As Grace Kelly defiantly reminds us on The Other One, a standout number from her upcoming album Trying To Figure It Out, she’s not looking to be like anyone else. “Got my own thing,” she sings over the song’s urban, trancelike groove. Although the singer and saxophone player has been acclaimed by critics and audiences alike as a jazz musician, the track’s exhilarating chorus, haunting keyboard hook and brittle electro edge show an artist interested only in playing what she loves labels be damned.
The Wellesley, Massachusetts born artist, 23, is a seven-time winner of the Downbeat critics poll (as a rising star in the alto sax category). She recorded her first album, Dreaming, when she was 12. At 14, she received the first of her ASCAP Foundation awards for her composition Every Road I Walked and was invited to perform with the Boston Pops. For the occasion, she wrote her first full orchestral arrangement, adapting the award winning piece. In 2009, Kelly guested with the Jazz at Lincoln Centre Orchestra as part of the events surrounding Barack Obama’s inauguration celebration at the request of the ensemble’s director, Wynton Marsalis.
In Dec 2015 Jon Batiste snagged Grace as a regular on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s band, Stay Human, playing multiple reeds and singing.
Among Kelly’s critically acclaimed releases are collaborations with jazz legends Lee Konitz (GRACEfulLEE, 2008) and Phil Woods (The Man With the Hat, 2011). The disc with Konitz ended up in Downbeat’s Best Albums of the 2000s issue.
A graduate from the Berklee College of Music in 2011, with a degree in professional music, Kelly has taught residency workshops there since 2012. That year also brought another important opportunity to pass on her musical knowledge: the U.S. State Department sent her on an international speakers tour to be an ambassador of jazz and educate the people of Madagascar and the Comoros Islands about the music.
Trying To Figure It Out, due in February 2016, is Kelly’s eighth studio disc. Expanding on her longstanding interest in genre-bending, while maintaining a jazz foundation, the album finds her once again following a restless artistic spirit. In her words, the new work explores “the world of jazz and beyond.” Fittingly, the album’s musical setting shifts from acoustic, conventional jazz (as typified by her touching version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a live favourite) to a genre-bending approach, with more contemporary production values.
Maintaining a busy tour schedule with her group, Kelly has drawn critical praise and new fans every year with headlining over 700 shows in 30 coutries at all major jazz festivals, from Montreux to Newport to Montreal. Awards continue to come.
But Kelly says she has never lost sight of a larger picture. “I think everybody comes to life with a calling,” Kelly says. “I’ve been super blessed that my calling in life has been music and that I found it from an early age. But what I really hope my music brings to people is healing. There’s nothing that makes me feel better than when somebody, after a show, says `You lifted me up.’”
Is it the main reason she plays? Her response comes without hesitation: “It’s the only reason.”