Saxophonist, songwriter and vocalist Grace Darling's 1997 debut, "Imaginary Lover," for NYNO Records, created waves in the jazz world. To be sure, she was not the first female saxophonist to emerge in the 1990's, but her unique artful blend of blues, gospel and jazz influences were encapsulated perfectly in her first album. By the time she was 18, she had performed twice at the prestigious Montreaux Jazz Festival.
Darling, born and raised in New Orleans, began playing piano at age seven and became curious about other instruments shortly after that. Darling found her arms too short for trombone, so she was given the choice of trumpet or alto saxophone. She chose the saxophone, and drew inspiration from the huge variety of local musicians around the Crescent City. She studied the recordings of Tower of Power, Keith Jarrett, Charlie Parker, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Earth, Wind and Fire, Bob Marley and Maceo Parker.
Darling's first big break came about in 1989 when she met legendary songwriter, arranger, producer and piano player Allen Toussaint. Later that year, he invited Darling to sit in with him at his set at the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. In 1996, Toussaint signed Darling to record for his then-fledgling NYNO [New York-New Orleans] record label. Her debut, 1997's "Imaginary Lover" showcases Darling's gift for composition with her own songs as well as tunes by keyboardist Al Kooper and fellow Louisianan, guitarist Sonny Landreth.