‘Wunderkind’ Grace Kelly Performing at Tech

SOCORRO, N.M. November 10, 2015 – The musical spotlight continues to follow multitalented Grace Kelly, the saxophonist/vocalist/composer/lyricist/arranger. She is bringing her quartet to Macey Center at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 20, in a Performing Arts Series concert.

The jazz performance coincides with the annual Festival of the Cranes at nearby Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, an event that for over two decades has drawn hundreds of visitors to the area.


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Grace Kelly has been taking the music world by storm. She will perform Friday, Nov. 20, in Socorro. 



Tech Club-Club Macey is open to members and guests 21 and older preceding the performance from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Join the group for adult beverages and Dijon steak bites and falafel from the hors’ d’oeuvres table.

“Grace Kelly is a phenomenal saxophonist and vocalist, and she and her talented quartet will knock your socks off,” said PAS Director Ronna Kalish. “Grace is only 23 – a true wunderkind – and in her short time as an entertainer, has impressed a number of well-known and successful performers.”

As an example, trumpeter and artistic director 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.

Singer Harry Connick Jr. heard Kelly in a master class and brought her on stage to sit in with his band that night. Since then, Kelly has been voted “Best Jazz Act” in Boston for three consecutive years in the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll; received the ASCAP Foundation’s Young Jazz Composers Award for four years; and for two years was named “Jazz Artist of the Year” at the Boston Music Awards.

Kelly also is the youngest person to be added to the Downbeat Critics Poll naming her one of the “Alto Saxophone Rising Stars.”

“The artists Grace has performed and recorded with sounds like a ‘Who’s Who’ among jazz musicians,” Kalish said. “The list includes Dave Brubeck, Wynton Marsalis, Phil Woods, Harry Connick Jr., Jamie Cullum, Cedar Walton, James Cotton, Esperanza Spalding and Terri Lynn Carrington among others.

“Her repertoire varies from traditional jazz, such as Great American Songbook standards, to her singular take on the likes of Daft Punk’s ‘Get Lucky,’ Coldplay’s ‘Magic’ or Sia’s ‘Chandelier’,” Kalish said.

A recent Kelly cover of Ellie Goulding’s “Love Me Like You Do” features a drum pattern inspired by the Beach Boys, while recent tracks such as “Don’t Wake Me” and “All the Way Down” are reminiscent of the Rolling Stones classic, “Miss You.”

Whatever the style, the six-time winner of the Downbeat critics poll spices up the sound with the lyrical and soulful phrasing of her instrument.

She was born Grace Chung on May 15, 1992. (She became Grace Kelly after her mother divorced and remarried her stepfather, Bob Kelly, and legally adopted Grace and sister Christina.)

Kelly began piano lessons at age six, and she still does much of her composing at the piano. Singing, dancing, writing songs and theater also were 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 in fourth grade, augmented by 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.”

According to the young artist, “The CD release took place on March 17, 2004, when I was 12, and as soon as I walked on stage, I realized that performing was my favorite thing to do.”

Kelly followed up her first CD with “Times Too” (2005), a two-disc set released to powerful acclaim. The title track of her next disc, “Every Road I Walked” (2006), garnered the first of her ASCAP Foundation awards and an invitation to perform with the Boston Pops.

Though still only 14 years old and asked to play her composition at the concert, Kelly met this challenge by writing her first full orchestral arrangement and performing it in Boston’s iconic Symphony Hall.

Perhaps Kelly’s most intensive connection has been with Lee Konitz, who Kelly has studied with since age 13. At first only her teacher, Kelly and Konitz’s relationship has grown into a personal friendship and mentorship.

“The biggest lesson that Lee taught me has been spontaneity, from day one,” Kelly said. Her invitation to Konitz to guest on two tracks for her fourth album led to the joint composition “GRACEfulLEE,” and an entire disc of the same name.

“GRACEfulLEE,” with all-star support, garnered a rare 4.5-star review in Downbeat Magazine, and has been widely acclaimed as one of the best jazz recordings of 2008.

In 2009, Kelly released her fifth album, “Mood Changes,” with her own quartet that reflects her growing talent as a bandleader and arranger. “There’s nothing like playing my own music with my own band,” she said. “Everyone is so comfortable, yet I feel as if I’m getting pushed in every performance. At the same time, I realize more of what I want over the years, and more direction goes into the music. Every time we play is a complete adventure.”

“Man With The Hat” followed in 2011, and found Kelly collaborating on an entire album with saxophone legend Phil Woods. The album is a tribute to the bebop legacy that Woods has espoused for his entire career, and consists of seven standards and originals penned by both Kelly and Woods and performed by an all-star ensemble.

The duo hit the European road in support of the release, and continues to tour throughout the U.S. and Europe. Woods’ willingness to record and tour with the much younger Kelly is a testament to the musical wisdom she possesses on her instrument, despite her young age.


The saxophonist’s ongoing interest in musical change was dramatically underlined by her 2014 release, “Working For the Dreamers,” which includes her cover of “The Way You Look Tonight” and “It Might As Well Be Spring.”


“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,’” she said.


“I really believe in universal energy and vibrational energy, and I think music comes from that place,” Kelly says. “So it would be safe to say that music is my religion.”


She graduated from the Berklee College of Music in 2011, with a degree in professional music, and has taught residency workshops there since 2012. Kelly also recently issued her seventh release, an album that charts a new direction for the artist into the genre of Gospel Jazz, and features renowned Gospel pianist George Russell Jr.

“Through music, I feel like I’m channeling spiritual energy that I hope passes on to people, and it’s been an amazing experience to see how people have been moved by this music,” said Kelly. “Since this is the gift I’ve been blessed with, I feel that it’s very important to share it.”

Sponsors for the Friday, Nov. 20 performance are the City of Socorro, Nusenda Credit Union, the N.M. Tech Graduate Student Association, M Mountain Coffee, Dr. Robert and Kathy Markwell and KUNM.

Tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for senior citizens 65 and over, and $8 for youths 17 and under, and are available online at www.nmtpas.org, or at the N.M. Tech Cashier’s Office (second floor of Fidel Center), Socorro County Chamber of Commerce, Sofia’s Kitchen Drive-up, or at the door.

–NMT –

By Valerie Kimble/New Mexico Tech