Grace Kelly Visits the Vandoren Los Angeles Studio
Alto Saxophone Playing
Hi everybody, my name is Grace Kelly, I am a saxophonist, singer, composer, musician, and a little bit about me; I started playing the saxophone when I was ten years old, started performing professionally since the age of twelve and at his point tallying up that I have played over eight hundred concerts in about thirty countries. Headlining festivals with my band, The Grace Kelly Quartet, everywhere from The Montreal Jazz Fest to the Newport Jazz Festival, Madagascar, Oslo Jazz Fest, and working with some of my favorite musicians in the whole wide world. I’ve been really blessed to be mentored by some of my favorite alto saxophonists including Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Frank Morgan. I actually did two separate recordings, albums, with both Lee Konitz and Phil Woods; and the late, great Phil Woods and I actually toured together. We did a six week tour once; all in Europe, we played the Playboy Jazz Fest at the Hollywood Bowl. We played everywhere and the latest venture of mine has been playing in the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert under the direction of great pianist and singer from New Orleans, Jon Batiste.
Most currently I’ve been doing a lot of touring with my own band. I also love doing a lot of teaching stuff. I’m developing a lot of online video materials about the way I approach this wonderful, fascinating, and at times, frustrating but exciting, instrument. I love to travel all around and do workshops and talk about improvisation for not only advanced players, but I really love talking to advanced beginners and intermediate. The thing that I love the most about teaching and about bringing knowledge, and the things that I’ve thought about, is to see that lightbulb moment for students and for other players. So whether it’s a lightbulb moment about improvisation or you try a new amazing Vandoren mouthpiece and that completely changes the way you play because believe me, that absolutely happens down to the ligature, reed, and mouthpiece. That’s kind of been my latest journey. I’ve now released ten albums with my band, my first recording was when I was twelve. I’m living in New York City and just staying really busy touring, you know, living the dream and continuing to grow and find new avenues with this instrument.
Alto Saxophone Playing
I’ve always been on a search to find the best equipment that lets me play with the most ease, because when I’m on stage and when I’m practicing I really don’t want to think about anything other than what’s in here (points to her head) and getting it out. I’m playing the A8 Mouthpiece, this is the new one, it’s an S+ Chamber. I was on the A8 Small Chamber for a while but then when the plus came out I was with David Gould and I tried it and it was even more open and gave more projection and warmth. I’ve been playing Java Green Box reeds for a while now, I play a 2.5, and I like it because I can rip the reed open, put it on, and it plays. I don’t really have any patience for breaking reeds in, I wish I did but I just love how they speak and I’ve tried the Red Box and Blue Box, but the Green Box works for me and it also coordinates (shows off her dyed green hair). No, I’m just kidding I don’t pick it because of my hair color. And then the Leather Ligature, which I love, I’ve always been attracted to a darker tone and sound. I think Steve Wilson was the first one who hipped me to the Vandoren Leather Ligature, so I highly recommend that. I’ve been with Vandoren now for almost 8-10 years, it’s actually crazy to think. I remember first talking to them when I was with my mentor, Lee Conits, I was out with David and I had already been playing Vandoren and I was really delighted to then completely be on board and be part of the family.
I have this fun exercise that I like to teach to my students, which is basically like taking the idea of transcription, because a lot of students ask me, “How do I use transcription to get better?” It’s one thing to just write it down, or to read it and forget it tomorrow. But what I like to do is take just a little chunk of something you’ve transcribed, it could literally be a bar. So I’d like to take that phrase and transpose it to all the keys, here’s an example: Plays melody on alto saxophone multiple times in ascending keys. Do that in all the keys, get really familiar with it, and then, I would put on a recording of a song I was working on and I would try to play that line within it, like way overplay it, because this is an exercise. Then what I would start to do is I would play with the line and make it a little bit more my own; so I would do something where I would just add different rhythms to it. (Demonstrates by playing the same melodies in ascending keys, now with slightly different rhythms). Then maybe start to add a few other notes to it. (Demonstrates again, now adding slight melodic variances). Then I would start to really get creative and use the shape of the line, so this line (the line she played) is going up in a major seventh arpeggio. So just take that line but now change your notes. (Demonstrates again, melody is now much more different). So you’re playing all lines, seven notes, but just changing the shapes. So this is a way that, by starting very literally, you can practice it in all keys, you can play it very literally but then you want to make it your own. So when you’re on stage, and you’re playing, all of a sudden it comes out in a very organic way, and a line that started as a transcription now 100% becomes your own thing. So you can try it out and use that for transcription, you’re going to come up with some very, very cool stuff!
Alto Saxophone Playing