Jazz Roots, Soul Steam Ahead: An Interview with Danielle Kelly
Raised in Alaska, Danielle Kelly absorbed every bit of performing arts experience she could. In school, she was in every play, every choir; she became smitten with jazz, practicing it all the way through high school. These days, Kelly and her band, Danielle Kelly Soul Project (DKSP) are fresh off the release of their debut album, the self-titled DKSP. The album is a playful, feel-good jam, oftentimes funky. In a recent interview, I asked Kelly about her plans for the holidays, her art, her roots, and her future.
Rogue Valley Messenger: Did extra time during quarantine help change how you approach your music projects and how you used technology when collaborating?
Danielle Kelly: I guess the silver lining to being down 200-plus shows for 2020 was that we had some time to finish writing some new songs, and although we had hoped to “work” them live for audiences before recording them, we had the time to get into a studio and track our first debut album of DKSP originals. We didn’t ever rehearse as a band via zoom… but before live music has had this timid “reopening,” we did have a couple live streamed events thanks to Dan Marca of Dancin Vineyards, and Best Northwest collaborating with the Holly Theater for the Marquee sessions. It’s a very sterile experience performing online, with no audience energy exchange, but we were very grateful for the outlet to share music somehow. I will reiterate that despite some modest live music events taking place, we are in no way “back to normal” as far as live music goes. Musicians are still experiencing an incredible, ongoing loss.
RVM: What changes to the southern Oregon music scene would you like to see within the next year?
DK: We are all dealing with so many obstacles and new parameters… much appreciated are the individuals and organizations who have creatively adapted to provide live music even so. As before, and especially now, proper live music venues are needed to deliver to our community. Stages. Restaurants and bars willing to utilize their space as platforms for music, as well as designated entertainment venues! Squeezing into the corner of a room between shoved aside tables and chairs does create a special sort of player comradery, however, to properly experience music, both the performer and audience alike greatly benefit from intentional music space.
RVM: Your debut album with DKSP came out earlier this year. Are you planning on releasing a series of studio and live albums in a relatively frequent sequence from here, or because so much goes into the production of an album, will the next one take a few years to be ready for release?
DK: If funds were unlimited (and we were as frequently working musicians as we were circa 2019) we’d be back at it working on the next DKSP album currently… since things have remained slow/touch-and-go for the music industry, we are on hold. Writing, plotting, planning, dreaming… I am currently preparing for a jazz ep, perhaps even holiday themed with a smaller team. Stay posted for updates!
RVM: Because November is known for giving thanks and this is he Messenger‘s Giving Guide. What is DKSP’s experience working with charities, volunteering in the community, doing benefit concerts and the like? Is there a favorite memory that you hold dear about touching the lives of others?
DK: As if a global pandemic wasn’t enough, a fire ripped through the lower Rogue Valley in September 2020 leaving thousands displaced. DKSP teamed up with our friends (Haley Maddox, Emilly Higgs, Thadeus Gala) who had previously hosted Party in The Pasture at Higgs Gym in Central Point for a round of this annual event to focus on raising funds for those displaced by the fires, specifically uninsured and low income victims. The event raised over 111K in one evening, and facilitated transitional ease and rehoming help to many families… in a time where it was easy to feel overwhelmed with helplessness, it was comforting to be a part of this effort, not to mention that these days playing music to live audiences feels like a two way dose of medicine more than ever.
RVM: What do you have coming up for the holidays, professionally and/or personally?
DK: There’s a four letter word that comes to mind. Rest. Naturally, I do not slow down much. I work Monday- Friday at Jefferson Public Radio, am constantly grinding to book my bands, write new music, perform, as well as various other side hustles to feed my music habit. It’s been an especially trying chapter, and I have come to the conclusion a deep recharge is a necessary step to going forward in any way. Sleep, stretching, writing, listening to music for inspo, and organizing my junk drawer. Glamourous, I know.
RVM: How often do you get back to where you’re from in Alaska, and is there a venue or two there for you to perform at?
DK: I like to visit Sitka at least once a year, for either magical summertime moments, or nostalgic thanksgiving holidays. In 2019 DKSP was lucky enough to play the Stardust Ball, KCAW Raven Radio’s Halloween fundraiser bash, an event that funds their radio station for the year. It was really special to introduce my “band family” to my stomping grounds, and totally thrilling to participate in an event I’d never been old enough to attend as a youngster. Fingers crossed we can do it again sometime! Sitka Summer Music Festival, the Sitka Fine Arts Camp lineup or Sitka High School’s Jazz Festival are all bucket list items for me. I’d be honored to sing back home again, Sitka Alaska is truly a magical place.
RVM: I love when you said that jazz is an “artsy, angsty medium for a romantic teen…songs about heartbreak galore.” What are your thoughts on avant garde jazz and performing it?
DK: Scatting, or improvising is something I only practice alone at home, but is something I’d like to be brave enough to incorporate live again someday. I used to scat live all the time when I was studying vocal jazz in high school, but it’s like anything, use it or lose it. Jazz is not necessarily a popular music today, and maybe because of this I often operate under the misconception that the jazz lyrics I’m singing are what convey the meaning of the songs, but I know this is totally inaccurate. It would be really freeing to express more of this music’s soul through improvisation. Thanks for the nudge.
DKSP performs as a trio at Belle Fiore Winery at 5 pm, Sunday, November 7.