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Girl next door is now girl in the other room

Diana Krall has a new CD on the way and a new collaborator: husband Elvis Costello.

April 13, 2004|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

It's only noon, but Diana Krall looks weary.

Curled up on a couch in a room at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, she smiles wanly, noting that she is well into the third week of publicity events for her new album and is eager to get back to her music.

"Talking about yourself," she says, with characteristic candor, "can get very boring after a while. You start digressing, forget what you said to who. I'll just be glad when I'm playing again."

Krall always has been a determinedly private person, as protective of her personal life a decade ago, at the start of her career, as she is now. But publicity, by definition, demands revelatory information and her marriage to pop star Elvis Costello in December has generated precisely the questions she most dislikes.

Nor is her dilemma made any easier by the fact that the new album -- a marked departure from anything she's ever done before -- includes six songs co-written with Costello.

Like many artists, Krall insists that the music has a life of its own, that it would be wrong to limit its reality by describing and defining it.

"It's a lot of work," she says, "for me to figure out how much to say in interviews, and how much to leave to the listener."

But she also acknowledges that the circumstances of the album -- the creative and personal watershed that it represents -- call for further illumination.

Before this CD, "The Girl in the Other Room," Krall's material has come chiefly from the Great American Songbook, with a few flirtations with pop numbers such as Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You."

In addition to the Krall/Costello works, the selections on the new CD (in stores April 27) include songs by Mose Allison ("Stop This World"), Tom Waits ("Temptation"), Mitchell ("Black Crow"), Arthur Herzog & Irene Kitchings ("I'm Pulling Through") and Costello's own "Almost Blue."

Aside from "I'm Pulling Through" and the sardonic "Stop This World," there's nothing on that list that ordinarily would appear on the menu of most jazz vocalists.

Asked about the seemingly radical departure from her jazz roots, Krall -- dressed in casual jeans and blouse, looking more like the girl next door than the sultry blond vamp who appeared in the Bruce Weber photos for her previous, multimillion-selling album, "The Look of Love" -- simply shrugs. "Time changes things," she says. "And without apologizing for anything, it's time to move forward -- not to try to cling to something that you did in the past."

Krall emphasizes her gratitude to, and a desire for a continuing connection with, her core jazz audience. But she says the focus with which she approached the album, in which she worried about nothing other than what she wanted to do artistically, was "incredibly freeing."

Despite her quest to maintain personal privacy, it's apparent that the "freeing" focus was inextricably related to a closely related sequence of life-changing events. In May 2002, her mother passed away after years of battling cancer. In the next month she lost close friend and confidante Rosemary Clooney, as well as staunch musical mentor Ray Brown. Three months later she broke up with a longtime boyfriend and began a relationship with Costello.

Krall sees the linkage as part of a broader life perspective.

"This is the first time I've done something without a parent to inspire me. So I had to be my own parent, in a way. I did a lot of things in the past with my parents in mind -- my dad's record collection, because of my mother, because of inspirational songs or songs that reflected things I felt around my family and my mother. And this is the first time I've actually done a piece of work -- obviously with the help of other musicians and the collaboration with my husband -- that is really the product of my own ideas and images."

It wasn't easy. Confronted with thoughts of "OK, now what do I do?" she kept the door open to Costello's input, actually and metaphorically becoming "the girl in the other room."

"Instead of saying, 'I just can't deal with this,' " Krall says, "I realized how fortunate I was to have already met someone who was going to help me and encourage me to go ahead, even in my most fearful moments. Because I'm very self-critical and hard on myself. I get a bit freaked out about things and start listening to other artists, and I think, 'What am I doing?' And he'll say, 'Just keep going.' "

Costello's encouragement helped sustain a transformative process that began shortly before her mother died.

"I actually have an e-mail," she recalls, "that I wrote to someone around that time saying that it was time for me to make a change -- artistic soul-searching, which actually had been brewing for quite a while."

At first, she locked herself inside her house on Canada's Vancouver Island, listening to her dad's old LPs, turning on her tape recorder to preserve random musical thoughts.

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