Songs about heartbreak are rich in emotion, says blues-soul singer Danielle Kelly. Especially when you know it from experience.
“I’ve had my heart broken a million times, going back to high school, when I was this angsty teen,” she says. “I’m such a hopeless romantic.”
But these days, Kelly and her Soul Project band are gravitating toward feel-good music.
“We try to get people to forget their worries, like the song ‘Feelin’ Alright,’” she says. “These are dance songs. Shake it up, focus on the positive. That big sound of soul is a higher energy, when I can get there. It’s ecstasy. It’s primal, a nonverbal raw emotion.”
Danielle Kelly’s Jazz Project, a trio, performs every second Sunday afternoon at the Luna Cafe in the Ashland Hills Hotel.
Kelly, 33, a graduate in fine arts of Southern Oregon University, identifies as a millennial and notes that generation’s search for meaningful participation in society while dealing with sizable college debt.
“Millennials, we all try to fit in and identify with something,” she says. “I’m not alone. I went to college because it was the right thing to do. But I don’t know one person not brought to their knees by student debt.
“My drive now is to connect with people on a human level. Feeling good is what we write songs about now.”
Her Soul Project is billed as a retro dance party band, while her jazz trio is “blues, swanky cocktail party vibes” for weddings, wine tastings, birthdays, graduations, festivals and corporate events. They’ve been appearing at Grape Street Bar, 2Hawk, Red Lily, Smithfields, Hearsay, Habaneros, Howiee’s and other spots.
Kelly’s favorite jazz-swing classics are from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and composer Cole Porter — and she, with bandmates, is a blossoming song composer. They also like performing Latin-jazz songs, even shaping a Beatles tune to that genre.
For soul, think Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations, as well as contemporary soul artists Amy Winehouse, Sharon Jones and Raphael Saadiq.
Kelly and her fellow band members just cut a demo collection to be played for venue owners, as they increase their appearances in the region and start to “feel ready to play to a bigger audience.”
Their dream, she adds, is to always keep Ashland as a home base but, with an eye toward big music towns such as Austin, Texas, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Melbourne.
“I’ve got a fire going,” Kelly says.
She grew up in Sitka, Alaska, the adopted daughter of a teacher mom and computer programmer dad. She sang in choir and her dad kept the home filled with music, “shifting the mood with Motown, reggae or mellow Latin guitar after a family feud.”
She came to Ashland for the small-town arts community, college and access to “such a beautiful life hiking and loving the outdoors.” She occasionally acts in indie films and commercials, but “I sing more than anything,” she says.
Playing guitar and doing vocals in both bands is Paul Turnipseed, who says, “It’s a great combination of players and personalities. We’re presenting music that’s fun to dance or party to. There’s an improv aspect to it, too. We like to write our own original music, funk and soul.”
Gordon Greenley is on saxophone. Richard Meyer is on electric bass for soul and Jeff Addicott is on standup bass for jazz. Drummer is Rick Kerby.
Kelly is deejay for Jefferson Public Radio’s “Open Air” on weekday afternoons. The work is a lot more than spinning tunes, she says, as it requires an immense amount of research, musicology and “music discovery” to come up with 40 tunes that don’t get repeated in the near term. It’s at 89.1 FM or streaming at ijpr.org. It has a phone app also.