Grace Kelly – GRACEfulLEE

Grace KellyGRACEfulLEE
Pazz – 2008

With the tremendous proliferation of jazz education in the past 50 years, we’re used to seeing talented and precocious youngsters in the music. But education alone doesn’t account for a rare talent like Grace Kelly.

She’s accomplished far beyond her 16 years, as an alto saxophonist, songwriter, arranger, jazz composer and singer. Kelly has performed in such far-flung venues as Sculler’s in Cambridge, Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, the Telluride Jazz Festival in Colorado, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho, the Nordlysfestivalen in Tromso, Norway and the Sejong Cultural Center in South Korea.

Grace has shown tremendous aptitude for playing jazz but perhaps more importantly, she’s shown just as much capacity for learning and growth. Alto saxophone legend Lee Konitz, her mentor and frontline partner on GRACEfulLEE, declares her “absolutely egoless. She’s interested in just playing; she’s not trying to impress anybody. That’s very important.”

The Kelly-Konitz collaboration on GRACEfulLEE came about almost by accident. “I originally wanted him to record a couple of tracks for another album,” Grace offers.”It was his idea to set up a session in New York. We wanted another voice so we settled on guitarist Russell Malone. I met Rufus Reid at Birdland and sat in with him.

His sound is so gorgeous; he was our first choice for a bass player. And Matt Wilson is one of my favorite drummers. Everything he does is so musical.” Lee and Grace connect on a fundamental level. “We spend as much time talking and listening as we do playing,” she explains. “He talks a lot about cheesy things in the music and how to avoid them. I love the way Mr. Konitz is able to play at such a fresh level all the time.”

Although the Brookline, Massachusetts resident picked up the clarinet in the fourth grade, she quickly began studying the saxophone privately. “Six weeks into playing,” recalls Grace, “I was playing songs. It was very natural for me.” Despite her young age, Kelly has garnered impressive formal recognition. She won both the 2008 ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composer Award and the ISC International Songwriting Contest for her song “101.” Other recent honors include four Downbeat 2008 Student Music Awards (Jazz Soloist, Jazz Vocalist, Extended Composition (101), and Arrangement for “I Want To Be Happy”) and “Best Jazz Act” In Boston from The 2008 FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll. In 2007, Grace appeared as a special guest artist with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops. Among the selections Grace performed was her award winning composition “Every Road I Walked” which she arranged for the entire Pops orchestra, debuting her first arrangement for an orchestra and strings.

Also that year, Kelly walked off with the Top Woodwind Soloist honor at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival; and amassed an impressive array of awards from Berklee College of Music in the Superior Musicianship Awards of 2007 for jazz instrumentalist, pop/rock/blues instrumentalist, outstanding jazz vocalist and for her original composition “Fast Metabolism (Times Two).” In 2007, she also grabbed the IAJE honors for Best Composition, Best Composition for Small Ensemble,and Best Ensemble Lead Sheet.

The song form is an important ingredient to Kelly’s musical profile. She attended her first Broadway show at the age of two, and like many a schoolgirl, sang at home in front of the mirror. Writing songs has been a part of her musical life, almost as long as she’s been playing. Among Grace’s champions is singer-songwriter Ann Hampton Callaway, who recognized and praised her writing abilities early on.