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Try Topping That

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.’

For the record:
12:00 AM, Apr. 22, 2001 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.

“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.

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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.

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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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Krall’s success has not come without some grumbling in and out of the jazz world. Despite her solid jazz credentials-she is a first-rate jazz pianist, good enough to have made a career as an instrumentalist without ever opening her mouth to sing-there’s a tendency in the jazz community to believe that commercial success means an abandonment of artistic principles. Some in the pop world, on the other hand, minimized Krall’s impact by referring to her as a lounge act.

In fact, it’s not difficult to understand why Krall made the breakthrough she did-a breakthrough that actually began with “Love Scenes,” the album that preceded “When I Look in Your Eyes.” Other singers-Dee Dee Bridgewater, Karrin Allyson, Nnenna Freelon and Dianne Reeves among them-are producing excellent work. But Krall, with the vital support of LiPuma, has created a finely tuned blend of good songs, solid, jazz-based interpretations, and excellent musical backing in an eminently marketable package.

And the success of that package has raised the dilemma that is facing the current recording process. Although it’s understandable that Krall and LiPuma prefer to concentrate on the fine points of producing the best album they can, the image of their previous success looms large.

Of course, the question of how to follow up an enormously successful album is a problem that few jazz artists have ever had to confront, a problem more directly associated with the big numbers of the pop record world. “When I Look in Your Eyes” was not an instantaneous, overnight hit, but its sales rose in a continuing escalation. Released in June 1999, it obtained gold certification (for 500,000 copies shipped) in January 2000, and was certified platinum (a million copies shipped) in November. Sales for the album have passed 1 million copies domestically, as well as 1 million copies internationally, according to the record company. The album continues to sell at the rate of about 5,000 albums a month. Krall’s previous release, “Love Scenes,” sells about 3,000 copies a month, and all of her released albums are present on most media jazz charts.

These are astounding figures in the jazz world, where only a very few albums pass the 50,000 mark and an even fewer pass the 100,000 level. The performance of Krall’s album more closely approximates recordings such as Srah McLachlan’s “Mirror Ball,” which has sold 2.5 million copies, and exceeds Tori Amos’ “To Venus and Back.”

Sales at that level obviously have an impact that reaches beyond Krall’s own career. For the Verve Group, which has released four of its own Krall albums as well as a reissue of a CD originally on the Justin-Time label, it means a bottom-line total that creates all sorts of other options.

“Diana’s our Rolling Stones,” says Ron Goldstein, president of the Verve Group. “I can’t begin to describe how important she is to us. Her worldwide sales help to create a fanatical base that triggers a kind of a domino effect. The state of instrumental jazz today makes it difficult to sell records. But, by virtue of Diana’s success, we are able to continue recording and releasing records by some fine artists who are not making any money for the company.”

Understandably, and perhaps predictably, there are two perspectives on the impact that the achievements of “When I Look in Your Eyes” will have on the new, eagerly anticipated and as yet untitled Krall album.

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On the creative side, Krall and LiPuma insist that the only real pressure they have taken into account has been the desire to create an album that accurately reflects the musical growth Krall has experienced since the release of “When I Look in Your Eyes.”

“It would have been very easy,” says LiPuma, “for us to take the approach, hey, we have this winning team so let’s bring the same elements back. Let’s get some up-tempo things, a few ballads and so forth, and then, in a sense, we’ll have ‘When I Look in Your Eyes, Volume II.”’

Krall agrees, noting that she didn’t want to make a cookie-cutter album, that she was feeling far more pressure from the broader desire “to sustain this career of doing what I want to do.”

There’s little doubt that the presence of LiPuma-who is, in addition to his production work, the CEO of the Verve Group-also enhanced the opportunity to be musically adventurous.

Once Krall and LiPuma had agreed on their attraction to songs associated with Frank Sinatra, it didn’t take long to assemble more than 30 possible choices. Gradually winnowing them to 20 or so, the studio sessions began, some with Krall’s solo piano, some with small ensembles.

“This thing has gone through so many changes, from solo piano and voice, to trio and quartet tracks,” she says.” We did ‘The Night We Called It a Day,’ ‘Cry Me a River’ and ‘There’s No You’ all in one day. And it was a great day. Everybody was having a groove day. And we did ‘Cry Me a River’ on only the second take. And we lived with them for a while, sort of allowing them to go through their own little growth processes.”

At that point, it gradually became clear that the album would be primarily oriented toward ballads. A session scheduled to record some lighter, up-tempo numbers was canceled, and Krall and LiPuma began to deal with the question of whether to release the songs in a small-ensemble format or go a more expansive route. For Krall, the answer was easy. She had long pursued the notion of having orchestral accompaniments provided for one of her albums-any of her albums, she says-by the much-admired German composer-arranger Claus Ogerman. His work with artists such as Sinatra, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans, Michael Brecker and others had been present in her record collection since she was a child.

“A long time ago, I’d mentioned possibly working with Claus to Tommy,” she recalls. “It seems as though I’ve been dreaming about it forever. I used to listen to the ‘Cityscape’ album he did with Michael Brecker almost every night when I was going to school at Berklee in Boston. But the possibility seemed very far away at that time.

“So when we saw the direction this album was taking, I started thinking about Claus again, and just imagining how great it would be if we could get him involved in the project.”

In fact, Ogerman hadn’t done a pure orchestration of anything other than his own classical music in 22 years. But LiPuma arranged for a meeting with Krall when she was in Munich. That first encounter, which lasted nearly five hours, was followed by other meetings, and Ogerman set aside his initial reluctance. Krall’s separate identity as a fine jazz pianist undoubtedly had something to do with his decision.

“The thing about Diana is her musicianship,” says engineer Al Schmitt, who has played a role in all of Krall’s albums. “More than most singers, she knows what’s right for her, and she knows how to make it happen, musically. And it’s really nice to work with someone who has a clear idea of what they want, and knows how to express it. You’re not scrambling around, and that’s a blessing.”

It clearly had an impact on Ogerman, who came up with a set of arrangements for a 60-piece orchestra that are virtual mini-suites. In some of the tunes, he sets up the vocal with lush introductory passages; in others, the tracks conclude with emotion-wringing instrumental codas.

“You’re getting into deep water when you do arrangements of songs Nelson Riddle has done,” says Ogerman, “songs like ‘I Get Along Without You Very Well,’ so you have to do it or you don’t do it. And, in the 22 years I spent working on my classical pieces, I added a lot to my orchestral vocabulary, and I think the orchestrations I did for Diana reflect that fact.”

In late March, Krall, LiPuma and Schmitt traveled to London to meet Ogerman for the recording of the orchestral passages. Krall’s first reaction was sheer delight at the prospect of working so closely with a composer whose music had affected her so strongly nearly two decades ago.

“It was so cool seeing Tommy and Al and Claus working together again after 20 years,” she says. “And I just like sat back and watched and thought, ‘Oh, hey, this is my party.’ ”

In the studio sessions, Ogerman conducted his orchestral arrangements in sync with Krall’s already recorded vocal tracks. Listening, in the control room, to the combined voice and instrumental elements, was an emotional experience for both LiPuma and Krall.

“When we first heard ‘Only the Lonely,”’ Krall remembers, “Tommy wiped his eyes every time we came to the ending. Later, when we’d done the recording, and Claus was listening with us, he sat there and didn’t say much for a while. When the track was finished, he looked at me and said, ‘You know, it’s like Edward G. Robinson on a bridge in a foggy night.’ And it is. It’s like the end of the train, going into the fog. He and I were so much on the same page in terms of references to films.”

Krall may only be 36, but her tastes in film and television date back decades. Jack Benny is one of her “all-time favorites,” as are Ernie Kovacs and Bob Newhart (‘He’s like Jack Benny,” she says, “I love their sense of timing’). She adds that her beau, a fan of the same era, said he first fell for her when he heard her mention the name of character actor Adolphe Menjou in casual conversation.

LiPuma’s reaction to the “Only the Lonely” orchestration was characteristic of the flow of deep feelings that has been a constant factor in the making of the new recording. When Krall made the original piano and vocal track on “I Get Along Without You Very Well,” she says, “I went outside, and I sat there and I wept. I just broke down. And then Tommy came out and said, ' Hey babe, that’s why you do what you do.’

“Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel it so much,” Krall continues, “but it’s such a combination of things. I’ve learned a lot from studying” at the Actors Studio, a reflection of her growing interest in acting assignments. “I’ve learned about myself, and what I do and how I do it. I’ve learned a lot from Bill Evans and Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. And then you add to that the fact that I have this really vivid imagination-maybe too much so. All that stuff is in there, and that’s what comes out when I approach these things.”

Ogerman agrees, describing Krall’s interpretations as multilayered, cinematic expressions.

“There are passages in which she reminds me of Barbara Stanwyck,” he says. “She’s acting the words great, the way Sinatra did. While he was singing, he was acting out the lyrics, and Diana does the same thing.”

*

A week after the mixing has reached an apparent conclusion, and Krall is returning to New York, LiPuma is back in the studio, having second thoughts.

“This is the way it goes,” he says. “You want it to be so perfect, and you get to the point where almost everything you try to adjust affects something else.”

In this case, it has something to do with the equalization, or the tonal qualities of some of the individual vocal and instrumental passages. Making some last-minute changes has changed the placement of the voice, and LiPuma and Schmitt are having to make readjustments, once again returning the voice to a front-and-center position.

But now the production faces one of the most difficult of all record-album decisions-the sequencing of tunes, what comes first, what follows and what comes last. There are, in fact, record producers who will cite chapter and verse of less-than-first-rate recordings that became hits because of the way the songs were sequenced, and excellent albums that disappeared because of bad sequencing.

“I don’t know,” says LiPuma, his brow furrowed with indecision. “First I liked one of the tracks that has a really seductive orchestral opening as the first track. But then I thought, ‘No, man, that’s like spilling everything at the very beginning. Then I thought about ‘The Look Of Love,’ because there’s something friendly about the cut, and everybody sort of knows the tune. But now I’m not sure.”

He pauses, ponders for a few moments before continuing.

“Now I’m going through everything. Should ‘Cry Me a River’ be cut No. 4? Should ‘Dancing in the Dark’ be cut No. 6? Everything affects everything else. All of these things, particularly with the expectations surrounding this album, are important decisions.

“And here’s where I have to think like an executive and take into account all the long-term marketing aspects of the album. Because this is an album that I want to have the effect of stopping people in their tracks. I see it as a sort of film noir approach, an album of very dramatic songs presented in cinematic fashion. And it’s only going to work if we get the right sequence of material.”

The list of material, still subject to change, also includes “The Night We Called It a Day,” 'Love Letters,” 'You Go to My Head,” 'But Not for Me,” 'Maybe You’ll Be There” and “Only the Lonely.”

Once the album is finished, it will be passed on for the marketing efforts of management and record company. And those wheels are already turning.

“We feel very strongly with Diana that we have to start thinking about and creating a path prior to the actual release of the record so there’s some anticipation, some buzz,” says Goldstein, who came out of a rock ‘n’ roll background and thinks about promotion in pop record terms.

“The first step is to get the word out that she’s making a record. Next we’re having a meeting with the Target department stores to discuss a huge promotion with Diana in the fall. This is the sort of thing that’s been done with major acts like Sting or Alanis Morissette and to have them interested in Diana is very exciting.”

Other cross-promotions with companies such as American Airlines, General Motors and Seagram are being considered.

Steve Machlam, Krall’s personal manager, says that “because of the special nature of the album, we’ll probably do more performances with orchestra, and we’ll underscore Claus Ogerman’s work as the arranger, which will tend to encourage expanding the live show. We’ll do a few shows in advance of the album-two nights with the Honolulu Symphony, a couple of nights with the Dallas Symphony, and we’ll be working with the Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra and the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra here at the Hollywood Bowl. It’s a bit too soon to say how much of the album will be previewed at those orchestral performances, but we’ll get in as much as we can.”

When the album is released in September, an extensive Krall tour will support it in venues around the world: Canada in October, Europe in November and December, and then the Far East, Japan, Australia and South America in the early part of the new year. In addition, there is a plan in the works to videotape a show at the end of the European tour, hopefully at the Olympia in Paris, for a television special.

Like most jazz artists, Krall has an international following that obliges her to spend time touring the world. The year after “When I Look in Your Eyes” was released, she was on the road nearly 300 days.

LiPuma, in the meantime, has also returned to New York, where he and Krall are once again together in yet another studio. It’s likely that a few more glitches will turn up before the album is locked, and that more tinkering with fine points will take place. Most important, the key decisions will have to be made regarding what tunes actually make the final cut, and how they will be sequenced in the product that makes its way into consumers’ hands in September.

But there’s an optimistic tone in her voice when Krall reports that she’s delighted with the follow-up to “When I Look in Your Eyes” and is already thinking about the next album (a smaller group with more upbeat tunes, possibly).

“It’s funny,” she says. “I was just remembering when I was a kid dressed up as Groucho Marx for Halloween, and I’d come home and lie on my bedroom floor thinking about all the stuff that I want to do in my life and wondering if I’d ever be able to do any of it well.

“And now my mom says I’m a witch because all the things that I wished for have happened. Well, most of them,” concludes Krall, “and I don’t want to be corny about it, but I’m just happy to all of a sudden have come to a place where I can say, ‘This is the best time,’ where I feel the best about my work, where I feel the best about my family, and about the world I live in.”


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