For Grace Kelly musicality is oceanic, and she dives into it boldly, exploring a multitude of genres. She’s a singer-songwriter with an emotionally dynamic voice whose compositions extend from tenderly playful Americana to smoldering funk. She’s also a masterfully expressive jazz saxophonist who creates a distinct aesthetic reaching from traditional swing to fusion to world music. Over eight albums she’s explored these vast waters with panache, creating a stunning catalog that’s broadly appealing. Her simmering latest, Grace Kelly Live at Scullers (PAZZ Productions), released January 13, vibrantly showcases the fluid creativity of this virtuosic musician.
“As a young artist, I want to move jazz forward and bring in a sound my generation is used to hearing. I want to reach from Charlie Parker, to Earth Wind and Fire, to John Mayer. I want to bring it all into this big bowl and melt it together,” Grace explains.
The Brookline, Massachusetts-based artist has the distinction of being the youngest ever musician voted into the prestigious Downbeat critic’s poll. She began her professional career at 12, and built a formidable reputation going toe to toe with a diverse array of jazz masters. She’s gigged and/or recorded with such legends as Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick Jr., Phil Woods, Esperanza Spalding, and Wynton Marsalis who called her a “first-class jazz musician.” At 14, she had the honor of performing an original composition with The Boston Pops for which she wrote a 40-page score for the whole symphony orchestra. She played such hallowed halls as Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and such esteemed festivals as the Montreal Jazz Festival and Newport Jazz Festival. At 17 she played President Obama’s inauguration celebration at the Kennedy Center. Her astonishing rise to prominence has been documented by CNN, NPR, and Glamour Magazine.
The most astute quote summarizing Grace’s fluid artistry, however, comes from pianist Monty Alexander who has said: "She is not an artist for jazz lovers only, but one for the whole world. She's in her own special category, one that contains joy and sunshine."
Grace was weaned on a blend of pop, classical, jazz, and Broadway soundtracks. At age 6 she started studying classical piano, but found the rigors of the lessons creatively stifling. Instead of practicing her musical assignments, she’d dart around on the keyboard and explore the music inside. She wrote her first song on piano at age 7. When she was 9 she had the opportunity to blow into a horn and delighted in the rich tone she created—six weeks later she was playing live. At this young age she studied with a teacher who encouraged improvisation and she reveled in the freedom of expression, splashing around the dense harmonic chord progressions with joy while she learned the history and vocabulary of jazz.
Now 20, Grace Kelly has matured from a dazzling wunderkind to a unique artist with a refreshingly diverse sensibility that flows organically through the multiple genres she traverses on Grace Kelly Live At Scullers. The album opens with “Please Don’t Box Me In,” a wonderfully musical manifesto that touches on rock, jazz, and fusion. Over the remaining nine songs she authentically explores each facet of her wide musical palette. The jazz chestnut “The Way You Look Tonight” swings with supple elegance. The lilting pop and breezy vocals of “Ready Set Stay” recall Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat. She closes with a powerhouse take on “Summertime,” boldly locking into a muscular funk workout in the outro.
The tracklist mirrors the evening’s setlist, imbuing the album with a vibrant “real time” feel. Of the 10 tracks, 8 are previously unrecorded originals. It’s a brave move to debut new songs in front of a live audience for a recording, but Grace had the home court advantage. Scullers is not only one of Boston’s most respected jazz clubs, it’s also where Grace grew up. “I’ve been going to Scullers since I was 6—there are pictures of me falling asleep there! From the moment I walked onstage the audience was cheering like a stadium, it was a magical night,” she says.
Besides neatly summarizing Grace’s varied musical taste, Grace Kelly Live At Scullers is a poignant reminder that life’s boundaries are only self imposed. “As a kid, I never thought I was going to perform at Scullers—only the highest level of artists passed through those doors,” she says. But by 13 she was gigging there with the likes of David Sanborn, and Steve Tyrell. Setting aside her young age, as a woman—and a woman of Asian descent—this type of career trajectory is a rarity. Grace hopes her example will change that. “Jazz is a male dominated world. I do educational clinics, and I recently got an email from a 13 year-old girl who said that I was inspiration. That’s so encouraging to me to inspire other girls to pursue their passions and dreams. Even if they are out of the box and not be conventional as I did,” she says. As Grace was inspired by Ann Hampton Callaway predictied of Grace "There is no telling how far this child prodigy will go with the limitless possibilities of her voluminous talents.”