“If you ask me about being a blond, I’ll kill you.” Diana Krall shoots me a look, and fortunately, only a look. The celebrated singer-pianist has just been through a morning of TV interviews in her Beverly Hills hotel, none focused on jazz theory. Normally, those who croon “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” don’t stand a ghost of a chance with Grammy, but her ’99 release, When I Look in Your Eyes, has gotten new life via an unexpected nomination for Album of the Year. Invariably, interviewers move beyond wanting to know how it feels to have the honor of competing against the Backstreet Boys (the showdown will be broadcast Feb. 23), and on to the subject of Krall’s beauty.
“You have this very glamorous image…” begins one young female interrogator. “And some people might look at your album covers and wonder whether the record company is exploiting you…. It’s like, here’s this blond…”
Krall starts reeling off her rote response. “I always tell people, the more time we talk about that, the less time there is to talk about music.” She explains how she’s in control of her own photo sessions, and so on. But then she almost loses her cool. Does her label exploit her image? “Of course they do! They’d be idiots if they didn’t! I understand [the question], but it pisses me off. It’s very important that people understand that I’m not just propped up here and told what to do. I am an artist, and I am also a woman who loves to dress up and be a girl…. Plus, I don’t think that I’m that big a deal anyway. I’m not Claudia Schiffer. I do what I can.”
Friendly laughs are exchanged, and when the camera’s off, Krall — a diva by profession only — makes sure the interviewer wasn’t offended by her slight show of pique. “Did you hear me swear in there?” she asks her publicist afterward, a little embarrassed — and still a little miffed. “I’m blond, it’s a wonder my brains don’t fall out of my head!” Then comes the aforementioned threat on my life.
Fair hair aside, it is fair to wonder if someone coming along who’s easy on the eyes as well as ears ain’t bad for jazz and the classic American popular song — art forms historically rife with sex appeal, which, in recent years, have gotten more press on the obit page than through profiles of rising hotties. It’s been said that the clingy dress Krall wore as a Grammy performer two years ago did more for rekindling interest in jazz than a decade’s worth of Duke and Miles reissues. But never mind how the new audience gets in the door; the rearranged old standards they’re exposed to become playful, vibrant, emotionally renewed, and maybe even just a little sensual in this 35-year-old thrush’s hands.
“Sex symbol?” repeats Krall, chowing down on halibut in the hotel bar after the TV crews are gone. “Oh my God! ‘Uh, Mom…'” She mimes phoning the folks back in Nanaimo, Canada, having to explain this embarrassing notion. Not that she’s ready to completely disavow it. “The women that I admire are like Kim Novak, Bette Davis, Lauren Bacall — strong women who are very sexy. I never try to be. But I think I’m a very passionat” — long pause — “sexual person. But it should be a quiet thing.”