Cool Jazz and Coffee

Grace Kelly hits the spot at Coffee Gallery Backstage

by CHRISTIAN ARAYA, Contributing Writer
Published: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 | 12:41 AM

Grace Kelly’s performance at the Coffee Gallery Backstage the other evening, was more than just eloquent and casual—things got funky. The Coffee Gallery is a nice alcove for, you guessed it, coffee and baked goodies, with their back space converted into a cozy sanctuary for jazz and folk.

Grace Kelly at the Coffee Gallery Backstage

Think of an intimate and warm venue such McCabe’s in Santa Monica, except Coffee Gallery Backstage has walls adorned with cargo bags of coffee beans from around the world. It feels like you’re at a small airport in Uruguay, about to take a private plane in an adventure all over South America, with an untested pilot and a busted altimeter.

Back to Ms. Kelly.  Having performed in places such as New York’s Birdland, Carnegie Hall, The Newport Jazz Festival, and many more jazz stages around the globe, she shared her original compositions, and some covers, and also brought with her two talented backing performers—Michael Miller on twangy jazz guitar and Jerry Watts on a funky electric bass.

She would switch off between soprano and alto sax on her various tunes. Her cover of Henry Rollins’ “St. Thomas” was doused with some breezy sub-tropical rolls and raspy sax phrases. Her musical prowess extended into singing as her soft and tender voice told a lovely story in “Walking on Egg Shells”.

Another original composition that really made an impression was “Leaves”—a meandering of warm, breezy, and colorful sax tones which navigated around the stage.

The trio was actually playing together for the first time, but they sounded as if they knew each other for years. Miller’s artillery of pedal board magic created a layered dreamscape for a lot of Kelly’s love songs. His own solos were a labyrinth of harmony and latin staccato. Watts’ created a scat-a-tat dialogue with his bass a lá George Benson. All their individual nuances came together as they ended their set with some funky jazz, which the audience just couldn’t get enough of.

The Coffee Gallery Backstage is at 2029 N Lake Ave, Altadena, CA 91001. (626) 398-7917. www.coffeegallery.com. 

Christian Araya also lives and blogs at christianaraya.com