Hearing, more than smell, brings (my) memories to life

I know. I know. It is widely assumed and believed that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. But for me (and a handful of musicians that I spoke to), music – in some cases even just a few bars of a song –  can draw upon some of the most powerful memories in a persons life.

It has been an interesting month for me, for a variety of reasons, some good and some less than. Everyone has months like mine. Certainly the events are unique to each persons life, but similar where a variety of things go on, and regardless of whether or not they are all positive, the mere quantity of them can be overwhelming.

Through it all and along the way, music has seemed to fall into my lap as if it was intentional, triggering a variety of powerful memories, stronger than any smell could ever offer.

When the thought came in my head to write about this, I decided to ask some jazz friends their thoughts on the topic, and what music takes them back to a point in their life.

“I think recordings are a bit like scents. You may not experience a smell for years… say, the faint smell of your high school auditorium… and you wouldn’t even remember that it exists, except that when you’re exposed to it again, all the memories come rushing back. For me it’s not so much a particular song as a particular recording – the particular combination of musicians and how they hooked up that day and what little figures they improvised.

The John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album has that quality for me. The whole album. Sophomore year in college was a very melancholic time for me. I broke up with my first real girlfriend and was doing a lot of soul-searching. I poured that intensity into how I listened to music, and I listened to a lot, probably to no recording more than Coltrane & Hartman.

That whole album has such a cohesive vibe that it more or less effects me as a whole … though I suppose if I had to choose one standout track it might be Lush Life. I’ve listened to the album periodically since, so it doesn’t invoke quite the same *surprise* rush of memory that it used to, but it remains supercharged with that larger-than-life emotional intensity I associated with it.

And there’s the song that I wrote for my wife and played at our wedding ceremony. I never recorded it. I’ve performed it a small handful of times. More often than not I’ve had to fight off tears when I do. In fact, I cried some while I was writing it at the piano, and I cried playing it at the wedding. I suppose you could say it has some emotional memories attached!”

– Saxophonist Anton Schwartz

I also heard from Taylor Eigsti…

“Well for me, the music most tied to my memory is not jazz. But as far as jazz songs go, my favorite, and the one that makes me pretty emotional every time I hear it, is Nancy Wilson / Cannonball “The Masquerade is Over”. I think that’s the single most beautiful track ever recorded – in my opinion, the closest thing to perfection in recorded form. Can’t get through it with dry eyes, ever. ”

– Pianist Taylor Eigsti

…and from Grace Kelly.

“When I hear Desafinado done with Joao Gilberto and Stan Getz it really resonates with me. I grew up listening to Stan Getz as a kid around the sounds and would sing along to his solos not even knowing it! When I hear this song I remember being at home, happy as a button and just chilling around the kitchen as a little kid.”

– Saxophonist Grace Kelly

I think that some of the key points made by these wonderful musicians can be the most true when it comes to most people. A particular song can trigger thoughts of a relationship, childhood, beauty, pain, or simply just a deep appreciation for the overwhelming importance of the recording itself and the first time that someone heard it, whether it is jazz or not.

Dorothy by Dr. John is a song that I not only found timelessly beautiful the first time I heard it, but it is also a song that I am not allowed to play when a certain person is around because of a completely different emotional attitude that she has towards it. The Dave Matthews/Tim Reynolds live album (while not jazz) became sort of a summer anthem for me in my 20’s, and always takes me back to the treks from Seattle to Spokane for college.

I remember not being able to get the shrink-wrap off of Michael Brecker’s Pilgrimage quick enough, after hearing for months what genius Michael had contributed to this recording while his body was being ravaged with cancer. I remember breaking down in tears in the production studio of the radio station listening to it realizing that all of the hype was correct, and I still can’t believe that the music world is without him.

I remember Basie’s version of One O’clock Jump live at Newport in 1957 being my first inspiration to becoming a real musician, Freddie Hubbard’s Birdlike making me want to become better, and Arturo Sandoval’s A Mis Abuelos demonstrating to me what I would never be able to do on the trumpet, but what only one man could.

Bach’s Mass in B Minor takes me to a German cathedral where I first heard it while studying abroad in college. Talk about the ultimate emotional surround sound. The cheesy international pop hit Macarena by Los del Rio will always take me back to a mission trip I took to Ivanhoe, Calif., in high school where the song played on a local radio station over the loudspeaker around the clock. It didn’t seem to get old while sitting in the orange groves, soaking up the sun, eating fresh fruit.

I remember seeing Brad Mehldau live on solo piano. Just him and the piano, no wires, no amplification. After a virtuosic set in a beautiful room on a stunning piano, he came out to perform his final encore, Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years. While the song is a tune embedded with nostalgia in the lyrics alone, I had never thought a whole lot of it. Mehldau’s down-tempo, thoughtful, complex interpretation was probably the most touching version of another musicians’ tune that I had ever heard. On the drive back from Seattle to Tacoma from the concert, it was 30 minutes into the commute before it struck me that the radio was off, and I had been repeating Mehldau’s final 8 bars of that song over and over in my head the entire drive. His timing, his chord construction, his touch was perfect, and I will never hear Paul Simon’s voice again when thinking of that song. Just those eight bars.

Love, childhood, road trips, friends. I find it safe to say that there is not a person out there that does not have a song that has triggered a powerful memory from the past. And I will make that claim that these triggered memories via sound are far more powerful than any odor or fragrance could ever inspire. But then again, maybe I just have a bad sense of smell.

Grace Kelly blows the roof off at Earshot

Grace Kelly, photo by Jimmy Katz


“Keep shouting and cheering.” – Grace Kelly addressing the crowd at Tula’s on Wednesday night.


During a festival that featured a variety of fine saxophonists, 19-year old Grace Kelly might have been the most highly anticipated of the group, making her first trip to Seattle as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival.

It is clear that Grace enjoys what she is doing. Kelly performed to a sold-out crowd at Tula’s Wednesday night, with her show the following night also already booked to capacity. Performing in a quintet (with trumpet, piano, bass, and drums), Kelly projects a genuine happiness while performing.

But the crowd was treated to more than a positive stage presence. This isn’t a case of people coming to see a show based on some novelty of seeing a talented teen on stage. By the time she was 14, Kelly had already gained the attention of Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, and Phil Woods, and while her career might still be in the early stages, her playing is not.

The audience immediately became enamored with Kelly, who wasted no time bringing energy to the show with songs like Moanin’ and an uptempo version of The Way You Look Tonight. As it is often found in live performances, Kelly took this opportunity to explore some intense, upbeat improvisation often not found on studio recordings seeking out radio airplay.

“I can already tell I like this place. I was just in San Francisco, where they clapped, but they were very polite. Keep shouting and cheering. It helps us (the band) out.” – Grace Kelly addressing the crowd at Tula’s on Wednesday night.

Grace also took to singing on several occasions, featuring a couple of original compositions that seemed to have some personal background. The song Eggshells was inspired by a conversation she had where she was told by the other person that he felt like he was walking on eggshells. Another original vocal tune, Nothing to do with Me, was described simply as a “sad song”, but also seemed to have personal meaning. Here is a video of Grace singing from when she visited the KPLU studios the next day.

Grace then countered the “sad song” with her Happy Theme Song, and all seemed right in the world again. Kelly showed off her versatility with a rocking original tune called Filosophical Flying Fish, saturated heavily with a strong New Orleans foundation.

One true test to see if a fresh face musician is more than just something that is trendy is whether or not that musician can keep the attention of the audience for the entire show. The crowd never lost their enthusiasm, lined up for CD’s and autographs for the entire intermission, and eagerly anticipating the second set. Grace Kelly is the real deal.

Other saxophone highlights from the 2011 Earshot Jazz Festival

Tula’s also hosted two very notable saxophonists the previous week. Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson offered up a soulful performance with local all-stars Bill Anschell (piano), Phil Sparks (bass) and Devon Lewis (drums). If Anderson hadn’t mentioned that his horn had been damaged on the flight and he would need to get it repaired the next day, I doubt anyone would have noticed. “Warmdaddy” raised the temperature in the room with highlights like I Remember April and Change of Heart Blues.

Vancouver, B.C. saxophonist Cory Weeds arrived at Tula’s the following night, with a tribute to the great saxophonist Hank Mobley. Joining the trio of sax, guitar, and drums was Mike LeDonne, one of the leading Hammond B3 organists on the scene today. While at times I found it a bit difficult to hear Weeds soloing over the band, the set cooked with intense solos that escalated in energy as it was constructed. Highlights included LeDonne’s composition Perfectly Hank and Straight, No Filter.

An Interview with Grace Kelly

This morning I had the opportunity to speak with 19-year-old jazz saxophonist Grace Kelly by phone. Grace has won numerous awards and released several albums already, as well as being a very talented vocalist, pianist and composer.

Grace will be coming to Seattle for the first time, performing at Tula’s for two nights as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival in November.

In this audio blog, Grace discusses how she went from being a clarinet player at 10 years old to having her first album recorded at age 12, being mentored and collaborating with the likes of Lee Konitz, Harry Connick Jr., Cedar Walton, and Wynton Marsalis, and being treated like a rock star in Montreal.

She also discusses her work and relationship with Phil Woods and being given his legendary hat, giving advice to young fans, and some surprises she has learned along the way.


“I still get butterflies when meeting the people who inspire me, and I think that is the way it is going to be for the rest of my life.”

Emerging Artist: Grace Kelly

No, not that Grace Kelly.

grace kelly albumI’m torn to define saxophonist, singer, songwriter, composer, and arranger Grace Kelly as “emerging”, considering what she has already accomplished. But as Grace celebrates her 17th birthday next Friday (that’s right, she is just 16), one must assume that there is plenty of opportunity in years to come for this young lady to become a household name in jazz.

On his radio program Jazz After Hours this morning, host Jim Wilke suggested that “young” and “talented” can often go hand in hand, and that no one would argue that both can easily be applied to Grace Kelly. After hearing her wonderful recording of Comes Love, it was easy to agree. And, as her website boasts, I am far from the only person to agree.

Kelly, at age 16, has already performed or recorded with Wynton Marsalis, Dave Brubeck, Harry Connick, Jr., Diane Reeves, Phil Woods, Hank Jones, Kenny Barron, Russell Malone, Cedar Walton, Peter Bernstein, and Marian McPartland. That is the very short list. She has also performed at Carnegie Hall, Birdland, and Scullers (another short list), as well as a variety of jazz festivals. She has won numerous young musician and student musician awards, and was named Best Jazz Act in Boston in 2008 by the FNX/Phoenix Best Music Poll. Oh, and she began her first term at Berklee College of Music last fall, on a full ride, again at age 16.

When you hear Grace Kelly play, or listen to one of her arrangements or compositions, you realize that this isn’t one of those situations where a musician will get cut slack simply based on the fact that they are young. Kelly needs no slack to be cut for her, and the attention that she has received and will continue to receive is more than worthy. Her performances and compositions are frighteningly mature and well designed. In fact, the only way you are even aware that the player is a 16 year old is if you are told that.

What is more surprising is that Grace isn’t someone who had a sax shoved in her hands at age two. She, like many of us, took piano lessons as a young kid. She also followed the typical chronological time line that most kids do in school, not really playing the sax until she was ten. Two years later, she was impressing the likes of Ann Hampton Callaway and Victor Lewis.

I am not someone who throws around the word “prodigy”, but there is not much way to avoid associating that word with Grace Kelly. To imagine what she has accomplished in six years is hard enough to believe. To actually hear it is even more unbelievable.

Grace Kelly’s fifth album is now available, titled Mood Changes. Watch Grace play Setting The Bar with Russell Malone below.