Grace Frary is the recipient of this year’s Rochester International Jazz Festival/Eastman School of Music (RIJF/ESM) Jazz Scholarship. The 18-year-old Canandaigua resident just began a double major in jazz studies and music education at Eastman. Grace, who has appeared in the jazz festival since 2013 as lead saxophonist for the Canandaigua Academy Jazz Band, was recognized on June 27 at the annual RIJF/ESM Scholarship concert on the Jazz Street Stage, where she also performed. The winner of the 2016 Finger Lakes Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition, Grace also received honorable mention in the 2015 Rochester Philharmonic League Youth Competition. She has performed in the 198th Army Band Competition and the George Reed Jazz Foundation Competition. Our blogger Dan Gross caught up with Grace as she was ending her summer and getting ready to start full-time at Eastman.
by Dan Gross
Even though you’re a Canandaigua native, you were with the Eastman Community School for a long time. When did you start playing alto sax, and when did you start at ECMS?
I started playing saxophone eight years ago; I was ten years old. I started in fifth grade with local elementary school programs, and then I started taking private lessons, and my private teachers introduced me to ECMS. That’s when I met Kristen Bayer, my first sax teacher up here.
I also went to the Eastman Summer Saxophone Institute, and they introduced me to the classical people around here. That was my first week up here by myself, and I realized the (strength of the) community, how great the programs are up here, and I started private lessons with Kristen after that.
This past summer (2015), I went to the Summer Jazz Studies (program) and that’s when I met all the jazzers up here, like Doug Stone and all those guys, and I knew I wanted to continue playing jazz.
So weren’t always a jazz person? What was the transition going from classical to jazz? Was there an “ah-ha!” moment?
Yeah, my first little bit of jazz was when I went to high school; there were higher-level jazz ensembles. I was in jazz groups starting in middle school, but I wanted more. When I went to that jazz studies camp, it was in-depth jazz all day long, and that’s when I knew that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
So what made you decide to pursue jazz at Eastman? Was it this connection?
The audition process was long, and it was a lengthy and difficult decision, but in my heart, I’ve always loved Eastman. It’s just been such a “stick-out” kind of place because of the community that’s around here.
I did apply to ten schools total, and I had ten programs to choose from. So getting the scholarships, which would also allow me to live off-campus, helped make the decision so much easier.
What did it feel like to receive the XRIJF-ESM Scholarship? It encompasses both the school and the community you mentioned. And not just receiving it, you got to play with Jeff Campbell and some Eastman students at the Jazz Fest?
When I got the phone call, it took me by surprise! I had to ask them to repeat it! It didn’t process for a minute. I was so happy, I can’t even express how happy I felt. Then they told I could perform, and I could pick a couple tunes and jam on the center stage at Gibbs, which was unbelievable. We got do to two shows, and the night show was killer. This was even after I decided to go to Eastman. It was surprises, but it was one of the best surprises.
Did this experience fuel you to go and play out in Rochester?
What fuels me is that I’m not the best, and I’m really pretty new to jazz. Knowing that I have so much room to grow gave me the feeling of wanting to prove to other people and to myself that I can do it. Knowing I’m not the best is OK, and I want to be better.
In picking tunes for the Jazz Fest, I picked tunes that would help me learn while I’m on stage as a performer and a musician, and thinking about them at the same time. I played “Confirmation” by Charlie Parker, and “Sandu.”
That’s a great attitude, and you’re in an interesting position as a female jazz player. Maybe in the past ten years we’ve seen more and more, but particularly women saxophonists coming into their own and getting outside the singer/ songwriter/ pianist model. Who do you listen to for inspiration – like Charlie Parker — and how does this crop of female sax players like Adison Evans, Lauren Sevian, and Grace Kelly inspire you not just in terms of their artistry and presentation of themselves?
One of my favorite musicians, regardless of any criteria, just to listen to is Esperanza Spalding. I’ve seen her live at Kodak Hall, and the way she performs captivates the audience; not the things she does, but the way she plays. That is what I think a true musician really is. If I can make people want to watch me not just because I’m female saxophonist, or because I might have a certain look or persona, but just to judge me based on my playing. That’s something I look up to towards any musician, regardless of gender. If I could do that, that would be absolutely amazing.
What are your first year goals?
I’m doing a dual-degree in Jazz Studies in Performance and Music Education. For my first year I’d really like to focus on getting down the basics of theory and history, and making sure I know my stuff, so when it comes time for the classrooms and to be out performing, I don’t have to think about it, and I don’t have to second-guess myself. By my first year, I’m hoping I can be confident in myself.
Finally, when you’re not doing music, what do you to put yourself in a good place?
With the very little free I have, or when I’m not working, I really like to run. I was on a cross-country team for three years, I’m dedicated to that. I love running, I kayak right on Canandaigua Lake, I work at the Sand Bar at the lake… I really spend a lot of time on my lake.