A range of vocals

Jeannette D'Armand's repertoire runs from jazz to opera to show tunes

Posted: Thursday, September 18, 2003

Former Juneau resident Jeannette D'Armand likes jazz legends Billy Strayhorn and Ella Fitzgerald, but she doesn't consider herself a "typical jazz scat singer." She likes the theatrics and the fantasy of Kurt Weill too, but her own compositions tend to be more ethereal.

D'Armand touches on a little bit of everything - jazz, Broadway and opera. Her mezzo soprano range is just as versatile - somewhere between a soprano and an alto.

Now living in Seattle, D'Armand will kick off the Juneau Lyric Opera's fall season with a 7:30 p.m. performance Thursday, Sept. 18, at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. Her program, a variety of Broadway and jazz standards, is an extension of "At Long Last: Jeannette," a cabaret she assembled last winter in Seattle for her first true solo production.

"For me, the cabaret was really about doing my own thing, without a script of the music but really embodying this kind of music and using my theater background," said D'Armand, who earned an acting degree from New York University. "I've been learning all kinds of music over the years, and it was all about putting this together into one cohesive piece."

Mark Rabe, a Seattle actor and musician, will accompany D'Armand on the piano. Rabe has backed D'Armand before and just finished a production of "Hamlet" at Seattle's ACT Theatre.

D'Armand will begin her show with "The Saga of Jenny," a Kurt Weill composition with Ira Gershwin words. Her father used to sing the song to her when she was little.

"My full name is Jeannette, but everyone called me Jenny," D'Armand said. "I really love the music, and the chords and the piano, and the vocal line in the text is great. You can really sink your teeth into it."

The program also includes Weill's "Stranger Here Myself," some Strayhorn, Johnny Mercer and Rogers and Hart and Stephen Sondheim's "Losing My Mind" and "The Girls of Summer."

"It seems people either love (Sondheim) or hate him, and pianists in particular don't always like him because he's very hard to play," D'Armand said. "So I get to put Mark through the ringer."

D'Armand will perform an original composition, "The Broccoli Song," in honor of friend Ron Olson, a former Perseverance Theatre actor and Juneau and Seattle resident who died from AIDS in the mid-1990s. D'Armand wrote the song when she was attending New York University in the early 1990s. She was sick when her class was assembling its senior project - a play loosely based around the Marquis de Sade - but the acting director asked her to sing a song.

She wrote "Broccoli" in a hospital bed. It has more to do with Ella Fitzgerald and intimacy than broccoli itself. Olson loved the song.

"It goes from sweet to sick to totally twisted," D'Armand said.

D'Armand lived in Juneau during 1982 and 1983 and attended Floyd Dryden Middle School. She moved when her parents divorced. Her father, John D'Armand, still lives here and taught voice and music appreciation at University of Alaska Southeast for nearly 20 years.

D'Armand got an introduction to serious acting when her father forced her to audition for "Boom Box," a play at Perseverance in 1982. She made the cast and the play toured through Southeast. One of the guest artists she met at Perseverance, Candace Derra, taught at NYU. D'Armand applied to the school's drama program and was accepted. She earned her bachelor of fine arts degree in drama from NYU's Tisch School of the Arts.

In Seattle, D'Armand sings, acts and teaches voice. She's appeared as a guest artist for several regional companies, sang as a soloist in Cirque du Soleil's Las Vegas production, "Mystre," and has been Master Artist in Voice for Experience Music Project's Advanced Apprenticeship program. During the day, she records voice-overs for Muzak and works in data services for the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. She sang the national anthem on Saturday, Sept. 13, for the American Diabetes Association's Race for the Cure fund-raiser at Seahawks Stadium in Seattle.

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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