Soul or jazz on the menu at Danielle Kelly Music
She plays a mean tambourine and knows three chords on a guitar. But hand this woman a mic, put her in front of a band, and you’ve got a singer who can make a crowd want to jump out of their seats and start dancing.
She fronts the eponymous Danielle Kelly Jazz Project and Danielle Kelly Soul Project, bands that play at festivals, wineries, night clubs, resorts and other venues throughout the Rogue Valley and beyond.
Lyrics in one of the original songs Danielle Kelly sings go, “We wanna make you dance. ... We wanna get you feelin’ good. ...”
“That pretty much says it,” she said. “The goal is to deliver an invitation to let go, to join us in the moment, to let the music uplift and enliven.”
Mellow jazz standards and high-energy dance party soul are the two main styles of music she performs. The musicians she works with perform in both groups.
“Different events and venues require different vibes,” she said. “Jazz Project and Soul Project help clarify what kind of entertainment a client is going for.”
Her website and branding are under the umbrella of Danielle Kelly Music.
They play primarily in the Rogue Valley, but they also perform in Portland, Bend, Gold Beach, Northern California, and even in her home town of Sitka, Alaska.
“Before COVID struck, we were gearing up for shows in Seattle, Lake Tahoe, San Francisco and Los Angeles,” Kelly said. “Have party, will travel!”
In 2019, Kelly performed in more than 200 shows. In 2020, it dropped to about 25.
“It was an abrupt and heart-wrenching shift,” she said. “The momentum and all that I’d worked for as an entertainer for the past 10-plus years felt ripped away.”
The bands did play a few outdoor gigs for socially distanced fans in 2020. But no dancing, no hugging, no physically connecting with the audience were allowed.
“We managed a way to rehearse as a band safely and get into a studio to record our new album,” she said. To be released this spring, the Danielle Kelly Soul Project debut album is a collection of 12 neo-soul tunes.
Originals are a collaborative effort with members of the band. “I write lyrics and fit melodies around grooves and chord progressions my bandmates fashion,” she said.
When they perform, it’s usually a mix of covers and originals.
The jazz list includes songs made famous by singers she grew up studying and listening to — Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and contemporaries Diana Krall and the late Amy Winehouse.
The soul book shuffles classics by Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye among others; and neo-soul artists such as Sharon Jones and Prince.
Kelly’s “day job” is as a host of “Open Air,” a music program on Jefferson Public Radio, Rhythm & News, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday. It’s a place where listeners can hear the latest indie/pop and Americana, plus blues, jazz, folk, and world music. She hosts the noon to 3 p.m. slot.
She came to Ashland to study at Southern Oregon University, earning a BFA in acting. She mitigated her academic burn-out by working the fine dining scene in Ashland. Topping off wine glasses for Oregon Shakespeare Festival playgoers inspired conversations of art and music, and eventually reignited her desire to perform.
A local jazz group enlisted her as a vocalist in 2010, but she quickly turned into a band leader herself.
Like all artists, she has faced her share of challenges.
“From time to time, I’ve felt limited not being able to play an instrument myself, leaving me dependent on other musicians for performance,” she said.
“Like any creative, I’ve also experienced the time/resources dilemma. But by far, the challenge of the pandemic has been incomparable.”
With whom would it be fun to collaborate? “The Dap Kings.”
What does she sing in the shower? “Everything from vocal warm-ups to Aretha Franklin to Notorious BIG.”
What’s her favorite song to sing? “Our originals that audiences have started singing along with.”
What’s the best advice she’s ever received? “On a clip of the late (jazz pianist) Chick Corea, hearing him tell aspiring artists to ‘be sure to make something YOU think is beautiful, not what you think others will like.’”
ho is her greatest influence? “My entertainment peers.”
What is the most trouble she’s ever gotten into? “It’s always when I don’t listen to my higher self.”
As Kelly and her band prepare for a post-COVID future, they have started to shoot music videos to build more content they can share digitally.
“The warm weather months are approaching, which hopefully will allow us some outdoor performance opportunities,” she said. “We have participated in a couple live-stream performances that allowed us to connect to our audiences in at least some way.”
They have been grateful for that outlet, but miss the energy exchange in a live performance between audience and musicians.
You can follow her @daniellekellymusic on both Facebook and Instagram, and get updates on album releases and performances on daniellekellymusic.com.
Reach Ashland writer Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.