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Kellye Gray Rendering


Jazz vocalist KELLYE GRAY has had a long and rewarding career. A singer with a powerful voice and a nearly four-octave range, she’s toured extensively across the country and around the world, sharing the stage with some of the top names in music. She’s also recorded over seven albums as a leader. Her first recording, Standards in Gray, was released 25 years ago. It received rave reviews and extensive airplay, and it launched a career that remains unabated today.

The album had been out of print for nearly 23 years when the record label that owned the rights gave her ownership of the master. The album had played a seminal role in Gray’s career, and getting ownership of it after so many years made her take stock of her artistic life. That led her to re-record many of the same songs that appeared on that first release. She calls the new album RENDERING, which the dictionary defines as “a depiction or interpretation; work of art or performance that portrays something,” and, indeed, RENDERING is a work of art that portrays Grays’ growth as an artist. She chose to re-release Standards in Gray and package the two CDs together as a kind of snapshot of then and now.

Standards in Gray was recorded over three days at Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, Texas, one of the oldest studios in the country and the purveyor of numerous gold records. It was recorded live to two-track analog tape, in the days before Sibelius and ProTools, giving the album a warm, rich sound, even after transferring it to CD format. For RENDERING, Gray took a very different approach.

Gray, a Texas native who has been living in San Francisco for many years, wanted to go back to her musical family to make this CD. She invited 30 old friends and supporters, including several who participated in her crowdfunding campaign, to join her at Wire Road Studios to record a live performance. She would have liked to bring back all the original musicians, but schedules and other circumstances did not make that possible. She was, however, able to enlist drummer Sebastian Whittaker, who passed away shortly after the concert at a young age, and saxophonist Warren Sneed, a mainstay on the Houston jazz scene, to join her again in the studio. RENDERING also features Pamela York on piano, David Craig on bass, and Andre Hayward on trombone, all Texas-based touring musicians with solid followings.

For Gray, as a jazz musician, the most exciting thing about the music is its spontaneity, so she decided to eschew rehearsals and many of the typical accoutrements that go into a studio recording. The band performed for two hours before the audience with open mikes and no headphones. All the tunes were done in one take with no stopping. The result is a stunning, live album that demonstrates why Gray is considered one of the top vocalists around today by critics as well as fans.

The CD comprises songs from Standards In Gray, a couple of originals written by Gray, and some songs that she just loves to sing these days. Gray wrote all the arrangements, both old and new. Comparing the two albums, you can hear just how she’s matured as an artist. She’s always been a singer with a huge heart and a mellifluous tone that she can unleash like a full-throated Texas blues singer. She still has those qualities in spades, but she now has a great deal more vocal control and a sense of subtlety that comes from maturity and experience. Gray relates, “When you’re young and just starting out as a singer, you don’t know yourself yet. You do things you think will please the audience and get the biggest reaction. Nowadays, of course I still want to please the audience, but when I sing, I’m totally immersed in the music. I don’t think about the audience.”

KELLYE GRAY - RENDERING from Doug Brown on Vimeo.

Gray finds music to have great healing powers. She had a difficult childhood. She came from a broken home and experienced other heartbreak along the way, but music has always provided her with a measure of emotional succor. The two tunes she wrote for this CD, “Out Blows Me” and “God You Make Me Wonder,” grew out of her life experiences. She began writing “Out Blows Me” as a children’s song with a simple melody, but it soon evolved into a very adult tune with a message about seizing the day. She wrote “God You Make Me Wonder” to help her heal from the dissolution of her marriage.

Whatever Gray sings, whether they’re tunes inspired by Billie Holiday like “Don’t Explain” and “Good Morning Heartache,” or a bossa, as in “How Insensitive,” or an intimate ballad like the Shirley Horn-inspired “A Time For Love,” her powerful voice, sensuous tone, and creative approach shine through. Gray is a unique talent on the jazz scene, and RENDERING is a testament to the continued growth of an artist who is already at the top of her game.

About Kellye Gray:

Native Texan Kellye Gray has recorded seven albums as a leader and performed nationally and internationally at world-class venues and festivals including Lincoln Center, the Spoleto Festival, Yoshi's, SFJAZZ.

Her debut release, Standards In Gray (Justice Records) broke her onto mainstream radio in 1990 landing the fledgling, indie release into the top twenty. Gray began songwriting at 17. Self-taught on guitar, she produced one-woman shows in art galleries to present her original compositions. By 19 years old she was working as a professional improvisational comic actor. Her skills landed her a prized stage manager position where she learned the art of foley sound and, doing sound effects, how to use the voice in ways other than singing.

She first heard jazz listening to her dad's record collection. Her parents would also drag her to blues bars and strip clubs in Dallas' Deep Ellum district or to Gulf Coast roadhouses where they would dance to then unknown acts like Clifton Chenier and B.B. King. You hear the blues and rhythm at the core of every note Gray sings.

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