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COVER STORY

Try Topping That

Diana Krall shocked the jazz world by racking up the sales of a pop star. Now comes the hard part: a follow-up album.

April 15, 2001|DON HECKMAN | Don Heckman writes frequently about jazz for The Times

The guiding light of Diana Krall's new album-her first since the release two years ago of the jazz world phenomenon "When I Look in Your Eyes-began to emerge on a Friday night in her New York City apartment.

"We hadn't decided which way to go with it," Krall recalls, "and I was sitting home by myself, listening to records, which I love to do. I put on Nat Cole's 'Love Letters,' and then I listened to Julie London's 'Cry Me a River.' I went through everything, Carmen McRae, everything. And I kept going back to Frank Sinatra. Songs like 'Maybe You'll Be There'-I'd never heard him do that-'Only the Lonely,' 'Nice and Easy,' 'You Go to My Head.'

"The more I listened, the more I was blown away. 'God,' I thought, 'how does Frank take lines from tunes like 'I Get Along Without You Very Well'-[singing] 'Except perhaps in spring, but I should never think of spring'-rhyming 'spring' with 'spring,' and make them work?"

Gathering her albums together, she headed over to producer Tommy LiPuma's anhattan apartment and began to play song after song for him, emphasizing the Sinatra sound.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 22, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
Jazz sales-An April 15 Sunday Calendar story on singer Diana Krall misstated record sales for two of her albums. "When I Look In Your Eyes" sells 5,000 copies per week, and "Love Scenes" sells 3,000 copies per week-not per month, as the story said.

LiPuma, who has produced albums by everyone from Barbra Streisand and George Benson to Al Jarreau and Miles Davis, soon added his own Sinatra references.

"We got onto the Sinatra thing very quickly," he says. "She pulled out 'Sinatra at the Sands,' which I hadn't heard, and I pulled out some things she hadn't heard. And then 'Only the Lonely' came on and we began to have a conscious beginning for the new album, not as a model, but as a direction for the songs."

One year later, Krall is seated in a central position behind a console at Capitol Records Hollywood recording studios. She is working in the control room of Studio A, the room in which Sinatra recorded many of his hits. LiPuma stands close by as they listen to Krall's newly recorded version of "Dancing in the Dark," which, like most of the songs on the album, was a number recorded by Sinatra. The sound sweeps out of the monitor speakers, full and rich, with her honey-and-bourbon voice surging through the instrumental background.

Krall listens with a noncommittal look on her face, intently focused on every detail. When her piano solo arrives, she frowns and turns to LiPuma, who gestures to engineer Al Schmitt, asking him to stop the tape.

A brief discussion ensues. Is the piano passage right? Should it be redone? Is it positioned correctly in the mix? Does it need to be pulled further back into the accompaniment?

The decision is made to readjust the position of the piano in reference to the orchestra, and the mixing process continues, as it will for many more days, with many more similarly detailed decisions to be made about fine points in the recording.

Krall calls for changes where she thinks they are needed and disagrees with both LiPuma and Schmitt from time to time-a change from the more compliant manner of her earlier years.

"I think I've gotten to the point, I hope I've gotten to the point, where I don't have to keep proving myself," she says. "There were times when I felt as though I had to show that I'd done my homework, that I could swing, that I could do this or that, that I wasn't having some sort of success because I was blond or something."

True enough, and the 36-year-old Krall, working in the studio, more closely resembles a UCLA graduate student than the carefully coiffed and garbed figure on the cover of "When I Look in Your Eyes."

"Different person, different time," she says. "I don't care about my hair and my makeup the way I did when I was having those growing pains. Now I do my own hair, and I do minimal makeup. I love to dress up and be a girl, and it doesn't take anything away from my integrity. But when I get asked about being the femme fatale and the glamour girl of jazz, I go 'What? What are you talking about?' I'm so over that."

Although she has never totally embraced the blond-bombshell persona, there's no denying the fact that the Jean Harlow-revisited look has played a significant role in the overall success of the album. And the marketing plan devised by Krall's management and record company skillfully used the sensuous, smoky blond image as an intrinsic element.

But, as record business people continue to say, years after the pressed vinyl of LPs gave way to the digital silver discs of CD technology, "if it isn't in the grooves, it's not going to happen." And with 'When I Look in Your Eyes,' it was definitely in the grooves-a combination of sultry ballads, mid-range rhythm tunes and an occasional whimsical song that pleased Krall's core jazz fans while easily crossing over to a much wider, far more diverse listenership. It was even a nominated last year for the Grammy Awards' album of the year. (She received the Grammy for female jazz vocalist.)

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