“Every day you walked in and looked at pictures of Frank Sinatra, Nat“King” Cole and John Coltrane on the wall, and immediately got reduced to the size of a pea,” laughed a self-effacing Diana Krall in 2001. The Canadian singer was talking to this writer about her visits to the hallowed ground that was Hollywood’s legendary Capitol Studios in March and June of that year, which yielded her sixth album, The Look Of Love. Certainly to some, the studio’s sense of history could be daunting, perhaps, but according to veteran recording engineer Al Schmitt, who worked on The Look Of Love, Krall was inspired rather than intimidated by the photographs on Capitol’s walls. “She told me they made her bring her game up another notch,” the 87-year-old multi-Grammy winner recalls today.
Released by Verve on 18 September 2001, The Look Of Love – a sumptuous collection of languorous, string-laden ballads and sultry bossa novas – found Krall, then 36, reuniting with Grammy-winning veteran producer, the late Tommy LiPuma, who had worked with the singer since 1995 and helmed her previous three LPs. “We have six years of trust and are at the point where we can say anything to each other,” recalled Krall in 2001, describing her symbiotic relationship with LiPuma, whose numerous credits included George Benson, Al Jarreau, Randy Crawford, Barbra Streisand and Paul McCartney. “I can say anything to him and he can say anything to me. We respect each other. It’s probably the best working relationship I’ve ever had.”
Joining LiPuma and Krall was the producer’s trusted sidekick, Al Schmitt, renowned for his attention to sonic detail. “They’re this great team,” enthused Krall, “and they see you stripped down – not in the literal sense, but they really see you vulnerable and exposed and frustrated and joyous. Making music with them is a very intimate process.”
Explaining how The Look Of Love took shape, Krall said, “I had a concept and then I sat down with Tommy and we made a list of about 25 tunes. Then we went and recorded them with just piano and voice and worked out which ones should be attempted and which ones should be saved for later. Then it was a process of recording 17 tunes and then whittling them down to 10 for the album.”
“We recorded all the rhythm tracks in Studio A at Capitol Studios in Hollywood,” recalls Al Schmitt. “It’s one of my favourite rooms and it became like our living room, it was so comfortable to be there. Diana loved it and she got to use Frank Sinatra’s microphone, the one that he used on most of his songs that were recorded at Capitol, so there was a wonderful feeling of the spirits there that linger in the room, and it made everybody just bring their game up a little bit.”
In terms of its material, the album mostly comprised standards from the Great American Songbook, though the record’s centerpiece, and title track, was the youngest tune, having been written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David in the mid-60s. Krall transforms it into a sensuous boss nova, whose mood is enhanced by the presence of a large string orchestra arranged and conducted by the redoubtable German arranger, the late Claus Ogerman, whose numerous credits ranged from Bill Evans and Stan Getz to George Benson and Frank Sinatra.
“Claus was my all-time favourite arranger,” says Al Schmitt. “He’s the arrangers’ arranger and one of the best ever. Any time you would talk to another arranger, they would say Claus was the guy.” The string sessions – with the arranger conducting – took place at Abbey Road studios in London. “We did them with the London Symphony Orchestra,” said Krall. “It’s such a brilliant orchestra. It was amazing because they were so into it. It was just a joy.”
Producer Tommy LiPuma and engineer Al Schmitt had been working as a team since the late 70s, but knew each other before that. Schmitt recalls, “Tommy and I met in 1962 when I was his staff producer at RCA and he was a song plugger. He had 100 per cent faith and trust in me in the control room getting the sounds right. He rarely was in the control booth and stayed out in the studio with the musicians because if he heard something he didn’t like or wanted to change, he could immediately respond to it.”
According to Al Schmitt, LiPuma’s main strength was putting everyone he worked with, including Diana Krall, at ease. “He made everybody feel so comfortable,” he says. “I never saw Tommy get angry in the studio. He always could work out a situation without any kind of hassle if things were hectic or there were some wrong things going on. He made things easy. His sessions went smoothly so there was never any pressure to get things done at a certain time.”
The veteran recording engineer, who’s still in-demand and working, first collaborated with Diana Krall in 1995 and saw, with each project they worked on, how she blossomed as a musician. “She just got better with every album,” he states. “It was wonderful to watch. Every time she was in the studio, she learned something… Right now, she’s at the top of her game. Her  album, Turn Up The Quiet, the last album that Tommy and I worked on together, which was also recorded at Capitol, is just a stunning record.”
Recalling the mixing sessions at Capitol, Diana Krall said, “The control booth was like in the Sinatra days. A bunch of people were there: [jazz pianist] Horace Silver, Michael Feinstein; the Bergmans [noted husband-and-wife songwriting team, Alan and Marilyn] also showed up.”
The Look Of Love proved a total artistic and commercial triumph. It went Platinum in the US, Canada, Australia, France and New Zealand, and immediately transformed Krall into a jazz superstar with sold-out concerts all over the world. Al Schmitt reaped a Grammy award for his work on the album. “It felt good,” says the engineer, who to date has won a staggering 23 Grammys. “When you win something that’s for a labour of love and is dear to your heart, it’s always nice.”
Sixteen years down the line, The Look Of Love remains a musical touchstone in Diana Krall’s career, and arguably represents the pinnacle of her creative collaboration with Tommy LiPuma, who died on 18 March 2017, aged 80. “He’s like another artist,” said Diana Krall, summing up the producer’s unique attributes in 2001. “He’s so into the music, and that’s his first and foremost priority, to the point where it’s like, ‘Do the music first and we’ll market it after.’ He’s very intense and has a very emotional sense of things. I’m so lucky I met him. Somebody else might not have allowed me to do a record like this.”
The Diana Krall and Tony Bennett duets album, Love Is Here To Stay, is out now and can be bought here.
Follow the Diana Krall: Best Of playlist for more classic Diana Krall songs.