Amazing Things Art Center Inc. truly lived up to its name when it brought 13-year-old singer-songwriter-saxophonist Grace Kelly to the stage the night of Saturday, June 18.
This pixie-sized prodigy wowed her audience at the Dr. Joseph A. Keefe Performing Arts Center in Natick with a stellar collection of jazz and jazz-pop crossover tunes, backed by renowned jazz artists Yoron Israel, John Lockwood, Doug Johnson and Jeremy Udden. Her debut CD Dreaming, which she is currently promoting, also features many of these musicians.
Kelly's smooth, mature tone as a saxophonist and soulful, versatile voice belie her age, but this is no prima donna; she charmed her fans with equal parts talent and warm adorability. "Make sure to go to www.gracekellymusic.com, she stage-whispered conspiratorially when talking about her web site, "because if you go to www.gracekelly.com, you know who you'll get ... you'll get the other one. Kelly may have an already-famous name, but she's determined to make her own mark.
The show started off with instrumental jazz classics "Isfahan by Ellington collaborator Billy Strayhorn and Jerome Kern's "All the Things You Are. After establishing her ease in the realm of jazz standards, Kelly's own songs took the stage with her CD's cover song "Dreaming and "On My Way Home (also on the CD), both in a genre the young composer dubbed "pazz, i.e. the intersection of pop and jazz. Kelly liked this concept so much that she invented the name Pazz Productions for the homemade record label producing her CD. Listening to these two songs and other original pieces she performed, it's easy to see why Kelly's unique style defies categorization: the catchy "hooks and conversational lyrics give her songs a pop feel, but her jazz roots lend her melodies a certain depth difficult to find in boy bands and Britney Spears. Internationally eminent saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi hit the nail on the head when he described Kelly as possessing "a lyricism and a sensitivity that's refreshing in today's pyrotechnical world.
Kelly continued on her musical trek with more mostly jazz tunesher rendition of "'Round Midnight by the great Thelonius Monk both haunted and soothed rapt listeners, and her saxophone playing imbued the Latin rhythms of Nacio Brown's "You Stepped Out of a Dream" with unbeatable richness. Kelly's vocal gems included a super-swingin' version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right by Nat King Cole as well as a surprisingly slow, sultry take on the Beatles' "Can't Buy Me Love a song with a twist which Kelly includes in her "pazz repertoire. Further proof that this up-and-comer is revising the rules of jazz as we know it was found in her musical marriage of Berlin's "Blue Skies and Monk's "In Walked Bud, adding a fresh face to an old warhorse, complete with a taste of Kelly's considerable dexterity in scatting.
Still, it is Kelly's genius and flexibility as a songwriter that outshines even her superb (and still developing) musical technique. Ann Hampton Callaway, renowned cabaret artist, prodigious recording artist and award-winning songwriter, declared of Kelly that "when I played some songs of hers for the legendary drummer Victor Lewis [who has played with Duke Ellington, Stan Getz and many others], he said, 'Wow, I love her sound.' Back at the concert, Kelly sat down at the piano (her tertiary instrument) Norah Jones-style for the song "Key to the Missing Door, an original piece she is recording on her second CD, striking the perfect balance between a sentimental story, a lush instrumental arrangement, and a gospel-influenced melody.
It is this fine-tuned sense of fusion and balance, power and subtlety, reverence and originality that will propel Kelly and her contemporaries straight to the forefront of the ever-changing world of music. To quote Ms. Callaway again from Dreaming's liner notes: "There is no telling how far this child prodigy will go with the limitless possibilities of her voluminous talents. Grace is following her heart, and that path is sure to lead her on a great adventure that all listeners, lucky enough to discover her, will relish.
Grace Kelly lives in Brookline, Massachusetts. Her CD Dreaming is available in Brookline at Wild Goose Chase, Brookline Booksmith, Virginia's, Fastframes, Village Food Land; in Boston at Newbury Comics; and online at CDBaby.com. Check out www.gracekellymusic.com for further information.
Amazing Things Art Center Inc. is a charitable and educational organization dedicated to providing a venue for visual and performing artists and nurturing a community of artists, arts supporters and arts appreciators in the MetroWest area of greater Boston. See www.amazingthings.org for further information.