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Grace Kelly: Free From Boundaries

Doug Hall By

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If you look at all the accomplishments of musical prodigy Grace Kelly, (acclaimed jazz saxophonist, singer, entertainer, songwriter and composer) it doesn't immediately register that that she is just 25 years old. With a resume that includes a CD release (Dreaming in 2005) at 12, a special guest artist performance with Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops 2007 Jazz Series at 14, and at 15 an invitation by Wynton Marsalis, in 2008, to play with Dave Brubeck for the "Let Freedom Swing/Celebration of America" concert as part of the inaugural festivities for President Obama—you begin to say more than "Wow!," and it doesn't end there. Currently having released her 10th CD Trying to Figure it Out (2016), which was voted #2 Jazz Album of The Year in the 2016 Downbeat Magazine Reader's Poll, Ms. Kelly went on to receive the award for "Jazz Artist of the Year" at the 2016 Boston Music Awards, and won the 2016, 64th Annual Downbeat critics poll for "Rising Star Alto Saxophone."

At an age when most jazz musicians are still trying to get their first breakthrough on stage, Ms. Kelly has performed over 800 concerts, in over 30 countries, most recently in Russia, this past December, with the Moscow Symphony Orchestra and then joining virtuoso saxophonist and jazz band leader Igor Butman for a special performance at his jazz club. Just in her early twenties, she has already performed, recorded and collaborated with: Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Frank Morgan, Harry Connick, Jr., Questlove, Diane Reeves, Esperanza Spalding, Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Danilo Pérez, Ron Carter and David Sanborn—and this is just a partial list.

But what is truly most remarkable and impressive about Ms. Kelly is beyond her stellar youthful accomplishments as a musician, the accolades, the awards and established talent. It is her—on stage or in person—a unique combination of passionate energy and infectious enthusiasm, all directed towards a driving desire to connect with her audience, sharing and expressing herself through her saxophone or voice—a calling, in her own words, "to be a healer through music, and uplift people."

In addition to the natural gift of spirited and electric charisma on-stage, Grace Kelly's musical path follows a family heritage, from her grandmother, a classically trained pianist, to her mother Irene Kelly, who studied classical piano for 12 years. Kelly's grandparents took the unusual chance to move from South Korea to the US to enroll Kelly's aunt (Irene's sister) in the renown Juilliard School in New York City. With a tradition of strong classical music following from her mother's family, Kelly would begin piano lessons at six. Her mother Irene re-married Robert Kelly in 1997 and re-located to Brookline, MA. and the sound of music was never very far away. Kelly recalls listening to classical music recordings, Broadway scores and jazz—played regularly in her home, "it was an important part in my subconscious."

With the nurturing support of a Brookline Elementary School music teacher, jazz pianist Ken Berman, who as Kelly's mother Irene reflected, "saw Grace had this special talent," she was guided and her gift encouraged. Selected to be on stage in a local Brookline school performance event, normally reserved for 7th and 8th graders, at 8 years old, and still only in 2nd grade, Kelly delivered a voice and presence way beyond her age. Her mother was caught off-guard when Berman told her, "you need to start recording this." Mr. Berman then directed Kelly's parents to a recording studio (PBS Studio, in Westwood, Ma.), providing introductions to other musicians (including renown jazz bassist John Lockwood) to record some of the songs their daughter was writing. This gave birth to Grace Kelly's first CD, Dreaming (2005). "The CD release took place... when I was 12," Kelly recalls, "and as soon as I walked on stage, I realized that performing was my favorite thing to do."


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