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Julie Kelly: An instinct for jazz

Stately and authentic, veteran Julie Kelly follows her swinging convictions.

August 14, 2013|By Kirk Silsbee | By Kirk Silsbee
  • Jazz singer Julie Kelly in her Studio City home on Wednesday, August 7, 2013. Kelly will be playing at Mambo's in Burbank on Aug. 20, 2013.
Jazz singer Julie Kelly in her Studio City home on Wednesday,… (Tim Berger / Staff…)

When jazz singer Julie Kelly takes a stage, she does so with authority. A local veteran, she has the ease of control in her presentation. Indeed, for the jazz-listening public, it's hard to imagine the tall, imposing Kelly doing anything else in her life.

It's not a studied pose. "At this point," she states, "I don't do a lot of formulating." That ability to trust her instinct is the result of a career that has bred her artistic convictions. Kelly will bring that sure-footed quality to Mambo's in Glendale on Tuesday.

She's not so affixed in her modus operandi that she doesn't make room for surprises, though. "There are a lot of intangibles to music," she points out, "but you have to be open to new things. That's why I listen to the young singers."

Asked whom she appreciates of the new crop, Kelly replies: "I love Gregory Porter, Kenny Washington, Gretchen Parlato and Esperanza Spaulding. I like local singers too: Kathleen Grace, Sara Gazarek, and of course, the established ones like Bill Henderson, Sue Raney and Tierney Sutton. There's always something to learn."


Kelly is a swinger who loves to run with the instrumentalists on a bright tempo. But she's also a poised ballad singer and can deliver blues-based material with authenticity. Hackneyed songs are never her bill of fare, and audiences are continually tickled by Kelly's choice of good, though out-of-the-way songs.

"Sometimes people come to hear me," Kelly says, "and they just want me to sing Great American Songbook standards. But those songs, as great as they are, are only a part of what I do. I like to be open to whatever happens in the moment, and I like to be able to pursue something new if I feel it."

Still, Kelly finds that older material beckons these days. "The longer I sing," she says, "the less I search out new songs. I find myself revisiting older songs, like 'Til the Clouds Roll By' by Walter Donaldson or 'It's a Wonderful World' — not Louis Armstrong's 'What a Wonderful World,' but the older tune by Harold Adamson. As I get older, I find that those songs that I sang years ago have different things to say to me now. And I like that."

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