Two-time Grammy winner Diana Krall exudes the kind of coolness that makes costume changes look like a fuss. Had that not been the case, she might have donned everything from a rockabilly swing dress to cabaret attire during her Tuesday night performance at Kingsbury Hall.
Seated alternately at a grand piano or an antique standup (with a few tinny keys for good measure), the smoky-voiced jazz pianist and contralto toured her latest album, "Glad Rag Doll," performing a mishmash of mostly ’20s and ’30s relics that included ragtime, jazz, blues, swing, rockabilly and even folk-rock.
Krall treated the lineup with devil-may-care flair. She made it clear this was not a serious departure — it’s really more of a dalliance, like an oil painter who plays at watercolor to scratch an itch.
“These songs are kind of a product of my childhood,” Krall explained while mindlessly caressing the piano keys before the audience. Pointing to her family’s gramophone set up on the corner of the stage, she said, “I’d riffle through my dad’s stack of 78s and just listen for hours.”
In interviews preceding the tour, Krall described tossing around the idea for a throwback jazz album with her husband’s producer T Bone Burnett (her husband is Elvis Costello). After spending a weekend with her dad poring over his old records, she sent Burnett a fat list of possibilities.
The process seems to have brought on a bout of nostalgia for the 48-year-old British Columbia native — not just over scattered records around the gramophone, but the music shared by her family. Between numbers she took jaunts down memory lane with the audience in tow, occasionally checking herself during stories about Christmas Eve at her “Nana’s” or making sandwiches for her hungry coal mining family:
“You don’t want to hear this stuff, do you?” she asked, already knowing the answer. Whatever the relaxed and playful Krall mused over, she had the audience eating out of her hand. Treating the audience like old friends at a dinner party, she collected spirited approval no matter which genre she tapped into, no matter how melancholy the song.
Her set journeyed into the land of Bing Crosby, Annette Hanshaw, Fats Waller and Gene Austin. She threw in a few modern nods like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan and Tom Waits and rounded it out with what she called “American songbook” hits (a more familiar avenue for Krall) like those of Nat King Cole and Irving Berlin.
The stage had a vaudeville feel, with heavy red curtains, twinkling lights and a dimly bulbed crescent moon. A movie screen behind the musicians served as an ever-changing backdrop of vintage movie reels, old family photos, ancient cartoons and plenty of tragic-looking Ziegfeld girls. It's from these women that Krall drew inspiration for the album title "Glad Rag Doll," a 1928 movie theme song for a film of the same title.
“You’re just a pretty toy they like to play with. You’re not the kind they choose to grow old and gray with,” Krall crooned as 1920s era women in flouncy attire danced across the screen.
Krall was accompanied by bassist Dennis Crouch, Patrick Warren on keyboards, Karriem Riggins on drums, fiddle player Stuart Duncan (who doubled on guitar and ukulele) and Aram Bajakian on electric guitar.