"Sexy," "sensual," and "seductive" are words being tossed around a lot in jazz these days, in praise of a number of comely female vocalists who must not be my type. In jazz criticism two full generations of musicians and styles are commonly referred to as "postbop," meaning subsequent to Charlie Parker's and Dizzy Gillespie's innovations of the late 1940s. Diana Krall, a perennial Grammy nominee and two-time winner, for her albums When I Look in Your Eyes (1999) and Live in Paris (2002), is the first jazz star who could be described as post-feminist. Until very recently a female singer's physical attributes were something a male journalist would pretend not to notice, for fear of appearing unenlightened. But that was before a popular culture cynically geared to adolescent males and their hair-trigger libidos wore down the resistance of adults, and before Sex and the City reglorified the girly girl. Reading about Krall, you'd think it was kowtowing to outdated political correctness not to gush about her "full and sensuous lips," "beautiful skin and straight blond hair," and "endless legs."
Musically, Krall's appeal is as a throwback. The Great American Songbook codified by Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald as a sensible adult alternative to rock-and-roll in the 1950s skews old today. So does jazz. Over forty herself now, Krall hasn't lured college-age audiences to jazz (she's often said to resemble the actress Kim Basinger, whose last significant role was in 8 Mile, as Eminem's mother). But riding the momentum created by Linda Ronstadt's LPs of standards with the arranger Nelson Riddle in the early 1980s; MTV's embrace of Tony Bennett a decade later; the tears for Sinatra following his death, in 1998; the graying of the Baby Boom; and somehow even the ubiquity of Starbucks, Krall has done as much as anyone to renegotiate "old" into chic, sophisticated, sexy.