Diana Krall and Morgan James, or Morgan James and Diana Krall each brought a one night only jazz performance to the Bay Area recently with each of the pretty blond artists a force in her own right. Each brought her own solo style and stage presence, from a unique tribute to Nina Simone by the young Modesto native who graduated from Julliard to the funny ragtime gal from a small town in Canada who grew up on Duke Ellington, a grammy winner who has seven year old twin boys with Elvis Costello.
James is an urban force, a spit-fire who teases and talks rough and soulful, one rapid-fire song after another. Jazz trumpeter Chris Botti should perform with her especially on 'Call My Name', performed in the video here. Meanwhile Krall seems well-seasoned as she chats amiably, plays and soothes, a gentle soul who jokes about having a mini-bar inside her old upright piano. One feels a touch of Ricky Lee Jones from each woman.
Morgan James as the white women
Morgan James played the elegant and very San Francisco Venetian Room at the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, an intimate venue considering the lofty location. While the formal marble-stair cased and gilded locale suits the sedate with its elegance, Morgan James is one sultry yet funky young soul sister. James puts a spell on you and from the get go with her commanding presence. Indeed, she played the white women on Broadway in ‘Motown the Musical’ and she delivers pitch perfect. She’s polished and clarion and sleek, she's fine crystal. She’s been singing her whole life and she’s come into her own. If you ever get the chance to see her this far from Broadway, jump!
Yet Morgan James--delicate and breakable would not be words in the same paragraph. She’s takes on ‘Hunter’, a happily dominating love song written by her guitarist Doug Wamble. She notes she can get away with it better than he can. Nobody in the jazz ensemble tried to upstage her and they seemed to enjoy just playing with her, from the well-seasoned saxophone to the hot young piano. All the more captivating given her petite figure. It's quality not quantity I always say.
Gorgeous and in perfect shape, James stands under five feet. She looks like a lithe hundred pounds in her slinky backless dress. She’s the size of Kristin Chenoweth who also trained classically (opera) but with a mezzo speaking voice, that of a mature woman who’s been around. She can sing pillow-talk, humming and breathy. Her intimate songs hum, she's mesmerizing a cappella or would be. Yet she turns up the volume and it’s as if she spent some time in New Orleans or St. Louis and singing from the French Quarter of her soul. Yet, James doesn’t like labels though as labels feel restrictive. James just wants to sing good music, just as she says Nina Simone did.
James stood front and center for the show with no intermission, not even leaving for the kitchen door exit before the encore. The energy of Morgan James feels phenomenal, the woman could run marathons with her vocal cords. She projects and enunciates, the audience can understand what she’s saying. Her high notes ring, she’s clear and resonant time after time. She not only sang of pain and disappointment ala Billie Holiday, but also from a place of outrage ala Tina Turner. James sang a song full of rebellion and anger and indignity and contempt. It was written by the sister of Tina Turner for Ike and Tina, calling out her man as ‘Funkier than a mosquita’s tweeter’.
Tickets to Bay Area Cabaret were $48 in general.
Laurel Court restaurant at the Fairmont offers a special buffet with parking for $40 a person. The One California bus stops at the corner, coming from Embarcadero Center through Chinatown and going on to the Fillmore after Nob Hill. The hearty may walk up the steep hill from Powell Street BART or take the California Street cable car.
Krall a wife, mother and producer
The sisterhood continues with Diana Krall, a baby-faced touring veteran with seven year old twin boys and husband Elvis Costello at home. She’s moved into management, producing the latest album of Barbra Streisand and working on one of Paul McCartney’s.
Krall still looks tall, blond and beautiful with loose shoulder length hair falling on the shoulders of her formal, tuxedo-like black jacket and lean black pants. Black shirt, big hoop earrings. No lingerie as on the cover of her latest CD. She’s on her ‘Glad Rag Doll Tour’, Krall playing the gorgeous art deco Fox Theater before heading to Davis, then Portland and ending the tour in Seattle before heading to Dubai and then a cruise from Monte Carlo to Barcelona.
The Fox stands near the renovated part of downtown Oakland on Saturday night and Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café makes a fabulous retro diner experience to go with the Fox Theater. Rudy's serves breakfast all the time, the French toast with almonds is soft, moist and crisp and divine. My date Mark said the club sandwich is made the way it should be and he liked the sweet potato fries which Rudy's piled high. Mark joked with the waiter Cameron that everything was good except the service. ;) The place features Blue Plate Specials, a different one each night including meatloaf and spaghetti with meatballs.
The renovated and historic section of downtown Oakland and the renovated and restored Fox was the perfect venue to stage Krall's tongue-in-cheek glad ragtime show. A male ensemble backed her while comedic silent film clips ran on loops, including a stripper and gentlemen dropping their jaws that seemed quirky and whimsical if not a tad creepy and eccentric. The looping got a bit repetitive but actually, Krall’s early gigs included playing improv piano during silent films in her small town in Canada when she was sixteen.
The films may have been silent but she grew up listening to Duke Ellington and so seems to be revisiting her childhood on this humorous nostalgia tour. Yet it’s a lively show and she plays what she plays, from a blissful ‘Let it Rain’ to ‘Sunny Side of the Street’.
‘Wide River to Cross’ and ‘Prairie Lullaby’
The girlish Krall remains the precocious center of attention with the pouty sense of humor. She was like that but more wise-cracking fifteen or twenty years ago in Concord at the pavilion. Like James, Krall played with an all-male ensemble and after they left the stage during her request hour, she joked about there where-abouts. Yet ‘Wide River to Cross’, backed by her guitarist, resonated and was probably the most enthralling and beautifully harmonic songs of the evening, something to swoon over. She did mention wanting to respect Bonnie Raitt’s territory but did sing ‘Temptation’ by Tom Waitts.
Krall has gotten chatty and yet remains girlish and small town as she interacts whereas Morgan James has taken on a big city demeanor of a single gal who has been around and has left Modesto in the dust. In contrast James’ childhood music teacher Dee Peterson along with friends and family attended , even with Peterson having a new grandbaby.
Krall says as she discusses her twin boys, songs like ‘Ten Cents a Dance’ can wait.
Krall has gained so much stage presence with a completely relaxed, interactive family-style show. It’s intimate, where everybody sits around the piano and calls out requests. She did remain in control at the Fox, although she took so many requests as a sixteen year old at her Grandma’s house and under the influence of a big Kahlua and milk never got through a song. Krall did suggest to the audience to give her a request that had to do with the moon. ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ would have been a thrill. However, the loving audience seemed to want Krall’s own creations because the originals showed her girlish sense of flirtatiousness and youthful energy.
However. While Krall had to play during her request hour ‘Peel Me a Grape’, she gave the little home-grown ditty she wrote in the kitchen with her sister a jazzy, bluesy feel. She updated it.
The biggest departure and one of the most lovely, soothing experiences during this nuveau-vaudeville act came as one of the encore songs. It’s one of the few things her children like. It was a beautiful lullaby about the sandman coming so put on your cowboy boots, called ‘Prairie Lullaby’. Then she gently bid the audience good night.
The Fox Theater is a block from 19th Street BART and the BART elevator under the Hills Shoe Store sign. Bicyclists beware of theft, inside the station and out--bike seats too. The Fox Theater has a small bike rack out front and security stands under the marquee at showtime.