Jazz musician Grace Kelly’s résumé reads like many of the musical legends who have come before her: She’s an accomplished saxophonist, singer, composer, arranger, bandleader, producer, performer and music educator. And at the age of 21, Kelly continues to balance all of this with international fame, time in the studio and between 100 and 150 shows a year.
“The last few months have been a lot of intense touring,” she said. “It’s bicoastal for me, so I’ll be on the West Coast and then the East Coast right after.”
One of the next spots on her tour will be Indiana University of Pennsylvania for the university’s Lively Arts series. Kelly and her band will take to the stage in Sutton Hall’s Gorell Recital Hall at 8 p.m. Thursday, bringing her eclectic show to Indiana.
“We’ll do my own music, some covers, some standards that have been ‘Graceified,’ meaning they’ve been arranged by me,” she said.
Kelly relies on a “good foundation” in jazz to pull off many different styles on stage. At the age of 16, she studied professional music on full scholarship at Berklee College of Music, where she now teaches residence workshops. She’s studied saxophone with jazz greats George Garzone, Lee Konitz, Greg Osby, Jerry Bergonzi and Allan Chase and released eight full-length albums. Her first EP is due this summer.
Thursday’s show will demonstrate her flexibility as an artist who doesn’t shy away from pop music.
“I love listening to songs on the radio, and I love mashing it all up,” she said. “Lately I’ve been listening to more contemporary music and songwriters, and at the same time I’ve been more inspired to write songs.”
Kelly believes that just like her own shows, the genre as a whole will embrace other influences, which will continue to popularize jazz with her generation.
“That’s the refreshing thing — there’s no music snob thing going on anymore,” she said. “We love jazz and we love what our peers are doing. I don’t think that as a young person, I need to mash things up. It’s just a natural thing.”
She doesn’t worry that her generation hasn’t embraced jazz the way others have. To Kelly, it’s a matter of exposure, not accessibility.
“There’s always these discussions about jazz being dead and about how we get jazz to a younger audience,” she said. “I think part of it is they just haven’t been exposed to it, and they haven’t been exposed to jazz they understand.”
What is understandable across the board is improvisation, what Kelly calls “the essence of jazz.”
“You can bring that to any music, and everybody appreciates and loves that,” she said. “Jazz musicians are at such a high level and we can express ourselves at a high level.”
Kelly wants her shows to “bring joy” to the audience members even as she’s expressing herself. Based on her fan base and how audiences respond to her shows, she’s exceeding her goal.
“When I talk to audience members afterward, they said, ‘that was the most dynamic show I’ve ever seen,’” she said. “I like when they’re taken to a different place so they can enjoy themselves.”
Tickets for Thursday’s show are available at the HUB box office for $20 for regular admission, $16 for senior citizens or groups of 15 or more, and $12 for I-card holders, students and children.