A Music Lover’s Compulsion: listening notes on Diana Krall

diana-krall(At Chateau Ste Michelle Winery, Woodinville 8/30/09 by Bellamy Pailthorp: KPLU News)

I’m someone who likes to separate work and play. When I’m off the clock from my job as a news reporter at KPLU, I try not to think too much about covering the events of the day, unless there’s an obvious big breaking story. Everyone needs the chance to turn off the left side of the brain, relax, and recharge their batteries now and then — especially heading into the work week after a busy and eventful summer weekend.

Nonetheless, out came my notebook and a pen last Sunday night and I found myself taking detailed notes as I watched – and most of all listened to –Diana Krall performing on the last stop of her latest tour.

In case you somehow didn’t know, Krall is one of my generation’s most famous jazz pianists and vocalists. She’s the only artist I would trust to cover Joni Mitchell’s 1971 song “A Case of You” — and that song was a highlight of my evening. She was in Woodinville playing the picturesque Chateau Ste. Michelle winery – a venue where she’s appeared a few times over the past decade. I sat on the lawn with my date behind a group of people who were celebrating a birthday party. They were really nice, and I didn’t have to pay for my tickets, so I didn’t get too grumpy when I realized their furniture was rendering useless the binoculars I had rented for $5. Maybe I could have found a better spot on the hill, but it was too late to move. I don’t like craning my neck. So I decided to relax instead and concentrate on what I could hear.

Don’t get me wrong: Diana Krall is someone I’d love to watch for hours. I even purchased her latest DVD after the concert. It’s hard not to wonder what that stunning blonde with the quirky deep voice actually looks like in person on stage. But live outdoor performance includes more than visual stimulation – it’s about experiencing a unique moment in time and sharing it with people around you. Despite not actually seeing much of her show, four days later I’m still relishing memories of what I heard – and of how often Krall’s comments and interaction with the audience made me laugh.

Many people in the crowd had been there for a while tasting wine before the show – it’s a great place to have a picnic and you can bring your own everything (excluding cameras)…so I think it’s safe to assume the most vocal people in the crowd had tied a few on by the time Krall started singing, a little after 8pm. During a break after the third song, she turned to the audience and introduced her trio (Anthony Wilson on guitar, Robert Hurst on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums.) Then she greeted everyone there as if they were friends she hadn’t seen in while.

“How’ve you been?” she asked as the sun was setting in a picture perfect clear blue sky, complete with brightly colored hot air balloons circling overhead. “The weather’s been good, aye?”

She told us how much she loved this corner of the continent (she’s from Nanaimo, BC, which at one point she described as “just up the street” from Woodinville, eliciting lots of laughs). She added that the end of summer is her favorite time of year. Then someone I couldn’t hear, in the expensive seats up close, seemed to have yelled out a question. Krall, who gave birth to twins three ago in December (12/6/06,) responded with as much mischievous soul as she plays the piano.

“How are my boys?!” They’re good, thanks for asking,” she replied. “They’re back at the hotel smoking cigars and playing gin rummy.”

Someone else yelled something and she said: “How’s Elvis?” (That would be Elvis Costello, her husband of six years, who was also touring this summer and played the winery just a week earlier.) She said she didn’t know; she wasn’t even sure where he was that night: “I think he’s in Austin?” she guessed, adding, “I have a picture of him in my dressing room with lipstick kisses all over it – most of them are mine.” And she said something about throwing lingerie on stage at him when she heard him play earlier this summer. As much fun as she’s been having on tour, she was happy that this was the last night.

Later in the concert, (I think it was after she sang “Walk on By” by composer Burt Bacharach, who she called “a great person with fabulous hair” and said she thinks he’s as great as Gershwin,) she mentioned that her twins had started talking recently. That’s been great, she said, but it’s meant not getting a lot of sleep at night, especially in the wee hours – and for different reasons than at other points in her life. Someone yelled out another question and somehow, the subject again turned to lingerie: would she please toss some of hers into the crowd? She said she would if she could, but she had run out on this long tour.

“Honey, I would, but, I’m a mother of twins now. We’re all up here performing without underwear.”

I’m guessing the band members were all blushing. That’s the image that remains in my mind – even though I couldn’t actually see it.

[editor’s note: Diana Krall’s latest CD is Quiet Nights, her tour continues in Hamburg, Germany on Sept. 14th)

Diana Krall Live in Paris

Anita O’Day: Life of a Jazz Singer

When you talk about the greatest jazz singers ever, you always mention the Big Three: Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan. No surprises. From there, though, where do you go? Let me suggest Anita O’Day.

Her first appearances with the bands of Gene Krupa, Woody Herman & Stan Kenton shattered the standard image of a female jazz singer as demure and beautiful. Though she was a knockout, she was “one of the guys” – a musician’s singer – able to scat incredibly fast lines as well as break down ballad standards like Charlie Parker. Her time with drummer Krupa, especially, developed her rhythmic and melodic improvising abilities to the point where she was bored with these bands and struck out to sing with small groups who could keep up with her.

Unlike many jazz singers, she found more success with jazz audiences than popular music fans, releasing almost 20 records for Verve in the 50’s & 60’s that established Anita as one of the most talented singers of the day. Sadly, Anita O’Day wouldn’t be scared away from another jazz staple, heroin addiction. Amazingly, after 15 years she managed to kick and had a successful comeback, mostly appearing in Japan. At age 86, Anita recorded one last album, appropriately titled Indestructable, and was earning a new audience rightfully impressed by the amazing stories of her life.

Now, the documentary finished just before her death – Anita O’Day: Life of a Jazz Singer – is out on DVD. I caught this film in the theater last Spring with a very small crowd, and I hope more people will see this movie and get a better idea of the amazing talents of this often overlooked jazz superstar. For me, this is how jazz movies should be made – it focuses on her developing skills as a singer, her love of jazz rhythms and improvisation, and her personality – surely one of the most interesting characters in a world full of them.

I just watched the DVD again this week and I’ll probably buy my own copy soon, and I highly recommend it to all fans of jazz, singers, and musicians of all stripes. Terry Gross’ interview with Anita from 1987 can be heard here:


and here’s the documentary trailer:

Michael Jackson covered by Brazilian star Caetano Veloso

Well, everyone else is doing it, so I’ll put in my 2 cents on The King of Pop. I wasn’t a fan growing up. My sister had a copy of Thriller and played it over and over and over and after a few months, even through my door & her door and another wall between, those songs were permanently stuck in my head. Looking back, Michael Jackson wrote some great songs and those three albums produced by Quincy Jones – Off the Wall, Thriller, Bad – loom large in the American Pop canon.

The other day, a friend and I were trying to think of people who have covered Michael Jackson songs. They’re few and far between in my mind, but a few days later I was sent this link of Brazilian pop superstar Caetano Veloso’s version of “Billie Jean” and I was blown away. With a Brazilian intro & a Beatles coda, this version strips MJ’s version down to the sweet melody and reveals a beauty I hadn’t heard before.

Rest in peace, Michael Jackson. Thank you, Caetano Veloso.

~abe beeson

Portland Jazz Festival Escape – 2009 Review

Our 5th Annual trip to the Portland Jazz Festival – the KPLU Portland Jazz Festival Escape – was a big success. KPLU’s Promotions Director Brenda Goldstein and myself made the trip on the Amtrak Cascades with more than 70 KPLU listeners and had a wonderful time. Before I go into the details – if you haven’t taken the Escape with us before, do it!

The train to Portland featured a kindly Russian immigrant who kept us laughing with his intercom reminders about everything from Amtrak etiquette (don’t jump off the train when it’s moving) to important legal requirements (you can drink wine, you can bring wine, but you can’t drink the wine you bring – much funnier with a Russian accent).

We had a terrific time talking with listeners at our pre-dinner reception atop the Hilton in Portland – what a view! I’m always happy to see familiar faces, about half of our travelers seemed to be return visitors, and thrilled to see such a wide variety of KPLU’s listenership in attendance. It’s not just about Seattle or Tacoma or the Major Donors when we “Take the Abe Train.” Many of the listeners were from Canada or Bellingham or Olympia and even one fan from Colorado – and ranging in age from 20’s to 70’s. Most aren’t what we might term “jazz geeks”, they’re just along for a good time, some great jazz, great company and tax-free shopping in beautiful Portland.

The first show was, I think, the highlight of the first weekend. Dianne Reeves sang with her trio and the Oregon Symphony. What I feared would be schmaltzy was swinging and super cool. Dianne is one of the top 2 or 3 singers in jazz today and she’s on top of her game (catch her at the upcoming Bellevue Jazz Festival in May!). She even SANG some band introductions and scatted her way elegantly off stage, without microphone, after her encore. Her love of Sarah Vaughan was in full effect and kept all of us in a romantic Valentine’s Day mood.

A couple listeners chose to get tickets to see guitarist John Scofield’s show later that night and their reviews were expectedly positive. He’s a groovy guy and easily likeable, playing in a trio with Matt Penman on bass and Bill Stewart drumming. They were joined on a few songs by saxophonist Joe Lovano, who played several times over the weekend. A handful of listeners chose the free show at the Art Bar featuring legendary pianist Dave Frishberg in a trio that didn’t feature his iconic vocals, to more positive reviews.

Sunday had us gathered back at the lovely Arlene Schnitzer Auditorium for a pair of shows. We saw the amazingly talented clarinet and sax player Don Byron with his Ivey Divey Trio – piano & drums – and while some songs were a bit on the avant garde side of jazz, his humor and pure chops had us all impressed.

After a short intermission, headlining pianist McCoy Tyner brought a quartet to the stage, including the sax great Joe Lovano plus bass & drums. There were some technical difficulties – the piano seemed too quiet and Lovano’s sax mic didn’t even seem to be working for the first 3 or 4 songs – but because of our great seats we could at least hear what was happening on stage. Unfortunately, Tyner’s drummer couldn’t hold a candle to the other drummers we’d seen. He seemed to think volume made up for lack of talent – too loud, man! I’d have hated to be his parents while he was learning drums as a kid. Eventually, the sound improved and we were treated to some outstanding playing, including Tyner’s piano quoting from a pair of Coltrane classics in the encore song.

Listeners had a wide range of options if they wanted to catch more jazz Sunday night. Many from our crown caught Portland drummer Ron Steen’s jam at Clyde’s Steak House, where a number of local and touring musicians stopped in to play – review: great jazz by some “new” faces in a great atmosphere. Others went to see guitarist Lionel Loueke’s show in the Hilton Ballroom. The overwhelming response from our gang was that the opening singer, Joe Lovano’s wife Judy Silvano, was hard to listen to – some of the audience walked out! – but that Loueke’s set was beautiful, if not strictly jazz. Finally, a few from our crew joined the youth crowd at the Greyboy All-Stars show that night at the amazing Crystal Ballroom. The dance floor is built on tires, making for a perfect spot to hear this modern soul-jazz group.

The weather was great for Portland in February, just a touch of rain Sunday morning with partly sunny skies and around 50 degrees the rest of our stay. The Hilton in Portland was a great hotel, the train was terrific, and the listeners priceless. I had so many conversations with people so obviously enamoured with what we do at KPLU, it gives me renewed energy to keep bringing great radio to all of our listeners around the Northwest and the world. It’s a wonderful opportunity to connect face to face with so many KPLU listeners and hear about their compliments and concerns, building a closer relationship with people who consider our station a vital part of their lives.

For the final weekend of the festival (www.pdxjazz.com) singer Cassandra Wilson’s show was canceled, but stellar musicians like pianist/singer Patricia Barber, pianist Aaron Parks, saxophonist Lou Donaldson, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, guitarist Pat Martino and singer Kurt Elling – doing a Coltrane/Hartman tribute with Ernie Watts! – close out this year’s festivities in fine style.

The Portland Jazz Festival almost didn’t happen this year, Alaska Airlines stepped in with critical sponsorship support at the last minute, so I’m hopeful they keep it going so we can be there again next year!

Your purser & baggage handler,

Abe Beeson (KPLU Evening Jazz/Jazz 24 host)


Dianne Reeves' latest album When You Know
Listeners from B.C. Jane Whiteley & Hugh Jones on the Jazz Train
Listeners from B.C. Jane Whiteley & Hugh Jones on the Jazz Train
(L to R) Jeff & Gretchen Coulter, Kevin Nielsen & Cathy McDonald talking jazz in Portland
(L to R) Jeff and Gretchen Coulter, Kevin Nielsen and Cathy McDonald - talking jazz in Portland

Thelonious Monk’s Advice to Musicians

A friend recently sent me this document claiming it to be written by Thelonious Monk, but it’s actually written by saxophonist Steve Lacy. These are notes he took from his time playing with Monk in 1960, and Steve uses these notes extensively in his introduction to the book Thelonious Monk: His Life and Music. I find it an inexhaustible fountain of wisdom. This was posted around the beginning of the year at www.1heckofaguy.com. I’ve also added a cool youtube video of Monk playing “‘Round Midnight”. Enjoy!monks-advice2