"He understood how I needed to evolve and not repeat what I'd done before." Talking about her new album Turn Up the Quiet, Diana Krall gets emotional. The record, a collection of standards recorded with three different ensembles, was co-produced by the late Tommy LiPuma, the singer-pianist's close friend who had helmed many of Krall's most acclaimed works, including All For You, The Look Of Love and Live In Paris. We spoke to the 52-year-old musician by phone, not long after LiPuma died in March.
Turn Up the Quiet is a much different record than your previous album Wallflower, with its pop and rock material. Was it a conscious decision to return to the standards?
It came out of a very dark period. I would walk the seawall in Vancouver and listen to Miles Davis and Dexter Gordon and Lester Young and Ben Webster and Dizzy Gillespie, and a lot of Duke Ellington and Nat Cole. I just thought about how modern those pieces were. They were playing standards, but when you hear John Coltrane playing Like Someone in Love, you don't think of him playing the Great American Songbook to be nostalgic. So I started working with Tommy LiPuma on this very long process. We began with six demos, which were quite darker. Songs that weren't love songs.
And yet, you made it to love songs and something upbeat such as Blue Skies. How?
We started working with three ensembles and it kind of wrote itself. I think you get tired after a while, of the world being in chaos and the chaos in your world. But I just went in with people that I love and know really well. I worked with Tommy for 25 years. I worked with Christian McBride for 25 years. I did question Blue Skies. In these times, do I have the right to sing this? But then I stopped thinking about being nostalgic. These songs don't represent any generation or marketing demographic. It's a jazz record. It's joyful. It just came out that way. And thank god for that.
So no plan or concept?
Tommy understood where it was going. We weren't going down a planned theme road. We had a pile of 50 songs and everyday we asked ourselves what we wanted to do. I started thinking about Isn't it Romantic?, for instance, and not fearing anything. I just thought "Bobby Short," and thinking about listening to Bobby Short when I was very young. So, I began seeing it as a vibe-out record, where you don't really want to get off the couch too fast.
With the passing of Tommy LiPuma, talking about the record must be a little bittersweet.
The first interview of the day is difficult. But the second doesn't make it any less painful. It was such a shock. He became suddenly ill. He was vibrant. I spent 25 years of my life with him and his wife, Jill. They were like my New York parents. The first time my husband, Elvis Costello, came to see me at Royal Albert Hall, he sat between my dad and Tommy.
Can you describe your relationship?
It was paternalistic, but we were colleagues as well. It was very complex, in a positive way. We wrote letters to each other, even after we'd go to the studio at noon and work all day and go out and have dinner at 8 o'clock. We'd go though all the stuff with a glass of wine and a plate of pasta. After, I'd end up thinking of something I forgotten to say. I'd write him a letter, even though we were in the same hotel building. We always had a lot to say. We didn't hold back.
I understand you took Tommy as your date last year to the White House.
Yes, for International Jazz Day. It was very emotional He was turning 80. We also went to this restaurant. It was real old-school – a chop house, right out of a movie. There's an Argentinian pianist that I love. He plays right in the middle of the room. One time I sat in with him. He didn't know who I was and he said, "You're pretty good, but you gotta work on your left hand." I said, "Yeah, I've heard that before."
Yes. He told me if I stuck with it, I could play in these kind of places. It was so much fun.
Diana Krall plays Massey Hall, Nov. 24 and 25. Tickets go on sale May 12. (masseyhall.com).
This interview has been edited and condensed.