Jim Braude: So Grace, I watched your TED talk over the weekend, and you talked about how improvisation spontaneity are one of the things you love about jazz. I've always wanted to be spontaneous. So tell me, you say you've transferred those things into your non-playing life. How do they work in real life?
Grace Kelly: Well I feel like because I've exercised that part of my brain that is all about improvisation in music, and every day I think it's translated in a way that I'm just a lot more open about, you know, if X Y Z was supposed to happen and it didn't, I have no problem with just being like, "Well. Let's go with the flow. Let's see what else happens," y'know.
JB: Well speaking of going with the flow and speaking and speaking of being spontaneous first night I think I got this right you played with Stephen Colbert, well Jon Batiste's band Stay Human. Doesn't his ask you to play an instrument you hadn't played like in 10 years or something, the clarinet?
JB: Tell us about that, and did that not cause you great anxiety?
GK: This is very much a go with the flow type of thing. So I got a call from Jon three days before I joined them on national television and he basically said to me, "Hey do you play baritone sax, alto soprano, clarinet flute? I know you sing and you play some keys right?" And I was like, "Yeah!" But I had no idea that it was going to be for the near future, the far future, so I just told him yes even though I haven't played clarinet since fourth grade. And he said "Great, What are you doing Monday? We'd love to have you on the show."
JB: But you didn't know he was going to ask you to play the clarinet.
GK: No, so I had those three days to gather instruments. I'm a Yamaha artist so they were great at helping me get all of that to me. And then clarinet it's one of those instruments that is very unforgiving. It's not it's not like the saxophone in the way that fingerings are different slightly different ambusher, and it has a tendency to squeak like crazy. So I tried to get you know my fingerings back together, but I didn't know what that first day was going to entail. And when we were going out to one of the commercials Jon looks over and says, "Solo on clarinet, y'know."
JB: At that moment?
GK: Yeah because he didn't tell me that he did it the way he works is very spontaneous. I didn't get any notes beforehand.
JB: So what do you feel like in your body when he said that to you?
GK: Like. (Shakes)
JB: And you just did it.
GK: I had no choice.
JB: So how'd that go.
GK: You know honestly it actually went a lot better than I thought it did cause at that moment of chaos and craziness there is still a stillness within of, "I’m gonna have to do this." So I just try to do the very best the could. I'm still looking for that stillness.
JB: So your first CD, you were 12 in your first CD. You turned 24 not too many days ago. 10 recordings so far right?
JB: Were you ever a kid? I mean did you get to be a kid?
GK: Very much so, yeah.
JB: You don't think, no, you didn't lose any of that along the way?
GK: I think I got the best of both worlds because it was literally when I was 13 years old I was asked to do my first international concert and perform in Tromso, Norway. So it was great because I flew to Norway. You know I did a performance, and then I came back, and there I am like hanging out my buddies again. And then I'd leave, and so it really was like, I feel so blessed that from a young age I get to travel the world. You know, go to Europe for the first time in my teenage years, and and continue to do so, so I've always had this great balance.
JB: So you're young, and you were really young when you started this.
JB: Was it hard to be taken seriously as a jazz, well not only young but a woman and there are not many women doing what you do or what you were doing in the past when you began. Was it was hard to overcome, or no?
GK: You know, I have been very lucky to have some incredible musical mentors throughout my career so far. You know, Phil Woods, Lee Konitz. So two of the biggest alto saxophonist in my world of saxophone and in the jazz world. And I've been very blessed that the people who have mentored me or brought me on to play concerts have always really loved my music and it's been nothing more of, "Wow she can really play, she can really write, she's really singing."
JB: But did you ever feel intimidated because you were so young, so much younger than the other players with huge names and huge talent?
GK: Certainly, certainly, absolutely, especially when I was like you know, 12, 13 years old and I'm playing with Wynton Marsalis for the first time, Harry Connick Jr., Dave Brubeck. I mean like it was, all of these moments are such a "pinch me" moment. And even today I'd be like, "pinch me," but being so young then I was really like super starstruck.
JB: So how hard I mean, there weren't women role models. I've read a lot of what you said about who your role models, most immediately, and who are the names you most respected, singing Stan Getz around your house when your mother was playing Stan Getz when you were a little kid. So how hard is it to do something where there are virtually no role models of your gender doing what you want to do?
GK: You know it's interesting, I think I got so fascinated with the sound of the saxophone, and like we were saying Stan Getz was a huge inspiration on me. I also didn't even think about the lack of women in the community and didn't think about female saxophonists, because I guess I was so obsessed with the saxophone itself. Now I realize as you know, 12-year-old, 13-year-old girls come to my concert and say, "You're a role model to me--"
JB: How's that make you feel it?
GK: I'm so honored you know, and I'm honored that I can be someone who can support them throughout their learning and tell em keep going. Cause even 10 years ago there were even less women than there are now. So it's changing in a great way.
JB: Speaking of changing are young people and Jazz, I mean you're young. Jon Batiste is almost as young as you are 29 years old.
JB: And so there are bunch of players who are younger. Is that helping draw out young people in the audiences, or are they still older?
GK: I think so. There is a beautiful thing happening right now with like, millennial jazz musicians who are taking our foundation of jazz but merging, you know different music-- hip hop pop R&B, whatever it may be-- and bringing on a new younger audience which I think it's fantastic. So my hope is that we're going to continue to create a wave as you know the 20-somethings of the jazz era, and bring on also other peers in the audience.
JB: You know you played a minute ago a piece and we're gonna play more at the end of the show from your tenth CD, frightening I should say. So you're — one of the things I love about it is it's so many different things. I hope people know you're phenomenal singer. You do this beautiful rendition of smile which was written by who.
GK: Charlie Chaplin.
JB: People can't believe that it is so great. You do the great Coldplay thing.
GK: Mhm, magic.
JB: But then you play improvisational jazz, so I mean is that the goal here is to give a taste of every kind of thing you can do?
GK: Well it's a very wide like it's a very wide eclectic CD. Really what what binds it all together in my mind is, it's a thematic CD. So the story line in the CD as it starts from more of a place of darkness and each track moves a little bit more towards light and redemption and at the end, the last track, Batiste's Lemons make Lemonade, it's supposed to just feel like a celebration a party. But the turning point halfway through the CD is my song, Trying to Figure It Out, which is you know, you might kind of be in the start place but you got to keep taking one foot forward and, and there is some opening doors that way. And then every track after that kind of moves in that direction. So even though musically, yes it is definitely eclectic, the thing in my head that brings it all together is the story line of what every song means.
JB: OK I hope everybody watching this not only watching this not only loves you or discovers you, but I hope everybody loves Stephen Colbert even though the transition I have to say has been uneven--you don't have to comment on that. However, please tell me he's as decent a person in person as we at home think he is.
GK: Oh my gosh, he's the greatest guy. Really.
JB: Raise your right hand and say this.
GK: He's the greatest guy.
JB: OK fine.
GK: He's actually even funnier in person than on on TV, but you know.
JB: Is he nice?
GK: So nice. Within the first week I was there, he knew my name, he was asking me about my dog and stopped me in the hallway. And I mean, just things that he went above and beyond for. A guy who, this is his show, he's so busy, and I've never seen him have a diva moment. You know.
JB: Is that really so?
GK: He treats all his employees incredibly, and that having a boss like that just makes everybody and everyone who works there is so kind and wonderful like he sets that you know example.
JB: Grace it's great to see you, the CD's wonderful.