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When most people turn twenty, they’re usually in college. If they were particularly precocious, maybe they’re already working their first job, trying to pay the rent and their grocery bill. However, some people defy those standards. Take, for example, Brookline-based Grace Kelly, for example, who at the age of twelve kicked off a successful jazz career and released her first CD.
Grace, now 20, has toured in over 30 different countries, received a degree from Berklee School of Music, and performed with a myriad of famous jazz musicians – yet she and her band members, which she refers to as “The Grace Kelly Experiment” had time to drop by the WERS studio for Live Music Week.
Despite the fact that she has accomplished more in the past decade than many musicians will hope to accomplish over their entire lifetime, Grace has not let this affect her attitude. She is still clearly young – she and her band mates even enjoyed watching a Taylor Swift parody video before warm up.
The first song that Kelly and her band played was “Sweet, Sweet Baby”, a composition of hers released as a single under Woodward Avenue Records. This first number featured both Kelly’s soulful voice and a solo on her alto saxophone. Though she has studied other instruments like clarinet and piano, it is her love for playing alto sax that has garnered the attention of legends like Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Phil Woods, Harry Connick, Jr., Jamie Cullum, Dianne Reeve, Ann Hampton Callaway, and more.
Kelly and her band followed this up with “Please Don’t Box Me In”, the opening track for her first live album, Live at Scullers. “Please Don’t Box Me In” is a direct statement; a young artist’s awareness of the confines of her genre, and the desire to experiment outside of them. As the lyrics evolve, so does the song: “Please don’t box me in/ don’t tell me who I am/ Let me tread the waters,/ let me scope the land…/If I don’t act now/ then I know/ I never will.” At this point, Kelly’s mature and rich voice reached a crescendo as she glided up towards a higher octave. After establishing her strong vocals and equally strong message, guitarist Pete McCann plunged into a solo, which then led into Kelly’s own solo on her saxophone. It is clear that she is most comfortable with this instrument in her hands, as she immediately took on a more confident pose, bending and swaying with the saxophone as if it were a part of her.
Her solos were spontaneous and fun, and often times Kelly would join with trumpet player Jason Palmer to reach some impressively high notes with their respective instruments. The playful back and forth between Kelly and her band set the tone for the entire session. At this point, they were making musical excellence look fun and easy.
The third song performed by Grace Kelly and her band was “Eggshells”, also a track from her new live album. “Eggshells” does not feature a saxophone performance, but rather, is very much a pop ballad. “I’ve been enjoying writing a lot of songs and doing a lot of singer/songwriter stuff,” says Kelly, “But the roots are in jazz foundations, and jazz theory and everything like that so, it’s fun making a sound for myself that feels genuine from these different styles.” “Eggshells” stands out from the album with its jazz-funk feeling, showing that this gifted child prodigy turned inspiring young woman has the chops and the inspiration to keep pushing and expanding the limits of her ability.