Grace Kelly Liner Notes: “Mood Changes”
By Don Heckman
A long, long time ago Winston Churchill, in a beautifully descriptive phrase,described Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Aninteresting thought. But what, you may ask, does that have to do with a newrecording from Grace Kelly? Just this: that it also describes the astonishingtalent that has magically – and mysteriously — surfaced inside this giftedyoung artist. (And, speaking of descriptions, the much overused word “gifted”is, for once, completely applicable.) How else to explain Grace’s talent otherthan by resorting to something like Churchill’s expressive “riddle,” “mystery”and “enigma?”
Youthful jazz virtuosity hasn’t been unheard of in jazz, of course. Think, mostrecently, of the attention received by pianists such as Eldar and Taylor Eigsti– at the time when they were barely in their teens — or guitarist Julian Lage,performing with Carlos Santana, Pat Metheny and others before he was in histeens. Grace, at 16, surely deserves the same high praise.
But there’s another aspect to her achievements that makes her considerably moreunique: Grace’s gender. Jazz has lagged far behind virtually every other areaof American society (other, perhaps, than the entire country’s choice ofpresidential candidates) in its misogynistic attitudes about female jazz hornplayers. Again, there are exceptions – reaching from the Diva big band totrumpeters such as the veteran Clora Bryant and more youthful Ingrid Jensen,and saxophonists such as Tineke Postma, Jane Ira Bloom and Anat Cohen (to nameonly a few) But, nonetheless, there’s probably not a male jazz fan anywhere whohasn’t had that moment of dawning wonder when he hears an all-female big bandtrumpet section roaring through a Count Basie flag-waver, or a femalesaxophonist roaring through a set of post-Coltrane choruses. “Wow!,” is theusual response, “Doesn’t she play good for a… “ The last word is mercifullyleft unnoted. There may be plenty of outstanding women horn players in jazz,but the brass ceiling still hasn’t been completely cracked.
So, the first time I heard Grace, I – like many other male listeners whohaven’t completely shaken their foolish vision of jazz as a male art –initially responded to the utterly genderless qualities of her sound, phrasingand improvising. It was at L.A.’s Jazz Bakery, and Grace was romping, withconsummate self-confidence, through classics – “I’ll Remember April,” “’RoundMidnight,” “Caravan” – as well as her own well-crafted originals.
But, beyond the wonder of Grace’s brass ceiling-shattering style, there wasanother quality, one that reached into the creative maturity that residesbeneath the dewiness of her age: a remarkable sense of maturity in her choices,across the board, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically. Using a full assemblageof saxophone techniques – low end multiphonics, top of the horn harmonics, bentnotes, blues slides and beyond – she played with the sort of understanding andcommand of her instrument that takes most players decades to achieve.
And there was more. She sang, as well, convincingly, already with a blossomingstyle of her own, blending her instrumentalist’s musicality with surprisinglymature phrasing and great believability in her interpretations of lyrics. Addto that her composing and songwriting skills – especially affecting in thethoughtful lyrics of “But Life Goes On.”
So, back to the riddle/mystery/enigma question. The answer would probably haveto take into account the fact that Grace already has had a somewhat unusuallife up to this point. The offspring of Korean parents living in Massachusetts,she moved to Brookline at the age of two with her mother and sister after herparents were divorced. When her mother married Bob Kelly a few years later, andshe and her sister were adopted by her stepfather, and her name serendipitouslybecame Grace Kelly.
Although that would appear to be a name that has already received all theentertainment world encomiums one could hope for, this Grace has begun to makeher own claims for visibility and prominence. Four Grace Kelly CDs already havebeen released over the past four years, one them – “Times Too” – a 2/CD set.Another – “GRACEfulLEE” – includes the presence of alto saxophone icon LeeKonitz as a guest star.
But the truth is that – even if there were some sort of rational explanationfor the amazing creativity generated by this pretty, sweet-looking teen-agerand her instrument – it probably wouldn’t be believable. Talent of the sortthat sparkles through all of her playing, singing and writing is both one of akind and inexplicable.
The evidence is here — all over this new banquet of delectable musical dishesfrom Grace’s creative cuisine.
1. Happy Theme Song. It’s a bright, tasty, upbeat appetizer for the musicalfeast to come. For Grace, it was both a way to introduce the quintet, establishthe bright spirit underlying the CD’s “Mood Changes” and give her anopportunity to display her capacity for straight ahead swinging.
2. Comes Love. “It was a real project,” says Grace. “My whole plan was to introducelots of colors and different textures.” She did all that, and more, her altoand soprano saxophones swirling around each other, dipping in and out of hervocals, occasional moments of dissonance underscoring the lyrics. It’s thecomplete package, Grace’s many skills brought together to create a luscioussetting for the Lew Brown/Sammy Stept/Charles Tobias classic.
3. Tender Madness. One of the two tunes on the album with Grace playing tenorsaxophone, and it would be easy to misread the title as “Tenor Madness.” Infact, she was going for something different, an atmospheric musical theme inwhich sadness and softness are juxtaposed against each other. “I wrote it,” shesays, “around midnight, and it just kind of has that dark night, mystical feeling.A lot of other emotions too, between sadness, guilt, happiness. But it’sdefinitely dark. I couldn’t think of a good title for the longest time. I wastrying to come up with some kind of an oxymoron title to describe the differentfeelings. Then my mom finally came up with this. And it was perfect.
4. 101. An intriguing example of Grace’s expanding musical horizons, with itsoff-center meter and jaunty melody. The bass line surfaced in Grace’s mindafter she had been listening to “lots of Billy Childs and his odd meters andinteresting counterpoint, and Joshua Redman’s cool fusion. I was sitting at thepiano one day fooling around and I came up with this bass line. Couldn’t figureout what meter it was, and then I realized it was in seven.” The original titleGrace had in mind was “Parenting 101” – “Parenting from a kid’s point of view.”She had thoughts of making it a vocal, as well, but decided it might be “alittle too controversial.”
5. But Life Goes On. A lovely original that Grace has been singing for a while,written in only two days. But it’s going to last a lot longer than that. Herstartlingly mature vocal interpretation combine with the equally full-grownlyrics to produce a stunning example of her remarkable potential. DougJohnson’s song-like piano interlude adds appropriate emotional counterpoint.
6. Ain’t No Sunshine. Bill Withers’ 1971 breakthrough hit, all dressed up in aslow-dance groove with a stunning set of choruses from Grace – including herquirky variation on Withers’ famous repetition of “I know, I know, I know, Iknow…” Adam Rogers’ guitar further enhances the mood, adding a touch of wellarticulated fusion. Grace says she first heard the memorable melody in “NottingHill,” one of her favorite movies.
7. Here, There and Everywhere. “I try to include a Beatles song on every CDI’ve made since the first one. This time I wanted to find a good one thatwasn’t one of their top hits.” It may not have been a Lennon & McCartneytop seller, but it’s surely one of their most irresistibly appealing melodies.And Grace explores its lyricism with her characteristically full gamut ofmusical emotions. Here, as with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” she elected not to singbecause “tunes like this already have such memorable vocal versions.” All of whichmakes one even more eager to hear what her uncluttered, youthful vocalimagination might do with a familiar pop tune such as this. Maybe she’ll let itfly with the Beatles tune on her next album.
8. I’ll Remember April. One of the great jazz standards, and a tune Grace oncedueted on, memorably, with Phil Woods. Although it was done in just a fewtakes, it wasn’t initially included in the first program of tunes. But Gracedecided the track provided another “huge mood” to include under the album title.Plus, she adds, “It’s got this party vibe.” And a virtually non-stop party atthat, led by Grace’s irrepressible, high speed, Autobahn dash through thefamiliar changes.
9. It Might As Well Be Spring. Stan Getz and Astrud Gilberto were in Grace’smind when she decided to do this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. That plusthe appropriateness of the lyrics. “Sometimes it’s hard,” she says, “to find avocal tune that really relates to my age, and that I can connect to the wordswell. And this tune is perfect. It really fits me and the words.” No way toargue with that, especially since she delivers on all counts, capturing thezephyr-light qualities of the Getz-Gilberto version, rendering the lyrics withthe poignant believability of a teen-ager — “as restless as a willow in awindstorm” — and underscoring the feeling with her own warm-toned, Getz-ishtenor chorus.
10. I Want to Be Happy. If you start with “A Happy Theme Song,” what better wayto wrap everything up than a jaunty, 7/4 version of Vincent Youmans and IrvingCaesar’s 1920’s paean to optimism. Grace makes a lot more of it than Youmanscould ever have imagined, moving three horns – her alto, Jason Palmer’s trumpetand Hal Crook’s trombone — through a rhythmically disjunct contrapuntal mazeand several unexpected key changes. The tune, the arrangement and the playingadd another final touch, as well – the extraordinary promise of Grace Kelly’scontinuing growth as a complete musician.