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Jazzfest: In conversation with Danielle Allard

By Terry Steeves on June 24, 2015

Ottawa’s young singer/songwriter sensation Danielle Allard has spent her life immersed in music since the age of 3. She began performing publicly at 9, started receiving formal training at 11, and was writing her own songs by age 14. Her studies at Canterbury High School’s Arts Program would further develop her skills in voice and guitar.

“My principal in elementary school was finishing his Ph.D. in music at the time, so he was very supportive of the arts. A couple of other teachers jumped onboard and started putting together theatre productions, so I was lucky I was exposed to that.”

Many of Allard’s early musical influences would shape her writing style during her teenage years. The Ottawa Jazz Festival, in particular, holds a special place in her heart. She spent a dozen summers at the festival with her father, who volunteered each year. The music, the give and take between artist and audience, stage, sound, and lighting production, and the performances themselves, left a lasting impression, and underlined her desire to be a performer.

“I was 10 when I met Tony Bennett…I spent nearly the entire day with him. I watched him perform and thought he was amazing. Every summer, I got more and more into the jazz scene. I loved the music and the performers. This will now be the second time we’ve performed at the fest. The first time was in 2013 after we released Go Long… it was part of our summer tour. It’s a huge deal to play there because some of the people who influenced me are also going to be there.”

Balancing her music and her professional career has not been easy. She was writing her thesis during the tour of her first album, Go Long (2012) and before she’d begun recording her second album, Chameleon (2015), she had landed a successful career as a teacher in Communications. Allard also holds workshops with other musicians and mentors those interested in launching their own musical endeavours.

Her latest album, Chameleon, showcases the broad spectrum of genres in her writing. There’s the ambient lushness of “Lullaby”, the Latin jazz groove of “All Your Answers”, the rockier energy of “Tall Grass”, the achingly pretty “Crown”, and the gorgeously re-invented cover of “Careless Whisper”. The main feature is, of course, Allard’s voice, that winds through the music in beautiful melodies, harmonies, impressive arpeggios, and her signature seamless vocal climbs into falsetto.

“There was always an element of country and folk as well. I grew up in the country, so I always loved acoustic guitar more than rock stuff. So that’s how the folk thing came about. But in the last few years, I’ve been listening to a lot of independent music that influenced me and added a little bit of the electronic element.”

Allard can be seen performing monthly on Sundays at Stella Luna, and weekly during Art Night, held every Thursday evening at Ottawa’s newest theatre and music venue, Live! On Elgin.

“It kind of started as a bring-your-own-canvas party at my house, and you’d sit and paint. Some of them had never done that before and they all noticed how therapeutic it was, working with their hands. They could just make something and it didn’t matter if they were good or not. It’s something I started last summer at Live! On Elgin, just cause I thought it a nice thing to do. My friends were already doing it, so why not include all the people who had shown up to the show too? Right now, we’re putting together a coffee table book full of everybody’s art that they’re making on Thursdays.”

This weekend at the Ottawa Jazz Festival, Danielle Allard will be performing her works as a trio with musicians, Sebastian Romanutti (piano), and Ashley Newall (percussion). The show is at noon on Fri. Jun. 26, on the Rideau Centre stage.