POSTED ON: 26 JUL 2015 - 1:40PM
BY BRENT OWEN
Diana Krall might very well be the single greatest song interpreter in a post-Nina-Simone world. The slow bluesy swagger set to a jazz swing that other artist feign, drips wholeheartedly from every note she plays and word she sings. She’s an artist that’s as familiar with The Great American songbook as she is artists of her generation, it’s like she’s the sad piano player in a bar where Tom Waits, Bob Dylan, Louis Armstrong and Cole Porter meet-up each night to drink whiskey and chain smoke into the wee hours of the next morning. She could reinvent the role of Sam in a (perish the thought) “Casablanca” remake, where she sits in the empty bar playing “As Time Goes By” for whatever testosterone filled action star they cast to play Humphry Bogart’s iconic role.
All of that said, Krall is performing this Tuesday July 28th at Kentucky Center for the Arts – and she took a few minutes from her hectic road schedule to do an interview.
Louisville.com: You've been doing a lot of more modern songwriters like Dylan, Leon Russell, Tom Waits and Depeche Mode in concert lately - how do guys like that stand up next Irving to Berlin, Cole Porter, Nat King Cole?
Diana Krall: Well I’ve been playing a Bob Dylan tune next to a Cole Porter tune as a sort of mash-up. But you can’t say, “songwriters like Bob Dylan,” because there’s only one Bob Dylan. I would put people like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits in the same regard as guys like Irving Berlin. They’re very different songwriters, but I certainly would put them in high regard like that.
Louisville.com: Stylistically they are very, very different songwriters.
DK: Yeah, but politically they’re not as much. If you look at the lyrics to “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” by Irving Berlin and put it next to “Simple Twist of Fate” they’re both pretty heavy.
Louisville.com: It’s funny you bring up “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” because I fell in love with your music the first time I heard your version, were you aware when you recorded it how perfect you were for that song?
DK: Not really, but I am playing it a lot now and I find that it is very significant. What’s beautiful about that music, you’ve got to find these things that aren’t just period pieces, some of them are pretty significant. I’m playing this song “Let It Rain” that was written in 1928, I found it in 1978 in my father’s records, and I can’t think of a more appropriate time to sing it. So a lot of these songs, I find, are appropriate for the times and they stay that way. But there are songs that I would never sing, just because I wouldn’t dare.
Louisville.com: What are the songs you wouldn’t dare?
DK: Like specific to Billie Holiday. Some of the songs that Billie Holiday wrote. There are certain Joni Mitchell songs I wouldn’t sing because they’re so true to her experience; they’re confidential. But then there’s one called “A Case of You,” I sing it probably every night, it’s like a David Hare play where you’re always finding a new way into it. It’s like a great short story that you just read aloud.
The interesting thing about playing Joni Mitchell’s music is that she’s coming from a jazz ear, ya’ know? Bob Dylan, too. They’re still alive, in their early 70’s, but they heard people like Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, when they were still living and playing. I mean they were out playing jazz…can you imagine?
Louisville.com: Also creative revolutionary musicians like Miles Davis...
DK: And Miles Davis, too! I never saw Miles Davis, I don’t think, but Miles Davis to me…as a kid I saw this Miles Davis documentary and the impact it had on me was so tremendous. That it was the same old discussion, “Why is Miles Davis playing pop songs? Why isn’t he playing old standards?” I remember being sixteen years old watching this thing. Louis Armstrong played pop songs, he played some horrible pop songs and he played some great pop songs, but every single thing he played sounded like him. Nat Cole the same. They just put magic into it. Miles Davis is a great example of someone that just moves forward; he was soul searching whether you like it or not.
Louisville.com: Growing up were you drawn more toward the current artists of the day?
DK: Not at all. I was listening to Fats Waller on a reel-to-reel recorder. I was listening to the stuff my dad had. Then I started listening to Elton John and that changed my world.
Louisville.com: Those early Elton John records changed a lot of worlds.
DK: I got “Blue Moves” for my twelfth birthday. Who asks for that? You’re twelve years old and you can’t wait to hear “Blue Moves” and it’s the saddest work he ever did.
Louisville.com: What are some of your favorite compliments you’ve gotten from peers?
DK: I was on tour opening for Neil Young, and we didn’t say a whole lot to each other – because I’m not really one for words, either, I’d rather sing them. But I’d walk off stage and I’d see him for a second and he would look at me, “You’re gettin’ it now, Diana.” I was like…living the dream. There are times that I still feel like a sixteen year old kid, my body doesn’t feel like that, but my spirit certainly does.
Louisville.com: And for the record you have Stuart Duncan on this tour, who is almost universally regarded as the finest fiddle player alive.
DK: Of course! You should hear him play on “Just You, Just Me,” he tears it up. I don’t know what he’s playing, he’s playing “Stuart Duncan” and doing it over jazz changes and killing it…and he’s singing great, he’s just a joy to have. We can go anywhere. Sometimes I forget to come in because I’m just sitting there watching him with my jaw wide open.
Louisville.com: That seems like a pretty good problem to have.
DK: Yes it is!