Alto saxophone prodigy shares her voluminous talents
FOLSOM _ “I’ve heard the future of jazz and it is Grace Kelly.” — NPR. Audiences at Harris Center for the Arts will have a chance to hear for themselves as the Grace Kelly Quartet comes to Folsom.
Kelly’s prolific career includes seven albums, four ASCAP Young Jazz Composers Awards and two Boston Music Awards as Jazz Artist of the Year, all while still in her teens. She was named one of the Top 10 college women musicians in 2011 by Glamour Magazine and garnered accolades from jazz luminaries such as Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr. and Phil Woods.
Kelly has been voted Best Jazz Act in Boston four consecutive years in the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll, and then voted Best National Jazz Act in 2012. She has received the ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composers Award in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013 and won Jazz Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards in both 2008 and 2010. The 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 Downbeat Critics Poll added to her the list naming her one of the Alto Saxophone Rising Stars, the youngest artist ever to be named to the music poll.
Musical energy flows from the heart of the young phenom, who was born Grace Chung on May 15, 1992. (She became Grace Kelly after her mother divorced and remarried and her stepfather, Bob Kelly, who legally adopted Grace and her sister Christina.) The strong classical music background of her mother’s family led Grace to begin piano lessons at age 6, and she still does much of her composing at the piano as she sings wordlessly. Singing, dancing, writing songs and theater were also early passions, soon joined by a fascination with the recordings of Stan Getz and other jazz saxophonists that her parents played during Sunday brunches.
She began to study the clarinet at her elementary school in the fourth grade, and began private saxophone lessons a few months later. Further inspiration was provided by Ann Hampton Callaway, who detected “the boundless spirit and imagination of a natural artist” when she met Kelly in 2002. Another early champion, middle school music teacher Ken Berman was so inspired by the pre-teen’s playing and writing that he insisted, “You have to record.” What followed was her first disc, “Dreaming.” “The CD release took place on March 17, 2004, when I was 12,” she recalls, “and as soon as I walked on stage, I realized that performing was my favorite thing to do.”
Since age 12 Grace Kelly has performed more than 500 concerts as a leader all around the world at prominent venues such as the Montreal Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Apollo Theater, Birdland, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival, Dizzy’s Club Cocoa Cola, Tanglewood Jazz Festival, Detroit Jazz Festival, Ronnie Scott’s (London), Porgy & Bess (Vienna), Scullers Jazz Club, Regatta Bar, B.B. King’s Blues Club (New York City), Jazz Bakery (LA), Dakota Jazz Club and in venues as far away as Europe and Asia. She has also released seven full-length albums.
Without hesitation, Kelly will tell you that her goal is “to stay in jazz but also do different things, bigger arrangements, like Stevie Wonder and George Benson.”
Monty Alexander says, “She is not an artist for jazz lovers only but one for the whole world.” Her ambition has yet to outstrip her talent, and Grace manifests only the beginning of the young artist’s quest to continue to reinvent herself. As Ann Hampton Callaway predicts, “There is no telling how far this child prodigy will go with the limitless possibilities of her voluminous talents.”
Grace Kelly Quartet will perform in the City Studio Theater at 7 & 9 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 28 and 7 & 9 p.m. on Saturday, March 1. Tickets are at $29 to $39; students with ID pay $12. Purchase tickets online at harriscenter.net or from Harris Center ticket office at (916) 608-6888 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and two hours before show time. Parking is included in the price of the ticket. Harris Center is located on the west side of Folsom Lake College campus in Folsom, facing East Bidwell Street.