Not to be confused with the famous Philadelphia-born actress who became Princess Grace of Monaco and died in 1982, the Grace Kelly profiled in this bio is a straight-ahead jazz saxophonist/singer who had several albums in her catalog before she was 17. The precocious New England native has made the alto sax her primarily instrument, but she also plays the tenor and soprano saxes -- and Kelly can play clarinet, flute, acoustic piano, and drums, as well. At times, Kelly will put down her saxophone and sing, although she is an instrumentalist first and foremost. Kelly has included original compositions in her repertoire along with jazz and Tin Pan Alley standards, but unlike a lot of straight-ahead jazz artists, she does not shy away from rock or R&B songs. Kelly has recorded her share of Beatles classics, and she has also provided jazz interpretations of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours." Charlie Parker, Jackie McLean, Phil Woods, Sonny Stitt, and Cannonball Adderley are among the saxophonist/singer's prominent influences on alto, whereas on tenor and soprano, one hears elements of Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, and Stan Getz in her playing. In fact, Kelly has been quoted as saying that hearing Getz (who her mother listened to frequently at home) was the thing that inspired her to take up the sax when she was a child.
The Asian-American improviser didn't always have the same name as the legendary actress; she was born Grace Chung in Wellesley, MA on May 15, 1992. Her biological parents are both Korean, but she ended up with an Irish last name after her mother remarried and she was legally adopted by her stepfather Robert Kelly. Her mother, Irene Chung Kelly, did a lot to encourage her interest in music; she began studying classical piano at the age of six and wrote a song titled "On My Way Home" when she was seven. Kelly studied the clarinet when she was in the fourth grade, but she switched to the saxophone -- and even though she was classically trained, jazz became her primary focus. Kelly went on to study jazz at the New England Conservatory Prep School and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and one of her most famous teachers was veteran alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. She crossed paths with other major-league altoists as well, sitting in with Phil Woods and the late Frank Morgan when they played in New England. A music teacher who can take some of the credit for Kelly's early start as a recording artist is Ken Berman, who encouraged her to record an album when she hadn't quite reached adolescence; Kelly was 12 when she recorded her first album, Dreaming, and released it on her own label, Pazz Productions. Kelly's subsequent Pazz releases included Times Too (a two-CD set) in 2005, Every Road I Walked in 2006, Graceful-Lee (a date she co-led with Konitz) in 2008, and Mood Changes in 2009. Kelly turned 17 on May 15, 2009. ~ Alex Henderson