Diana Krall nerve-wracked for B.C. gig kicking off Canadian tour
Canadian jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall performs during her concert at the Congress Hall in Warsaw, Poland in this Nov. 2012 file photo. (AP/Alik Keplicz)
Published Tuesday, January 29, 2013 5:41PM EST
TORONTO -- Grammy-winning pianist/vocalist Diana Krall has moved audiences at some of the world's biggest concert halls, but when she thinks of kicking off her new Canadian tour on Sunday in her hometown of Nanaimo, B.C., she gets butterflies.
"I'm probably more nerve-wracked playing there than Carnegie Hall because everybody's going to be there that I know," Krall, who hasn't toured Canada in about four years, confessed in a recent telephone interview.
"My dad's going to be there and it's been a long time since my dad's seen a concert. I have his gramophone onstage with me."
It was that gramophone that helped inspire Krall's latest album, "Glad Rag Doll," a gritty and versatile collection that puts a contemporary touch on songs from the 1920s and '30s, from ragtime to blues and roots.
Grammy-winning musician T-Bone Burnett produced the album that marks a bit of a departure from Krall's tradition of playing mid-century jazz tunes. It also features new instrumentation and new musicians, including Burnett and Krall's musician-husband Elvis Costello (he plays under the pseudonym Howard Coward on the disc).
Krall has known the tunes -- from the contemplative title track to the sombre "When the Curtain Comes Down" and the foot-stomping "I'm A Little Mixed Up" -- since she was a baby, thanks to her dad's vast collection of sheet music and 78-rpm and cylinder records.
"It's like a big archival library in there, in my dad's house," Krall said from New York, where she and Costello have a home with their six-year-old twin boys.
"When I go home we still play records and listen to music."
Growing up, Krall was also fascinated with the films of the era as well as the Marx Brothers (she would even dress up as Groucho and Harpo) and vaudeville, in which her great-aunt Jean performed in New York in the '20s.
"I used to sit at my nana's table playing cards and I'd ask her all the time about aunt Jean and I'd look through photo albums and say, 'Tell me about her,"' she said. "Apparently she was really a character."
With "Glad Rag Doll," Krall aimed to probe a darker side of that era that also applies to modern times. Getting inspiration from the Ziegfeld show girls, she wore vintage lingerie on the album cover along with a sad look in her eyes.
"A lot of these women perished very tragically. One of them died on the stage," said Krall, referring to the so-called "Ziegfeld curse."
"I'm not trying to make people think or feel. I'm always drawn to a darker side of things, even in the Great American Songbook. But there's joy in it as well. It's multilayered."
In her new tour, Krall has a video tribute to the Ziegfeld girls and uses other projections, including photos from her childhood family singalongs and clips from silent movies and old cartoons.
She also plays a short film that her actor-friend Steve Buscemi and his filmmaker wife, Jo Andres, made for when she plays the tune "When the Curtain Comes Down" (it can also be seen on YouTube).
The whole show is intended to make the audience feel as if they're in an old vaudeville theatre, said Krall, who wears vintage clothing onstage and plays on a beat-up 1920s, five-foot-two Chickering piano she found in a Mississippi antique shop.
"I end up cutting my fingers on it half the time," said Krall, who also has an 1890s player piano onstage.
"It's really ambitious, this show.... It's really fun. I've created this whole little world."
Krall said she came up with many concepts for the show when she was recovering from knee surgery.
"I couldn't sleep, I was up all night, so I would just work all night."
For all her advance preparations, Krall said she's constantly tweaking the show -- a big change from her previous tour style of having a show that's set in stone.
"This is a lot of moving parts," said Krall. "The film's got to fit with the music. It's a creative work in progress where you could never stop, you could just keep going."
But only for a limited time.
Krall said her concerts in Europe this summer will be at outdoor festivals and won't have the visual elements from the Canadian tour.
And she doesn't plan to get this multimedia with all of her future shows either, she said, noting she never wants to stray from her roots.
It's advice she learned from her musician-friend Paul McCartney, for whom she was a musical director and arranger on the recent "Kisses on the Bottom" album.
"One of the things that I talked about with Paul was that he does a lot of different things," said Krall. "He does his ballet and he does other projects but he always goes back to what he does in his world.
"It's fresh because he does other things. So I'm not leaving one thing for the other."
McCartney asked Krall to collaborate with him when they were at a dinner with a small group of friends. It was one of the greatest experiences of her life, she said.
"He was like, 'Diana, do you want to come and play on this song?' And I'm like, 'Yeah, sure!"' Krall recalled, her voice turning into a quiet squeal.
"It still messes me up because it's like, 'Paul McCartney asked me to play with him!' I don't take it lightly. It's a big deal and I still can't believe it sometimes."
The "Glad Rag Doll" tour has already gone through Europe and Krall's twin boys were with her for some of it. She won't get to tour with them in Canada, though, because they're just getting settled back into school in New York and it would be too much to take them out again, she said.
"My sister is going to come and hang out with them while I'm gone this time because I think it's better for them to be in school at this time," said Krall, noting she uses Skype to chat with her family "every day" when she's touring.
"They're going to go on tour with me in the summertime.... But it's a constant struggle, a crossword puzzle with Elvis and I in trying to co-ordinate all this. It's very, very challenging."