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, trance-like 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.
While a current Kelly concert might delight jazz purists with Great American Songbook standards, it could just as easily inspire mainstream listeners with Gracei-fied takes on the likes of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, Coldplay’s Magic or Sia’s Chandelier.
But whatever the style, the 23-year-old seven-time winner of the Downbeat critics poll (as a rising star in the alto sax category) spices up the sound with the lyrical and soulful phrasing of her instrument. Kelly, who 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 - remains as committed to superior playing as ever.
For Kelly, evolution is part of the jazz artist’s credo.
"I'm a very strong believer that jazz is about improvisation and about creating and spontaneity," Kelly once said in an interview. "That's what really drew me to it, but I think there's plenty of music that can fuse elements of jazz with its own type of sound whether it's rock or pop. I'm not into 'No, this isn't jazz.' I like everything that's good and I encourage people to think that way."
Kelly says she has been well served by applying those same jazz concepts to the personal demands of everyday life. “I really take the concept of improvisation and spontaneity in the music, and I live it,” she said.
That personal readiness for anything accounts, in part, for the open-spirited nature of her art. “I try to say yes as much as possible,” Kelly says. “If you have a closed idea of what you want in your head, and it’s only going to go this way from - A to B to C - you miss a lot of other things that could be popping up. And because you have such a small mind frame, you won’t be able to see those great opportunities.”
Drawn to jazz by melodic players like Stan Getz and Paul Desmond, Kelly also found in the music a freedom to express herself that she had not found in her classical piano lessons. Née Grace Chung in Wellesley, Mass., in 1992, Kelly started taking clarinet lessons in Grade 4 but quickly switched to alto sax at the age of 10. She was soon transcribing Miles Davis pieces.