If you’re a fan of the Late Show With Stephen Colbert, you’ve no doubt heard of Grace Kelly. For the uninitiated, the 23-year-old saxophonist and vocalist has performed many times with the show’s house band Stay Human, led by musical director Jon Batiste. In fact, the green-haired Kelly’s latest stint with the group began in mid-December and is stretching into March. The seven-time Downbeat Critics Poll “Rising Star” is also a leading member of a growing contingent of young jazz innovators that includes recent Grammy nominee and performer Joey Alexander.
For a deeper dive into Kelly’s multifaceted artistry, music fans can check out her 10th and latest album, Trying to Figure It Out. The Friday (Feb. 19) release includes the electronic- and urban-grooved “The Other One,” covers of Coldplay’s “Magic” and the standard “Smile” plus another original, the uplifting “Lemons Make Lemonade” which guest Batiste recorded in one take in his dressing room after a Colbert taping. Michael League of Grammy Award-winning band Snarky Puppy also guests.
Kelly wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 13 tracks, including opener “Blues for Harry Bosch.” The track — as well as Kelly herself — will be featured in season 2 of Amazon Prime’s Emmy Award-nominated detective series Bosch, premiering March 11. The series is based on author Michael Connelly’s best-selling book series starring the TV show’s title character Harry Bosch. Of Kelly, Connelly has said, “Her music is infused with a relentless rhythm and energy — qualities I want in my own life.”
How did the Michael Connelly/Bosch connection come about?
I received an email from Michael last August after the show’s first season. He said he’d written a part for me and would I be interested? My jaw dropped. I’m like, “Oh my gosh, yes.” Michael had already written me into a couple of his past Harry Bosch books because Harry is a jazz fan and also a fan of mine, which is quite an honor. My scene was taped at the Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood.
What was your mind-set going into the studio this time?
I hadn’t done a full studio album in a couple of years. “Blues for Harry Bosch” was the initial spark to record a new album. Then it was, what will this album be? In the past of couple of years since moving to Los Angeles and working with different producers, I’ve been on a roller coaster as an artist and musically. This is my first album with a theme throughout: a story about an emotional journey through music. The album moves from a haunted dark space to a turning point of redemption, celebration and finding joy. The first half of the album is more acoustic and the second half more synths and beyond.
What’s it like playing in a late-night talk show band?
Jon is so spontaneous. Sometimes we don’t know what we’re playing that day until he tells us 10 minutes before or in the talk-back mic: “Play a reggae tune.” We’ll learn four songs in 30 minutes. Every day it’s something different, running to the dressing room trying to transcribe parts or learn by ear. It keeps you on your toes.
Can young millennials revive a new jazz age?
I know a whole bunch of jazz musicians under 30 who are doing incredible things. I think sometimes people have this perception that jazz ended with Miles Davis or John Coltrane. They think of it as an old form of music. It’s true that jazz isn’t part of popular culture or played on the radio. But I’ve been noticing among my peers like Jon, Esperanza Spalding, Snarky Puppy, Joey Alexander that a whole new thing is happening with jazz now. We’re taking the roots of jazz but bringing in other influences like pop and world music. It doesn’t just end with playing bebop or music played a long time ago. We’ve all studied that. But it’s how to move jazz forward that makes it young. How do we bring us into that music? That’s what’s exciting about jazz right now in a younger world.