Grammy-winning jazz musician Diana Krall brings sultry fire to quiet Chautauqua night


John Ford | Staff Writer

Institution planners knew early this spring that Week Two would be huge.

The advance demand for tickets and accommodations was surging. It was partly because of Jim Lehrer, partly because of the Fourth of July and partly because of tonight’s Amphitheater star.

Diana Krall is here, tonight at 8:15 p.m. You can expect 90 minutes of mellow bliss.

Many in tonight’s audience will already be familiar with Krall’s sultry contralto voice, reminiscent to some of Julie London and Peggy Lee. They may recognize her virtuosity on the piano and the subtle but clear leadership she exerts on stage. The two-time Grammy winner not only plays some of the most popular American songs ever written, but also a lot of her own compositions. They are included on her dozen albums, many of them international best-sellers.

Krall is now in the early stages of a six-month, around-the-world tour that began earlier last year and will include stops in Williamsport, Pa., and the Royal Albert Hall in London; Milwaukee and Paris; Louisville and Rome, and the Hollywood Bowl. The 40-city tour, her first in three years, winds through Eastern Europe and concludes in early December in Moscow.

A few weeks ago she appeared at the Rochester International Jazz Festival. The Democrat and Chronicle reviewer said: “Krall’s contralto voice rose and fell like a deep, warm ocean — at times lulling the audience into soft reflection, other times seducing with quiet, suggestive whispers. The night’s musical story is one that speaks to Krall’s unending femininity as a lover, a daughter, a mother.”

Krall, 47, grew up in Nanaimo, on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Her father was an accomplished stride pianist, and Krall won a music scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in Boston. After finishing her studies, she moved to Los Angeles, then Toronto, then New York, as she built her career.

Krall released her first album in 1993, then struck gold six years later with When I Look in Your Eyes. She won the Grammy for best jazz vocal performance, and hers was the first jazz album in 25 years to be nominated for Album of the Year. She has won numerous Canadian Juno Awards for top musical performance, the Order of Canada, and a shopping area in Nanaimo is named after her.

Krall is a legitimate crossover star. From her early days of classical piano lessons mixed with hours listening to her father’s extensive Fats Waller collection, she has transcended musical boundaries. Mentored by and collaborating with such jazz legends as bassist Ray Brown and composer and leader Quincy Jones, she has also toured with Tony Bennett, produced Barbra Streisand’s most recent album and joined Ray Charles for a song on his 2004 album Genius Loves Company. She has collaborated — with Eric Clapton and Stevie Wonder, among others — on Paul McCartney’s most recent album, Kisses on the Bottom.

Married since 2003 to Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello (they were married on Elton John’s estate), Krall has twin 5-year-old sons. Costello appeared on the Amphitheater stage in 2009.

Though Krall has many of her own compositions and those of jazz and pop masters from which to choose for her set list this evening, on previous concert stops she has included classics by Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie and The Beatles.

Joining Krall tonight will be guitarist Anthony Wilson, also a composer and arranger; versatile drummer Karriem Riggins, a hip-hop producer, disc jockey and occasional rapper; and bassist Robert Hurst, a composer, producer and University of Michigan associate professor of music.

As the Democrat and Chronicle reported, an evening with Krall is “comforting, like a friend or love interest who sits down to play the piano barefoot in the living room.”