The twilight skies over the aged wood shingled roofs at the Newport Tennis Hall of Fame were looking ominous. The air was damp and flecks of rain started and stopped as we walked into the beautiful Stanford White-designed courtyard with its hanging flowerpots and dark green shutters. It was like traveling back to another era of summery charm and Victorian opulence. The seats had been set up on one of the famed plush grass courts. The sight lines to the center stage were all pretty good. And the sound system this Friday night, the first of the Newport Jazz Festival 2001, was as they say, "close enough for jazz.
Given the fact that drummer Roy Haynes, at 75 is a certifiable jazz legend, and has earned the status of headliner if anyone has, it would seem only right that the relative newcomer, singer/pianist, Diana Krall, should open for him. The promoters, however, saw it differently. Diana Krall is a rising star with a couple of hit CDs and a big following among both jazz and pop fans. She's so gorgeous that people buy her recordings for the cover photos alone. She's a solid box office draw with a wider audience than the innovative Mr. Haynes will ever have. So he opens and she headlines.
Although Haynes's edgy young quartet received a polite welcome, it was clear this crowd was here for the girl singer. Haynes acknowledged the applause and did not say anything about the glamorous headliner. He just got behind his drum kit and played.
Haynes is definitely a drummer's drummer. His phrasing, his time feeling and his overall conception are all totally original. He leaves plenty of gaps for you to fill in; and fills in gaps you didn't even know were there. And none of that originality has waned after all these years. In fact, he is even more energetic and inventive than ever. The trouble seems to be that now Haynes really does want to dazzle you. And so he does. Then he be- dazzles you, and then he re-be-dazzles you. About mid-way into the third tune, I found myself wishing he would just settle into the groove for a few choruses. After a couple of tunes, the applause was still polite but less than overwhelming. Haynes stood up and waved his arms, soliciting a bigger response, which he got. But the fact that he had to "ask for it probably pissed him off.
As the sky continued to threaten rain, Diana Krall came out on the stage looking tall and lanky and run-me-over-gorgeous in a little low-cut black dress that gave new meaning to the word "alluring. One of the things that makes Krall so sexy is that she seems slightly uncomfortable with her imposing stature. She is constantly shifting her weight and sweeping her hair. She sits down at the piano, crosses and uncrosses her legs, flips her blond mane back from her face yet again, and starts to play. Suddenly her angular shoulders drop and she's relaxed and completely comfortable. Her long tapered fingers find the music in the piano keys and draw it out. She's not just a tinkler. She really plays. Big, sensuous left-hand chords. Smart, interesting right-hand figures. She's serious, nothing show-offy.
Her debut CD was a tribute to the great Nat Cole, and like her idol, Krall is as excellent a pianist as she is a singer. After a very up-tempo version of "I Love Being Here With You, she had the crowd in the palm of her hand. Still when she was not playing, she lapsed into the slightly nervous, awkwardly tall girl again. Holding her hair back to one side, looking around the stage distractedly, she told the appreciative crowd that she'd just had her wisdom teeth out two days ago. From a distance at least, there were no signs of puffiness in her face. And the operation did not seem to hinder her way with a lyric in the least. Krall sat back down and gave a relaxed, sexy rendition of "I've Got You Under My Skin that would have made Cole Porter himself stand up and wave his hanky. From the piano bench she took the mike and informed us that her guitarist, Dan Fanly, was absent because he'd been stuck on the tarmac at the Washington, D.C. airport. His absence didn't seem to affect Krall's performance so far, and we got perhaps slightly longer piano solos, which were a treat. She has great technique, interesting phrasing and the girl can swing.
Mid-way through the set, Fanly showed up and the trio became a tight, cohesive quartet. The guitarist turned in some excellent solo work, seemingly unaffected by the travel mishap, and it was clear that he and Krall had a nice rapport. But it was the girl singer they'd come to see and Krall definitely gave them their money's worth.
Towards the end of the set a few over-martini-ed women on our side of the bandstand insisted on standing up and "singing along and clapping while they jiggled their olives to the beat. Krall seemed oblivious. Thankfully, the crowd soon shushed them up. The set ended, and Krall got a well-deserved standing ovation which brought her back for an encorethis time, a solo rendition of an Elton John tune that satisfied both the pop and the jazz fans in the audience. She strode off the stage after taking an awkward bow/curtsey, and two seconds later the rain started and the tennis court cleared out.
Things just seem to fall right into place for this young woman. There's a reason Diana Krall is such a hit, and it's not just good luck. She delivers the music. She may not have the pipes of an Ella, the daring and creativity of a Sarah or a Carmen, or the soul of a Dinah or a Nancy. But she has a reverence for the song and she shares her intimate experience of it with you in a very satisfying way.
This girl probably could have made it on looks, but in the dark studio, nobody sees that you're sexy. The only question is can she sing? And Diana Krall can definitely do that.