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The Performers: Kellye Gray

Kellye Gray

“Powerful”, “imaginative”, “unique”, “emotionally uplifting” are some of the adjectives critics use to describe the talents of jazz singer Kellye Gray. Most importantly, Kellye is that breed of jazz singer who has developed a sound that is truly their own. This same kind of recognition is given to such names as Ella, Sarah, Cassandra and Betty. Her style is post-modernist and she uses her voice like an instrument within the ensemble. She possesses what critics like to call - “musicianly chops.”

Gray, a native Texan, began her career in the most unlikely of places. She cut her teeth up and down Austin’s own Sixth Street during the 1980’s where the music was more rock and roll and cover music than be-bop. On a Kellye Gray gig back then it was not unusual to hear Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, a Modonna or Prince cover all in the same set. But, creative choices and great taste allowed “the KGB (the Kellye Gray Band)” to attract not only a college crowd but also a more sophisticated crowd of up-and-coming baby-boomers.The group quickly became a frequent headliner at many of Austin’s festivals, like Aqua Fest and Old Pecan Street Festival. Kellye was recognized as one of the Austin Chronicle’s favorite singers and jazz groups. She became a regular stand-in for “home-boy-soon-to-be-star” Kirk Whalum as his career began to blossom outside of Texas. It was her friendship with Kirk that would bring her up on stage in Houston one fated night in 1987 for a jam session would change her life forever and bring Kellye the wider recognition she deserved.

Standards in Gray album cover

Kellye moved to Houston in 1987 performing nightly at the Blue Moon. There she developed a following so strong it attracted the fledgling Justice Records to her door. She recorded Standards In Gray (Justice Records) in 1989 and the disc soared to the top of the Gavin report and other jazz charts. This would put Kellye and Justice Records on the map. While on promotional tours for Standards, Kellye fell in love with San Francisco and made her move there in 1992. She was named a member of the Texas Jazz Heritage Society, a group founded by the late Arnett Cobb. Two years later she recorded Tomato Kiss (Proteus Recordings) with most of the original Texas crew from the first disc. The magic of the that group proved to be a good choice and again she had great success as the CD rose to the top of the charts. While in San Francisco she recorded A Piano For All Seasons (Clarity Recordings) with pianist Kevin Gibbs and Funnjazz (Man On The Street) with the acclaimed “Big Money in Jazz” Band. While Developing her chops as a Dixieland/Traditional band-singer she maintained her instrument-like approach with her voice and would use her scat singing and instrument mimicking techniques within the traditional ensemble. The “Big Money” band soon became known as “the Grateful Dead of the traditional jazz set”. In 1998 a track from her Tomato Kiss CD, “A Small Day Tomorrow”, was included in a compilation out of New York City entitled, Fruit Cocktail (Streeter Music).

She moved to Los Angeles in 1999 where she began working with famed jazz pianist Shelly Berg. They have a CD project in production. Family brought Kellye back home to Austin where she relocated in Central Texas in the spring of 2001. In February 2002 she recorded, blue and pink a live concert (Proteus Recordings), recorded in Houston at Ovations Nitespot. The CD is slated for release in June of 2002.