Ahhhh, the joyful sounds of Christmas! Gathering round the piano, singing of snow and bells and sleighs, all in the wee hours of mid-summer.
"There I was in a hotel room in London," Diana Krall recalls, "practicing 'Let It Snow' on a white upright, wondering if I had high enough range to sing 'just hear those sleigh bells ringing!' I'm sure somebody next door was going, 'I had this horrible nightmare: Diana Krall was singing Christmas songs at 3:00 in the morning in June!'"
Only a few weeks later the celebrated singer and pianist was again surprising anyone within earshot - with a more melodic and happy sound.
"In the middle of hot July in British Columbia, my Dad, my sister and I were in my car with the windows rolled down and we were all laughing! We were listening to the latest mix of 'Jingle Bells', and had it cranked up! It just came out great."
To say that the Canadian-born Krall is proud of her new album Christmas Songs - a dozen familiar tunes that gleefully swing the spirit of the season - is an understatement. "It was just the most joyful experience I've had," she says. "It's the first time with all confidence I've said, 'This is a great record'. Yes, it's a Christmas album, but I wanted to make this record in a style that the great singers that I admire used to make. I approached this record like I would any other jazz record. It had to swing!""
Christmas Songs is indeed that -- a hip sleigh ride that jingles its jazz credentials proudly, and revels in a wide range of the jazz greats: Nat "King" Cole, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Rosemary Clooney. It's an album that benefits not only from Krall's swinging and singing, but her own production A-team, co-producer Tommy LiPuma and engineer Al Schmidt: "with Tommy and Al there's such a strong, family-like feeling - they are family to me. This is our ninth studio album together. There was a lot of laughter, and there's always a lot of care in all that we do together."
Krall also credits her long-standing bond with bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, who, with saxophonist Jeffrey Clayton, are celebrating twenty years co-leading the renowned Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra. On Christmas Songs, Krall is accompanied by both the CHJO, and her regular rhythm backup: guitarist Anthony Wilson and bassist Robert Hurst.
"They all work so well together - Anthony, Robert, the Orchestra, which is one of the best. With the Clayton Hamilton band, there was a guarantee that everything we did would be swinging. I was lucky to have the Orchestra on the session, but also fortunate to have known these guys for so long. I've known John and Jeff since I was 19. They're like my brothers -- we know each other in a deeply musical and personal way.
"When John and I initially talked about this project, we knew where we were going before we even went there. We all love those great albums by Ella, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra's Live at the Sands, and wanted to capture the joy and swing of those records. I had a list of tunes that were all my favorites from when I was a little girl. We decided to focus on the Great American Songbook approach to Christmas melodies, like those written by Irving Berlin, one of my favorite composers. Those tunes seem more suited for jazz interpretation than traditional carols - but I'd still like a chance to record the more religious songs in the future as well."
Clayton provided arrangements for Christmas Songs, as did another old friend of Krall's. "Working with Johnny Mandel has been one of the greatest experiences of my life. I respect him immensely. He contributed his magic to this album -- you know it's him as soon as you hear the music."
For the few who may still be unaware, Krall is the 39-year old sensation whose cool, heavy-lidded vocals and strikingly sensitive piano-playing has helped her transcend barriers of genre to become a popular artist of the first order. Since her recording debut in 1993, she has released nine albums (including her first seasonal effort, the EP Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas in '98), garnered numerous awards and topped the pop charts.
Krall's arrival has been rapid: in '99, her breakthrough When I Look in Your Eyes won a Grammy for best jazz vocal and was the first jazz disc to be nominated for Album of the Year in twenty-five years. In 2001, The Look of Love was a #1 bestseller in the US and a five-time platinum album in Canada. Her most recent Christmas Songs, 2004's The Girl in the Other Room, was her first to focus on her own songwriting - with six tunes co-written with her husband Elvis Costello.
The seeds of Krall's crossover success are firmly rooted in her upbringing. Born in Nanaimo, Canada, to a musical family. She grew up absorbing great music, learning piano and celebrating Christmas in a manner that informs Christmas Songs.
"We would always have a big Christmas party at our house for family and friends - everyone would sing from sheet music - from traditional carols to jazzed up versions of 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' and 'Jingle Bells'. The point was we were all singing together - and that's something that will always be dear to me, and still is."
Krall recorded Christmas Songs this past June and July in Los Angeles's famed Capitol Studios, getting into the decorative spirit of Noel. "Capitol already has a nostalgic feel and such a sense of history. We put up a Christmas tree, candles and ornaments all set up in the studio. It was all very joyful with a lot of laughing. I felt like a little girl and this was my party!"
"The recording was a very organic process, and we mostly used first and second takes. All my vocals were done live with the band. There's a passage in 'Jingle Bells' where the band and I were just so in sync. I truly believe in live performance."
The album contains a couple of firsts for Krall: she cuts loose her scatting talent, till now relegated to the stage, on the opening track. And she surprisingly cedes the piano chair intermittently to focus on her singing (though all the piano solos are her handiwork). "It was a big issue for me initially. I felt like I should be playing piano on the whole record. But after I got in the studio, I enjoyed having the opportunity to just sing."
Krall also faced a somewhat intimidating legacy on her daily arrival at the studio. "Everyday I walked down that Capitol hallway and I'd see photos of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Keely Smith, Peggy Lee, of course Nat King Cole. I'd be going, 'I will do my best today!'"
--- from the official Diana Krall website