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Grace Kelly: Good Grace

At 21, the saxophonist/singer is a crowd-pleaser. But has she paid her dues?

Grace Kelly
Grace Kelly at the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival, June 2013
Grace Kelly with Phil Woods at Jazz at Lincoln Center, 2012
Grace Kelly with Esperanza Spalding, Christian Scott and saxophonist Mike Tucker in 2006
Grace Kelly recording her first album in 2004
Grace Kelly with Lee Konitz in 2006

There’s a clip on YouTube from the alto saxophonist and vocalist Grace Kelly’s first gig ever. It’s June 2002, she’s 10 years old, and she’s in a Borders bookstore, duetting with an adult pianist on “Besame Mucho.” The saxophone, too heavy for her to hold while standing, rests on a pillow; she’s sitting on its case. She doesn’t improvise, and there’s nothing virtuosic going on, but her playing is strong: big, confident and in tune. A jazz star is born.

In November 2011, Kelly, then 19, issued her first music video, for the original song “Sweet Sweet Baby.” In it, she twirls in a field; lays in a hammock with her dog, Asher; and plays her horn while encircled by people holding hands. Save for some tart alto and shimmering electric piano, the track and its video are decidedly pop-focused: more MTV-or what MTV used to be-than JALC.

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