to be a creative artist and to grow faster.
B.K: Like so many Canadian musicians, you suffered through weekend gigs like Meyer’s Deli, in Yorkville, where orders for corned beef sandwiches and Hockey night In Canada drowned out the music at the other end of the room. Soon you were able to move downtown to the Underground Railroad where you attracted a listening audience. Did these experiences help clarify the need to bypass gigs that didn’t advance your career?
D.K: The Underground Railroad was about two people. John Henry and his wife. They believed in what I wanted to do and gave me an opportunity. I was talking with John Clayton about this at the International Association of Jazz Educators’ conference. We were discussing the importance of recognizing an individual’s ability and giving them a good environment in which to grow.
I look at the situation at the Underground Railroad like that. John and his wife were kind of like a mom and dad to me. I wasn’t thinking about career advancement at the time.
I’m never one to put down any genre of music because I listen to all kinds. I realize that many other people are just as serious about their music as I am about mine. Just because you are playing in a band in a hotel lobby doesn’t mean you are not serious about your music.
I also believe you should want to make people happy with what you are doing. Rather than bypass certain gigs, I created the kind of work that would help me grow as an artist even though at times I was compelled to eat in a cafeteria and not fraternize with the guests. I was directed to go downstairs and drink my cup of coffee with the hired help. That wasn’t respectful to me as an artists, but I’ve always decided to make each place my own and hire the best musicians possible.
B.K: Canadian women have had an unprecedented impact on the international music scene. There’s Anne Murray, K.D. Lang, Shania Twain, Cleine Dion, Sarah McLachlin, Amanda Marshall, Jann Arden, Renee Rosnes, Jane Bunnett, Ingrid Jensen and yourself. Why do you think the masses find these artists so alluring?
D.Krall: I don’t know. I’ve been reading Karen Kain’s autobiography, which is completely inspiring to me. I look at her as a woman who went through similar experiences to me, but in a totally different art form.
I’m inspired by Joni Mitchell and many other Canadian women who I see as my mentors. Besides Karen Kain, there’s Renee Rosnes. She moved to New York and was just fine. It’s like the comedians. Why are there so many great Canadian comedians. I don’t know the answer to that.
B.K: What was your first entry point to the United States?
Early on, I was able to study with Jimmy Rowles and Ray Brown for three years in Los Angeles. That was a goal I had to apply for. I had to plan out my project and submit to Canada Council. In the end they came through. It would have been very difficult with a Canada Council grant.