post-modern jazz vocals in a new age world

"a jazz singer of RARE AIR"  ~ International Music Review

"Think of a layer cake with a dense Carmen McRae center, iced with swoops, dollops and occasionally wide swatches of Nancy Wilson and Billie Holiday, then dotted with Etta James bluesiness and Tina Turner wail. Gray’s is an impressive, indeed frighteningly vast talent".  

--Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes Magazine


With her stunning musicality and warm, enveloping voice, Texas native Kellye Gray is one of the most accomplished jazz vocalists on the national scene. Gray’s profile continues to grow by leaps and bounds, recording over half-dozen albums as a leader and logging performances nationally and internationally at world-class venues and festivals including Lincoln Center, the Spoleto Festival and SFJAZZ. Kellye has shared the stage with legends Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, Etta James. 

Her debut, Standards In Gray (Justice Records) broke her onto mainstream radio in 1990 landing the fledging, independent release in the top twenty. Her sound has been crafted over years of live performance, taking chances and immersing herself deeply in the art of making improvisational music and scat vocals. Known for being a "a real jazzer", her career onstage began as an improvisational comic actor, stand-up comic and technical director of professional comedy troupe. It was this platform that laid the groundwork for her vocal abilities. She began using the voice in ways other than singing, Mimicking sound effects for actors onstage (water running, doors creaking), instrument simulation and sound effects. It would be during this time that she became exposed to scat vocals. She is tied to the rhythm. Every note she sings stays grounded in the time. Or, as Duke Ellington said it, "It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing." 

Her dad's record collection gave her a basic education in jazz music and jazz singers. A natural entertainer, singer and dancer with a basic, mostly self-taught, musical education. A child of the 60's; television and radio were her gods. The education she received from exposure to the vaudevillian performers, comics, singers, musicians, dancers and entertainers she watched daily became her mentors and guides. "I reckon they call that, "old school", says Gray. Couple that with her southern childhood exposure to gospel, cajun, r&b, blues and soul giving her a deep pool to swim within.

The new release, And, They Call Us Cowboys (the Texas Music Project (grr8 Records), re-imagines the timeless and diverse music of the Lone Star State through the filter of Gray’s jazz sensibility. Critics and radio have opened their arms to the record and to Kellye's voice. "This is a jazz singer of rare air.” says the International Music ReviewUSA Today plugged the record in 'Top Ten Tracks to Listen For' the week of it's release. 

Kellye Gray absolutely blows your socks off...what a voice! ” exclaims Glenn Daniels of





KG3 Live at the Bugle Boy and Live at the Jazzschool

Christopher Loudon, JazzTimes Magazine May 2008 issue

Presumably it’s based on the belief that the listening public expects all albums to shine with flawless, studio-precision clarity, but I’ve never understood or embraced the habit of “sweetening” live albums by smoothing over every imperfection, every wrongly bent note, every lyrical hiccup. So it was refreshing to read that with both these albums, recorded two weeks and a few hundred miles apart in 2007, vocalist Kellye Gray insisted not only on capturing the sessions precisely as played during a single performance but also on embracing the imperfections as part of the live experience.

In combination, these two platters serve up two hours of Gray, alongside a shifting assortment of bandmates, at her raw, uninhibited, deconstructionist best. For those unfamiliar with the Austin-born Gray from her previous discs— Standards in Gray, the superlative Tomato Kiss and the side-by-side live sets Pink Songs and Blue Songs—think of a layer cake with a dense Carmen McRae center, iced with swoops, dollops and occasionally wide swatches of Nancy Wilson and Billie Holiday, then dotted with Etta James bluesiness and Tina Turner wail. Gray’s is an impressive, indeed frighteningly vast talent, one equally capable of exploring the vivid scope of Wayne Shorter (“Speak No Evil” opens the Jazzschool disc and “Footprints” is the penultimate track on Bugle Boy), the reflective (and markedly different) despondence of “You’ve Changed,” “Willow Weep for Me” and “Days of Wine and Roses,” and the sagacious anticipation of “Everything Must Change” (the only song included in both sessions).

Then there is the recrafting of Bacharach and David’s satiny “The Look of Love” as eight minutes of explosive passion before she takes “Take Five” to vocal heights previously reached only by McRae. Don’t cheat yourself: Buy both albums, then scoop up as much of Gray’s back catalog as you can find.

Yummy! Kellye Gray takes a huge bite out of Texas jazz

Carol Banks Weber                                           October 14, 2013

Texas jazz doesn’t seem at all fathomable—until Austin, TX nativeKellye Gray takes to the mic and transforms her favorite childhood songs like no other.

Gray ventures smoothly into bossa nova, straight-ahead, shuffle blues, boogaloo, gospel, and ballad in hit songs made famous by Christopher Cross, Willie Nelson, Shake Russell, Kris Kristofferson, Lyle Lovett, Elvis Presley, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, and Mac Davis on her September 17th Grr8 Records release, “And, They Call Us Cowboys | The Texas Music Project.” She does it as if these tribute songs belonged to her in the first place, with a Texas swagger that’s simply mesmerizing.

Kellye Gray could not have pulled off her Texas Music Project without a battalion of solid musicians from the Lone Star State: keyboardistsPamela YorkKevin Lovejoy, bassistChris Maresh, drummer Kyle Thompson, percussionist Chris Lovejoy, organist Red Young, saxophonist John Mills, and guitaristJake Langley. But this album is clearly all about Gray and what she can do with her childhood soundtrack, which is a ton.

Throughout the album’s nine tunes, Gray sets a nostalgic, hazy mood, as if returning to the past, turning each page of mental images in her head, musing, celebrating, mourning. Instead of using pictures, she goes to music. “Deep In The West” by Shake Russell is a perfect snapshot of fond memories of Texas, and that thing which stirs her to the core, and it’s her best track. She sings the Waylon Jennings’ hit with her own fire, becoming one with the haunting cries of the horns that seem to travel restlessly over an unending dirt road, marked by tumbleweeds and a strange sense of peace in a big, wide world. The warmth of that fire is most evident, tempered by the savages of risking love and risking it all in the strain of her voice, as big and deep as the heart of Texas.

There’s a reason for the personal notes laden in each of the nine songs chosen for the album. It’s all personal for Gray. She’d been gigging solidly in the Bay area, then went over to L.A. in 1999 to see what she could do there before eventually coming back home to Austin and regrouping, after losing relatives and saying goodbye to a marriage. “I was dealing with a lot of death, and it was a heavy time for me,” she said. “In my recovery I was so frustrated creatively, and I wanted to be able to tie together these two very important parts of my heritage, my jazz sensibility and Texas. As I began to do the research, I became more and more overwhelmed with the titles I remembered. When it comes to songwriters and composers, there are so many choices, and I’m not even touching people like Stephen Stills, Ornette Coleman or Erykah Badu.”

She wasn’t even touching the late Janis Joplin, another Texas native, but the likeness is hard to ignore, especially in “Always On My Mind.” She completely turns this 1972 country classic upside down, killing it on her own until the last, Willie Nelson ballad is completely forgotten. It’s still a ballad under Gray’s care, but one with oomph. Nelson’s sounds almost too slow and limp in comparison, bordering on comatose, a dying man’s dying wish. Gray’s cover delivers the once-droning, desperate plea into a dramatically very much still alive, and taut come-hither, the way she tells a completely different, completely empowered story, driving the outcome.

The test of a brilliant cover specialist is what she can do with a substandard, embarrassing throwaway, as in Elvis’ attempt at depth with the social statement, “In The Ghetto.” Gray works a miracle on this decrepit, moth-eaten standard, completely changing the tempo, and the tone—from old-folks-home-meets-Up-With-People, to frank, matter-of-fact, and infinitely hip to today’s standards. Gray has an ease with her phrasing, right up there with the best, again conjuring up a matured, reincarnated Janis Joplin — innately knowing how to get to the heart of the matter with that twang, tension, and release. “Her phrasing is so natural and like an instrument,” remarked Gray’s pianist Pamela York. “It’s always fun. She can improvise just like the cats. And she knows what she wants. Some singers are looking to sound like Ella, or Sarah (Vaughan) or Diana Krall. Kellye’s got her own concept.”

Gray can cut through that layer cake of hers with Janis Joplin’s soul-splitting, gut-busting abandon, then pull back at the right time, tugging at emotional tension like stray threads. “If I Needed You” is her jazz ticket. Townes Van Zandt’s 1972, hot country single gives this singer all the room she needs to breath new life in the gathered spaces, which she does with the tenderness and fragility of a veteran Broadway dancer taking the final act by storm, peering into and behind the intimate jazz notes of piano and soft drums. She doesn’t have to show off voluminous, rushed notes in some impossible jazz standard. She just lets her voice flow, moving in real time to whatever moves her.

Gray and her band recorded the album as live as live can be. Each musician laying down a track without benefit of looking at the others. Very little over-dubs for the fusion stuff. That’s her, riffing naturally on “Dang Me,” as natural as can be, going low, going high, and bridging whatever gap people believe exists between Texas country and jazz.

Texas jazz? Kellye Gray just did that.

Kellye Gray – And They Call Us Cowboys:The Texas Music Project    

Glenn Daniels,
And They Call Us Cowboys: The Texas Music Project from singer Kellye Gray absolutely blows your socks off. First of all, what a voice! Throw in true passion and outstanding delivery and you have soulfulness that knows no boundaries. Gray and her band blend blues,country, jazz and folk into a mesmerizing stew of entrancing sound that is captivating from start from to finish. The songlist is music by Texas composers such Kris Kristofferson, Mack Davis, Roger Miller and Roy Orbison, among others. Backing her on this effort is outstanding collection of talent, which includes the project’s co-producer Jake Langley on guitars, Pamela York and Kevin Lovejoy on piano and Fender Rhodes, Chris Maresh on basses, Kyle Thompson on drums and John Mills on saxophones. This is a fantastic production that you need to hear.


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