“An extraordinary vocal talent, one of our finest free-thinking virtuosos”
– Time Out
“Totally in the here and now… intimate and musically flirtatious”
– The Wire
“There is something ethereal and beautiful about listening to the vocal gymnastics of Grant’s voice as she cuts loose; as if leaping off a proverbial cliff, she allows her voice to be led where the heart desires… with spectacular wit and the choicest of musical wisdom.”
– All About Jazz
Kay Grant is a musician and composer whose work is informed by broad experience in jazz, classical, rock and pop. Using the voice as an intrumental component is a trademark that underscores her commitment to the joy of ensemble playing. Marked by a bubbling stream of exploration and an open-armed approach to genre, Grant’s music has travelled a fluid path through interpretation, improvisation and composition.
Grant has toured and recorded throughout the UK, Europe and in the US, from intimate performances in local venues to celebrated spaces including the Barbican in London, Carnegie Hall in New York and Le Zénith in Paris. Her many collaborators include Alex Ward, Pat Thomas, Ntshuks Bonga, Penny Rimbaud, Manuela Keller, John Edwards, John Russell, John Zorn, Shelley Hirsch, Elliott Sharp, Martin Speake, Liam Noble and Sarah Gail Brand.
Although born in Brooklyn, an early holiday to visit family in London left her determined to call it home, and she’s been a dedicated Brit for half her life. Grant originally took to the stage at the age of six, singing musical theatre alongside her parents in local productions. She played violin and flute in her school orchestra and big band and sang in choir, winning an award for best musical student. When her interest in voice became more serious she began studying privately. She received a scholarship to sing with the Oratorio Society of New York performing at Carnegie Hall, sang with the Connecticut Opera and played Gretel in Hansel und Gretel.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (PART 1)
Discovering the avant garde and free improvisation, she became increasingly drawn to contemporary music and composition, and began a series of collaborations with a range of downtown New York figures – including performances of Cobra and free improv group workouts with John Zorn, recordings and live appearances with Elliott Sharp’s Carbon, outings with David Linton’s live hiphop supergroup Outhaus and combinations with instrumentalists such as cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and percussionist Michael Evans.
Grant also became fascinated by the interaction of voice and electronics, working with Matthew Ostrowski on an interpretation of Old English verse The Ruin for voice and tape recorders, productions of his one-act electronic opera The Blinding and performances with live vocals processed through analogue synthesiser. Nicolas Collins’ piece for two voices and interactive electronics gave her the opportunity to sing alongside vocalist Shelley Hirsch. And among her own work to be comissioned was a a collage of found sound for improviser Judy Dunaway and a solo vocal composition for dance performed at the Living Theatre.
SEX AND DRUGS AND ROCK AND ROLL
Grant’s vocal talents were aided and abetted by playing bass guitar in both improvising groups and rock bands, including the infamous underground industrial project Missing Foundation and the free jazz power noise trio Fihi Ma Fihi, recording and peforming at various venues, festivals and several live radio sessions. But it was her vocal sense of adventure which was called upon by leftfield rock group Cop Shoot Cop, with whom she co-wrote and recorded the track Empires Collapse, touring with the band in the UK and throughout Europe.
BACK TO THE OLD WORLD
Through them she met the French rock band Deity Guns, joining the group for a tour across France and a recording with producer Lee Renaldo from Sonic Youth, for whom they opened at the Zenith in Paris. Signed to Cop Shoot Cop’s record label, Big Cat, they supported the band on tour throughout the Continent and the UK. After settling in London, Grant continued playing bass with several bands including Pinkie Maclure’s Fingerfood, and writing her own songs for The Elements, with Silverfish drummer Stuart Watson.
Various club appearances and recordings with DJs led to a meeting with programmer Richard Gallon. The challenge of writing popular tunes and a shared love of the Bristol Sound inspired them to form electropop duo Switch. Their catchy and innovative pop helped hone her songwriting skills, and a string of successful gigs culminated in the recording of single What You Are with Natacha Atlas producer Tim Whelan.
After Gallon’s departure Grant returned to Free Improvisation, her playing enriched by her diverse musical experiences. For several years she focused on the creation of a hybrid sound, treating her voice with live electronics. Her more recent work has concentrated on the untreated exploration of the instrument that is the human voice. Considering the voice as an instrumental component rather than a privileged expressive vehicle, in the context of Free Improvisation she is a true ensemble player, using her far-reaching vocal range and a wealth of stylistic elements, tones and colours to play with imagination, energy and sensitivity.
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (PART 2)
In 2013 Grant played on the Mopomoso Sound and Music Tour, visiting seven cities in the UK alongside Alex Ward, Evan Parker, Pat Thomas, John Edwards, Alison Blunt, Benedict Taylor, David Leahy and the fearless leader John Russell. Over the years she has collaborated in improvising groups of various sizes with many gifted London musicians including Daniel Thompson, Ntshuks Bonga, Dominic Lash, Olie Brice, John Edwards, Hannah Marshall, Steve Noble, Sarah Gail Brand, Eddie Prevost, Oren Marshall, Martin Speake, Liam Noble, Mark Sanders and (the late great) Lol Coxhill.
AND THEN SOME
In addition to her free improvising groups, Grant joined the Apartment House Ensemble in Aldeburgh performing Schumann : Entropic Song Meditations by Anton Lukoszevieze. She sang as a lead voice in pianist Veryan Weston’s opera The Mayfly and joined Phil Minton’s Feral Choir for live appearances at the Royal Opera House, the Barbican and Hard Rock Calling festival. She has been heard on Resonance104.4FM as performer, programme host and interviewee. As part of Resonance Radio Orchestra she performed in several radio plays, singing Tina Tuner’s Nutbush City Limits in Tales Of Tthe Great Unwashed, and was a member of Resonance’s Hauntological Orchestra, singing well-loved pop classics like Bacharach’s Anyone Who Had A Heart. In 2014 she participated in a two-day exploration of a disused library’s potential as a sound-source in A Call From the Library by artist Lisa Skuret. She performed alongside Penny Rimbaud in Oh, America at Central St Martin’s in 2017, reciting and singing several arias for which she wrote the melodies, and was part of Rimbaud’s production of And He Was Cut Down, singing alongside Eve Libertine. She is currently working with Eve on Mark Weber’s new production of his opera Room of Worlds.
Singing classically, Grant has been a member of several distinguished London choirs including Giltspur Chamber Choir under James Jarvis and Chandos Chamber Choir under Andrew Arthur and James Davey. With Ad Libitum Chamber Choir under Julian Collings, she sang the part of Second Woman in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, as well as other solos including Cujus Animam Gementem from Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and the Domine Deus from Valvaldi’s Gloria.
CLOSE ENOUGH FOR JAZZ
More recently Grant turned toward her beginnings, writing and singing songs and jazz standards. The Kay Grant All-four featured Martin Speake, Liam Noble and Mark Sanders playing her original compositions with the voice as a (word-less) front-line instrument. She fronted the Big Swing Big Band at the Tivoli Ballroom and the Cyril Bass Quartet featuring Bob Sydor on sax. Her new project, Living Standards, is a stripped-back duo with versatile acoustic guitarist Martin Vishnick, finding fresh ways with classic and original tunes.
BRISTOL SOUND AND MUSIC
In 2021 Grant resettled in Bristol, and has been seen playing with some of its amazing improvising musicians, including Aaron Hawkins (sax/flute), Matthew Grigg (processed guitar), Paul Anstey (double bass), Bob Helson (drums/percussion), Phil Gibbs (guitar), Tina Hitchens (flute) and Mark Langford (sax/bass clarinet).