What am I to do about
All my longtime jazz-loving friends are always telling me what an arbitrary cuss I am when I offer up opinions about this or that new artist; maybe they're right.
The curse of being arbitrary is that, sometimes, it boils down to the old Latin dictum: "de gustibus non est disputandum," that is, "concerning taste there can be no argument." I can't explain why I love any food one can make of a tomato -- juice, sauce, chili, soup -- but still hate tomatoes, any better than I can explain why Thelonious Monk's dissonant experimentations with implied quarter-tones pleases my ear more than the very traditional harmonies of Lawrence Welk.
The virtue of being arbitrary, I suppose, is that my pals who agree with enough of my offerings, and the reasons therefor, are ready to throw down the gauntlet whenever a promising new artist pops up as we sit in late-night living rooms over glasses of wine for a listening party. A wonderful discussion ensues and we either agree or disagree based on that same Latin wisdom.
But none of that explains my reaction to Diana Krall when she emerged back in 1993. My ever-canny jazz buddy, Rick, was certain I'd love "Steppin' Out" on the Justin Time label, knowing my affinity for breathy sex and sweat in the voice of a female singer of ballads.
But something was wrong. I couldn't get next to it, and Rick has tried over the past nine years to bring me into the fold.
I don't know what it was that put me off so. Pedestrian prejudice, most likely. I have a natural suspicion of the "next new thing," and Krall certainly fit that jumpsuit. Add to that my absolute contempt for the "smooth jazz" genre, into which she seemed to slot quite nicely, and I broke an ancient rule of mine to remain open-eared, open-minded, open-hearted. To me, she was "Rosemary Clooney Lite."
So this is my apology to Krall, Rick and her legions of fans around the world who heard something in her music that I missed, and kept missing, for a very long time.
I ignored her considerable talents as a pianist, her obvious intelligence in choice of material and the cream, the absolute cream, of her voice. Therein lay my biggest mistake. There were none of the touchstones I listen for in a female vocalist: nothing of the grit of Dinah Washington, nothing of Ella Fitzgerald's girlish, ever-young voice, nothing of Sarah Vaughan's sass, or Anita O'Day's hip-chick night out with the guys.
Another of my big mistakes was in not recognizing that all these absences added up to a personal style that is Krall's own, and right now I'm prepared to eat a whole lot of crow when I next get to one of those listening parties with old friends.
So, Ms. Krall, if you're reading, I owe you a mea-culpa martini. And keep that cream coming.
For the rest of my friends out there in jazz land, there is no need for me to list her recordings. Most of you own them already. Play them late at night with the candles burning and your sweetheart by your side.
Diana Krall, my Canadian neighbor, fills my romanticist's cup.