Lake George Wunderkind jazz saxophonist and singer Grace Kelly, 19, stepped offstage Saturday after an encore that evoked tears of joy in some spectators’ eyes at the Lake George Jazz Weekend.
Within minutes, dozens of people stood in line for autographs — to have the woman who as a 12-year-old girl wowed her first jazz audience with her musical innovation.
Kelly’s soaring improvisation and musical interplay with her talented band member, trumpeter Jason Palmer, has since propelled her to play twice each at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival, in Paris, Vienna, and in Lincoln Center with Wynton Marsalis for President Obama’s inauguration.
Saturday Night, she was in Shepard Park in Lake George, with her music and her commentary charming one of the largest audiences ever at the jazz festival, which in its 28th year has become one of the leading venues in the Northeast to hear the finest jazz musicians alive — in an intimate setting.
As Kelly signed her last autograph of the afternoon Saturday, she said the jazz fest spectators grasped her band’s improvisation.
“The audience was open to everything musically,” she said. “When Jason and I, were in our musical dialogue, people were really with us in the journey — and this builds energy.”
Later Saturday, after the Don Byron New Gospel Quintet ended the day’s concerts, his group gathered in a backstage dressing room. As Byron hugged fellow jazz musicians from both Europe and Manhattan who’d come to Lake George for the concerts, the Quintet’s singer D.K. Dyson talked about the rapport she enjoyed with the audience.
Minutes earlier, she had electrified jazz fans with her soaring, funky gospel phrases that accompanied Byron’s freewheeling tonal explorations on clarinet and saxophone.
“The crowd was just precious,” she said, dabbing makeup on her face. “They were real listeners, taking everything in. With patience, they let our songs develop. In Europe it’s common, but in America, that’s rare.”