"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 has continued to garner accolades from artists she revered, performing and recording with the likes of Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Phil Woods, Boston Pops, Harry Connick Jr., James Cotton, Huey Lewis, J. Geils, James Montgomery, Jamie Cullum, Frank Morgan, Esperanza Spalding, Toots Thielemans, Hank Jones, and Terri Lynn Carrington among others. "I gave her my hat, that's how good she sounded," Phil Woods enthused. "She's the first alto player to get one."
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. In Dec 2015 Jon Batiste snagged Grace as a regular on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert’s band, Stay Human, playing multiple reeds and singing.
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.