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Jazz for a new generation; 22-year-old Grace Kelly hopes to give younger audiences a fresh look.

Byline: Richard Duckett

'An Evening With Grace Kelly' presented by WICN

When: 8 p.m. Sept. 26

Where: Tuckerman Hall, 10 Tuckerman St., Worcester

How much: $30. Reserved tickets available at the Mechanics Hall box office,

The story so far for Grace Kelly has been amazing.

Kelly the jazz prodigy, that is (although the life of the late movie actress and princess of Monaco Grace Kelly had plenty of high notes).

As an alto saxophone phenom, Grace Kelly, 22, has recorded with alto sax icons Lee Konitz and Phil Woods and recorded and/or performed with such figures as Harry Connick, Wynton Marsalis, Huey Lewis and Gloria Estefan. At the age of 14, Kelly orchestrated one of her original compositions and performed it with the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra conducted by Keith Lockhart. By that point, she was a recording veteran, having made her first CD, "Dreaming,'' two years earlier (renowned jazz cabaret singer Ann Hampton Callaway heard it and offered to write the liner notes).

Kelly, who grew up in Brookline, is no stranger to performing in Worcester and will bring her quintet to Tuckerman Hall for a concert at 8 p.m. Sept. 26 for "An Evening with Grace Kelly'' as part of the "Women in Jazz'' series presented by radio station WICN 90.5 FM.

Kelly is touring the country, but as she does so, she is blazing trails in ever newer directions.

"I think jazz is an art form that can be melded and molded. There's so many ways it could go,'' Kelly said during a recent interview.

Kelly has gone to live in Los Angeles, moving last year. Part of the reason for going there was to work with renowned record producer Stewart Levine, and the first fruit of that collaboration is Grace's EP "Working for the Dreamers,'' released earlier this month. The EP introduced what Kelly calls her "atmospheric pop sound.''

There is a working intent behind "Working for the Dreamers.''

"I want to bring my music to people of my generation,'' she said. She is melding and molding musical influences and genres that range from Stan Getz to Sting to Prince to Coldplay to Jessie Ware to Fitz and the Tantrums and beyond.

Kelly wants to "meld it in a way to bring it to people my age and (have them) really embrace it,'' she said. "It's an interesting time. Lady Gaga is doing an album with Tony Bennett. It makes you wonder if jazz is going to be more popular.''

The opening title track of "Working for the Dreamers'' certainly has plenty of atmosphere -- a sort of audio dreamscape with Kelly's smooth vocals but still a jazzy work as it moves comfortably and confidently along.

So besides playing alto saxophone, Kelly does sing, and also plays soprano sax, keyboards, flute, and has a keen ear for producing her sound.

"I love wearing all these hats,'' she said. "Ultimately I believe it makes me unique. What I write is so personal to me.''

For the WICN concert at Tuckerman Hall, she'll play arrangements of classic numbers as well as the new numbers. "It's a very eclectic mix,'' she said of her show, which she performed in Indianapolis and Detroit last week before returning to New England for a couple of gigs.

"It's been going great,'' she said. "I've been very blessed to be very busy.''

Kelly was born Grace Chung to Korean parents; her mother remarried to Robert Kelly, who legally adopted Grace a few years later, changing her name to Grace Kelly. She grew up in a household that encouraged enjoyment and participation in all areas of the arts. By the age of 6 she was acting, singing, dancing and playing the piano. "My mom was very much in love with the performing arts scene. I had it in my blood ever since I was little,'' Kelly said.

Which might help explain why her live performances have been called highly enjoyable as well as musically brilliant. "You don't fear it -- performing to me is the most fun,'' she said. Kelly says she sometimes sees people in the audience at the start of a concert looking droopy and non-communicative with each other. Then the music starts. "All of a sudden it brings them together, absolutely.''

Still, falling for jazz and taking up jazz and the saxophone is not a direction that every young person discovering music follows.

"One of the reasons I was attracted to it was the freedom that improvisation brings,'' she said. She wants to share the joy. "Some people my age just don't realize.''

Kelly attended Brookline High School and went to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston on a full scholarship when she was 16. She graduated with a degree in professional music. Along the way, she was voted "Best Jazz Act'' in Boston four consecutive years and "Best National Jazz Act'' in 2012, among many other accolades.

Callaway had detected "the boundless spirit and imagination of a natural artist.'' Others would soon feel the same way. "American Idol'' judge Harry Connick Jr. heard Kelly in a master class and brought her on stage to sit in with his band that night.

Wynton Marsalis was so impressed with Kelly's three-night stand as guest of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra that he invited her to join the ensemble at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in Washington, D.C., for Barack Obama's inauguration celebration.

Kelly met Stewart Levine via Huey Lewis (Lewis has said, "Grace Kelly writes great songs, sings beautifully, is a world class saxophonist, and is going to be a big, big star'').

Artists who Levine has worked with over a long and stellar career include Huey Lewis and the News, The Crusaders, Minnie Riperton, Lionel Richie, Hugh Masekela, B.B. King, Patti Labelle, Sly Stone, Boy George, Joe Cocker, Boz Scaggs and The Marshall Tucker Band.

"I basically came just to Los Angeles knowing it would be a dream to work with him,'' Kelly said.

Some other things are also keeping her in Los Angeles.

"I love the idea of Los Angeles,'' she said. "I find the musicians here extremely versatile. Very open-minded. It's a great community.''

It is also the land of movies and TV, and Kelly might explore some musical soundtrack opportunities. Plus, "One day I'd love to get back into acting,'' she added.

Who knows? Looking ahead, "I don't know where I'll be in five years,'' Kelly said.

But something else endearing about Los Angeles (maybe particularly with another New England winter nearing) is the warm sunshine.

"The weather's amazing,'' Kelly said. "It hasn't worn off on me.''

Contact Richard Duckett at
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Title Annotation:Living
Author:Duckett, Richard
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Sep 23, 2014
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