Amanda Carr sits down with 20 year old Singer, Songwriter, Saxophonist and Composer Grace Kelly
What was your first encounter with the saxophone? Was this your first instrument?
My first instrument was the piano. I was 6 years old and found out very quickly that I hated to practice. I also didn't want to stick to the notes on the paper so I made up my own notes and wrote my first song when I was 7 with the three chords I knew. In fourth grade I started the clarinet hoping to transition to the saxophone in the next year. I had such a hard time getting a good sound out and once again, I hated to practice. At my first saxophone lesson I blew into the horn...got a nice sound right away...and felt a connection. I have to say, finding the "right" instrument is key. Stick a trumpet in front of me and I'm useless!
What inspired you early in your musical journey...and what inspires you now?
My parents always played a lot of great music around the house when I was growing up like Broadway, jazz, classical, pop and everything in between. My mom's favorite saxophonist has always been Stan Getz and I fell in love with his sound.
I always thought the saxophone was such an expressive instrument. In fact, some people say it's the instrument closest to the human voice.
Many things inspire me now. I love going to live shows and watching other artists do their thing. I'm inspired by other art as well including painting, photography, dance, design, anything that peaks my interest. I believe being an artist is a constant search and there is no "correct" answer. Everyday is a search to get a wee bit closer to that "sound" in my head and to create something DIFFERENT.
Let’s address what some might call the elephant in the room: your age. Despite your globally recognized talent, it's been at the core of your brand as an artist. Has your transition from ‘child prodigy’ to young adult effected the way your fans see you...or how you see yourself?
My goal has always been to create amazing music that is an expression of who I am as an artist. I'm fortunate that I had a natural musical ability at the early age of 10. When reporters and other people started to hear about me the word "child prodigy" was thrown around and I started hearing it more and more. I've never thought of myself as a prodigy. I've always just been “Grace” in my head. I'm a passionate, hard working musician. I realize that my age was a big anchor for news stories, so I embraced it, but I've never measured myself by what others say or by how old I am. My fans hardly ever say "you're good for your age". Instead, they say things like "wow, I love your music!" I'm not trying to hide my age. I just don't want it to be the thing that sells me to people. I want my music to speak for itself.
When you decided to add singing to your performance, was this a natural transition? Would you like to do more of it?
I actually started singing before I started playing saxophone! At my very first CD release performance I was doing half playing, half singing. Ever since then I have always sang and played on my shows. I've been doing more singing at my shows these days, and people seem to like it. I would love to do more of it! One of my favorite things is songwriting so I hope to have a lot more opportunities as a writer and a singer!
It’s said that opportunities are recognized more than they are given (ok, I just said that), and I know you to be someone who has taken advantage of every opportunity with appreciation and verve. Can you talk a little bit about the role of your father as your promoter and manager and how this relationship has transitioned as you've become an adult? How important do you feel management is to the success of an artist?
Opportunities are everywhere!! There are more opportunities than we can see, and there's always a way to make an opportunity ( it could be as simple as uploading a vid on youtube, looking for opportunities online..the Internet has made so much accessible!) I'm lucky to have my father as my manager and to be able to sit down with him and the rest of my team to brainstorm about my career and the next steps I need to make. I'm have been going to live shows at places like Scullers Jazz club and Regatta Bar since I was about 10. My Dad always encouraged me to talk to the musicians after the show and introduce myself. It's pretty amazing how many people I got to know and network with simply by going to so many shows and meeting them. After a while they'd begin to remember my face, or occasionally people would ask for my CD. Sometimes they told me to keep in touch (which I always did) and some people would ask if I had my horn and wanted to sit in!!
All of this happened very organically. I never forced any of it to happen. But at the same time I wanted to be prepared..so I always had my horn with me or close by and if someone asked if I wanted to sit in I always said "yes!" (That's even when I didn't know what I'd be doing/playing!) The opportunity WILL arise so it's important to be ready for it. There's nothing more unfortunate than allowing a golden opportunity to slip away.
No one will ever know you're there if you don't show yourself! Also, it's SO important to stay in touch. Reach out to people you admire, see if they'll mentor you! I've been so lucky to have amazing mentors. I never dreamed I'd be recording with/working with artists like Phil Woods and Lee Konitz. I'm already putting my hat on thinking about more mentors in the next step of my journey and people I'd like to work with as a songwriting.
It's a funny full circle now as I'm performing all around the world and headlining shows. Now if I see a very talented kid I bring him/her up and have them play something. I really appreciate the people who had faith in me and brought me on to stage, so I'm trying to continue that legacy.
Management and a promotions team are essential for an artist. I'm lucky to have my father and agents who can do a lot of the "selling" for me. I find it very difficult to sell myself but at the same time some people do it incredibly well. Find people who believe in you. Fans are the ones who spread the word about me and my music. I've also heard of fans acting as an artist agent. If someone comes up to you and says they "LOVE" your music, see if they'd be interested in getting involved and spreading the word. You never know who knows who and how word will spread...so keep those business cards handy, have your website and facebook pages up and current so you can pass important info on to your new fans.
You exude a positivity that seems to be unyielding. How do you handle critics?
Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis is one of my mentors. He gave me great advice when he said: "don't read your reviews. They'll either blow your head up to big or crush you." I've taken his advice to heart and many times I don't read my reviews. However, I'm very grateful for the good ones and the nice words said about me. As far as the ill-spirited ones I have to remember that a review is one person's opinion and that's their right. I look at it like food. I love sushi, but some people won't eat it.
I'm so grateful for all the promotion I've gotten and the people who really believe in my art. As far as the people who don't, I can only remind myself, "it's their opinion." It's a hard thing to receive criticism graciously because my art is ME. However, the biggest critics are my audience and when we get standing O's at the end of my concert I feel the best because I know they loved it. Just keep going with what feels true and genuine to YOU and the rest will follow!
You make so much of what you do appear effortless and always enjoyable.. and Grace-ful. What are some of the ways you garner personal strength and confidence? Is there anything you can tell other female artists about building self confidence and positivity in the midst of challenge or even self-doubt?
Every time I'm on stage, I just light up, it feels like my home. I'm the happiest when I'm performing and in my element. However, I know we all deal with self-doubt and those terrible little voices in our heads. I try to remind myself that I am truly unique and there's no one whoelse who does what I do.
I like affirmations and I surround myself with positive people. I think it's terrible to be with someone who's a dream crusher and I'm lucky that my support system is so happy to dream with me. My parents and I have brainstorm sessions and we all have the same goal in mind, which is to have my music reach as many people as possible and heal them in some capacity! I believe you attract things you think about. If you stay positive and confident your energy will attract more of the same.
Are there any words of wisdom you can offer other young , or even not-so-young, female artists trying to forge a career in music?
Stay grounded and humble. I don't understand why people have such big egos or waste others time with their arrogance. I personally think that comes from a place of self defense or weakness. The only people I work with and the people on the "Grace Kelly team" are nice people. It's very important to practice compassion and love in a world where there isn't enough! There can never be enough :-) Also most of the successful people I've met have been so nice, generous and ego-free. That's real inspiration to me.
It's also important to be true to yourself. Every single person is unique and has something to say. Create something new, something fresh and different. It's much easier to play the safe game but the real game changers are the ones who take a chance and create something they're hearing or seeing, imagining in their head. There's nothing that can't be done or created, and don't let dream crushers tell you that's not true!!!! As an artist I feel my art is an extension of who I am as a person. If I don't stay true to myself in my music I'm not being real and genuine. I hate that.
I see that you are adding ‘educator’ to your list of titles and seem to be embracing a mentoring role. Can you talk a little bit about what you’re teaching and how you’d like to develop in this area?
I enjoy teaching and traveling and doing workshops. I recently did a TedEx talk ( a division of National TED.com) and had a great time speaking. My teaching ranges from working with Berklee College of Music students to talking to5 and 6 year olds in Madagascar who have never heard jazz or the saxophone before.
I really love working with beginners and introducing jazz to them. I love seeing kid's faces light up. It reminds me of the feeling I got when I first started playing.
In my workshops I focus on the art of improvisation because it's what makes jazz so special to me. I always try to tailor whatever I'm talking about to my audience and make sure I can relate to them. I want everyone to leave with a little light bulb moment after my talk.
What projects are you most proud of and what's next?
When people ask me which of my 8 CD's are my favorite, or which song I've written, I tell them, "that's like picking your favorite kid! They're all my babies!" I really am proud of everything I have created as a leader including the CD I produced when I was 12. Throughout all of it I hear the growth and what I would do differently now, but I did my very best at the time and always tried to keep the quality very high.
I have my 8th release as a leader coming out Feb 5th which was recorded live at Sculler's Jazz Club in Boston. The CD is very eclectic ranging from jazz, funk to country twinged singer/songwriter stuff. Most of it is written by me with a couple arrangements of standards. I'm very excited for this CD, it really represents what I'm doing now and it's my first live CD!
Also, on Valentines day the record company Woodward Avenue is releasing my pop single, "Sweet Sweet Baby" on their label! Look for it on itunes, amazon, and all other platforms. The music video will also be up on youtube. It was filmed in Boston. If you look carefully you'll see a cameo by BWME President/Magic 106.7's Candy O! I hope it brings a lot of smiles to people. (If nothing else my cute dog Asher will have to make you smile when you watch the vid!)
VISIT GRACE KELLY'S WEBSITE