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Juneau-raised jazz singer releases debut CD

Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2009

After hearing Jeannette D'Armand sing on "Stage Road," her newly-released debut CD, it's surprising to learn that acting, not singing, was her intended career path.

Courtesy Of Jeannette D'armand
Courtesy Of Jeannette D'armand

The daughter of two professional singers, retired University of Alaska Southeast professor of music and local voice instructor John D'Armand and Whitbey Island-based classical singer Gretchen D'Armand, she headed away from that well-traveled road and toward something she considered more her own.

"(I said,) 'I'm not going to do music, that's my parents' world," Jeannette D'Armand recalled. "'I'm going to be an actress.'"

The Juneau-raised performer became involved with Perseverance Theatre when she was 12 or 13, acting in productions steered by Molly Smith and Jamie McLean. She went on to study theater at the University of Wisconsin and New York University, taking classes in voice training as part of the acting curriculum, until her voice professors helped her realize that leaving singing behind would be a mistake.

"Those voice teachers said to me, 'You might not want to do straight acting - you're a singer as well.'"

Someone else in her life, many years earlier, had suspected that her gift for music would make itself heard: her father. Though he didn't steer her toward his profession, she naturally gravitated toward music from a very young age, he said. One day when she was about 5, he heard her singing along with a jazz piece.

"She was just going 'la, la, la.' And I realized after a while that she was singing a pitch that was in every chord that was being played," he said.

Then he heard her anticipate the pitch in chords yet to come.

"And I thought, hmm, maybe I've got a girl with musical talent here," he said.

Now based in Seattle, Jeannette D'Armand is currently a member of the Fifth Avenue Theatre-sponsored trio The Daffodils. She also does voice-over work for such high-profile clients as Alaska Airlines and American Express, and previously worked as a soloist for Cirque de Soleil's Mystère in Las Vegas. She also teaches singing classes.

"Stage Road," her first CD, was recorded in New York, and features back up vocals by Laurel Massé and Janis Siegel, former and current members of Manhattan Transfer. Massé and arranger and pianist Hubert "Tex" Arnold co-produced the CD.

The album features jazz standards, but the selections aren't the jazz classics fans are used to hearing. Selecting more unusual songs that held personal meaning was for D'Armand one of the most important parts of the project.

"The song selection was the biggest thought process, because I'm drawn to so many different kinds of music," D'Armand said.

"How do you make a CD that showcases who are you vocally that doesn't run all over the board?"

One way she achieved cohesion was by having new arrangements made for all the songs she chose. She didn't have to have new arrangements, she said, but it made the songs much more interesting and personal. Co-producer Arnold arranged all but three songs.

One of the tracks on the CD, "Like a Shiver," was written expressly for her voice by composer Charles Baker. Baker also is one of the people who encouraged her to make a CD, and contributed $4,000 of his own money to the project, a gift that led to a fundraising concert which brought in more than $13,000. From there, things took off.

"He actually was the big impetus for getting this done," D'Armand said.

Another track, "Touchtone love screen," by John Mayer, was chosen as a light-hearted reference to D'Armand's other career as a voice-over professional. Mayer, who previously worked with Judy Garland and Margaret Whiting, invited D'Armand to his studio to choose a song after hearing her sing, and that was the one that struck her.

Other composers featured on the CD include Jackie Gleason, Stephen Sondheim and Rupert Holmes (of "The Pina Colada Song" fame).

After all the groundwork was done, D'Armand had 12 solid tracks. A good number, but not the right number. Born on Friday the 13th, D'Armand had her heart set on 13 tracks. She soon figured out what that last song would be: a recording of her maternal grandmother, Jeanne Merrill, a former Metropolitan Opera and Broadway singer, made from an old vinyl recording, a 78 RPM. Though they edited out much of the background hiss common to such old EPs, some static remains, D'Armand said.

Her favorite track of the 12? A Joni Mitchell tune.

"With all the money that was spent on all the big arranged numbers, I have to say my favorite track is 'Cactus Tree,'" she said. "It's one of those songs where (I hear it and) my bones just settle. It feels like home."

Listen to D'Armand's songs or purchase her CD at CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com) or Amazon.com, or on iTunes. Visit D'Armand's Web site at www.jeannettedarmand.com.



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