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.
"It's in a beautiful spot; I looked at things, the land, the water, and I revisited my past and processed a lot of things I wanted to figure out for 20 years. This may sound strange, given the way the album turned out, but I think that what came out of it documents, for the first time, a representation of my work with [the late pianist and teacher] Jimmy Rowles. Because when I think of Jimmy, I think about how he refused to be put into any kind of box."
When Costello entered the picture, she moved even further out of her own box, making a dramatic shift from an interpretive singer to a composer (with Costello) of her own songs.
"I did a lot of the music, sometimes writing bits and pieces, literally, while I was in one room and he was sitting on the balcony," Krall recalls. "When it came to lyrics, I thought, 'I'm not going to try to be a poet, I'm not going to try to be a lyricist.' So I just wrote ideas and feelings about things from home -- almost like free association. And Elvis came up with 'Departure Bay.' " Other songs came together in different fashion. On "Abandoned Masquerade," Krall gave the melody to Costello on a mini-disc and he wrote the lyrics. "The Girl in the Other Room" was more collaborative, based on Krall's title and a series of film noir images, gradually assembled into a song.
"I like collaborating with him," Krall says. "I'm a person who -- well, I speak a little bit like I improvise, I'm all over the place with different ideas. He's calm and articulate; he'll say, 'Whoa, hold on,' what about this, what about that?"
But Krall has no more intention of being locked in the singer-songwriter box than in any other narrow area of creative definition. "I think because of the age I'm at right now, approaching 40," she says, raising her eyebrows at the thought, "my priorities are changing a little bit, even though I'm as anxiety- ridden and neurotic as ever. I don't want to cling to something that I know works. But I'm not going to rebel against it, either. And if I was to do another standards album, there'd be no guarantees about that either. Nobody ever knows what's coming next; there's no crystal ball."
Where: Greek Theatre, 2700 Vermont Canyon Road, L.A.
When: July 16-17, 7:30 p.m.
Contact: (323) 665-1927
A turn toward the original
"The Girl in the Other Room"
The headline for Krall's first studio album since 2001's "The Look of Love" should be "Goodbye Standards, Hello Originals." Six of 12 tunes are written by Krall with her new husband, English pop-rock artist Elvis Costello. The remaining numbers mostly come from such contemporary sources as Tom Waits, Mose Allison and Joni Mitchell.
On some tracks, especially the originals, Krall's voice is a bit less honeyed than usual -- intentionally, she says -- but her inherent sense of jazz swing and her gifted instrumental skills are ever present.
Working with rhythm section alone, there are numerous opportunities (much more than on "The Look of Love") for her fine piano playing to take center stage (listen to the Copland-esque chording that introduces Costello's "Almost Blue"). And Krall's straight-ahead jazz fans will be pleased to hear her lovely renderings of Allison's "Stop This World" and the '40s ballad "I'm Pulling Through."
Despite Costello's contributions as collaborative writer, however, it is the presence of Mitchell -- Krall's sister Canadian and an acknowledged influence -- that hovers over much of the original music.
That's not a bad source of inspiration -- for starters. And the final three tracks, "Abandoned Masquerade," "I'm Coming Through" and "Departure Bay," are beautifully crafted works, lyrically and musically -- clearly suggesting the creative potential of the Krall/Costello musical partnership, once it finds its fully original voice.
-- Don Heckman