Meet And Greet Danny Ross; Download Exclusive MP3s
When I caught up with Danny Ross in late August 2009, he was trying to get his feet wet – but not in the literal sense.
“It’s been rainy, uncharacteristically rainy, the last two months” in New York, he said.
A little over a year later, the singer/pianist/multi-instrumentalist/composer has gotten them more than just a little wet. Ross is now fully drenched in music accolades, and on Saturday night, he headlines a show at NYC’s prestigious Mercury Lounge.
(Scroll down for two exclusive MP3s that Danny Ross granted the Bad Penny.)
Flash back to four years ago when Ross had just graduated in Policy in Government and Music from upstate at Cornell University. Crack all the jokes you want – about the Singing Senators, Orrin Hatch or John Ashcroft – but his less-than-obvious double major was enough to land him a job working for Democratic Congressman Jerry Nadler. And that moonlighting gig, in turn, allowed him to bear the financial burden of living in New York, where he hoped to fulfill his true vocation: making music professionally.
“I have a 10-6 job here working for the Congressman, then I’m either going to shows in the scene or I’m home practicing,” he said gratefully.
But, he lamented, “There aren’t enough hours in the day.”
As Ross has proven to himself over the years, he knows how to make the most of his time.
At age 17, he properly embarked upon his dream of becoming a musician. He joined his first band and continued playing with various troupes for eight years. Eventually, he decided to go out on his own – but would later circle back around to collaborative efforts.
“Part of the reason I’m a solo artist now is because of those experiences,” he said. “I have a lot of musical ideas that, before I commit to anything else, I need to get out and really allow myself to be creatively free. I hear the full production in my head before I write the song. I tend to not let anything out until it’s finished. At least in the writing and in terms of the melody and lyrics.”
Still, “The flip side of that is you have all the responsibility – musically and business-wise,” he said. “That’s a lot to put on one person’s shoulders.”
Once Ross became grounded in New York – and after staging an unforgettable solo performance at an Obama fundraiser that drew raves from The New Yorker and Brooklyn Vegan – he finally found a group of like minds, which helped ease some of the burden.
“I met them actually through just hanging around in the New York City music scene. The musicians I tend to have in my bands come from jazz backgrounds. I love having jazz musicians in my band, because they seem to be the most technically versatile and capable. Of course, they also have to have background in rock and roll, but I tend to take guys – or girls – that have that training or will be able to do anything I instruct them.”
Before you reach any false conclusions, Ross doesn’t speak words such as those with an air of arrogance or even overconfidence. He simply knows what works.
For no better proof, look at his ambitious masterstroke, One Way. A collection of gorgeous compositions, the affair actually began as Ross’ senior project at Cornell – and earned him Summa Cum Laude honors for his writing, arranging and performance of it.
“When I was in school four or five years ago, my thought was to take all of these new songs I had, put them together and make an album out of it – make the songs tell a story.
“But the kind of arrangements I was hearing were big arrangements, and I was with a jazz professor and poetry professor who really honed my skills as a songwriter and arranger. For the big finale, we put the whole thing together live with a 17-piece band in this theater that held 200-plus people. And that was sort of a dream come true for me, to have this really big project.
“So when I graduated from school, my whole ambition was basically to, as soon as possible, re-create that: Re-create the piece and play the album again live straight through. So, after school, I quickly put out an EP of other songs I’d written, and that allowed my to play in the New York circuit and meet musicians and have a Web site. And, about a year ago, I got all these musicians together and we started recording the project. And now it’s finished.”
In mid-September 2009, Ross celebrated the completion of the project by recruiting 15 of those aforementioned NYC music-scene-sters – some of whom had previously performed with Ryan Adams and Duncan Sheik – to perform as a band and orchestra at the city’s St. Mark’s Church.
“As you can imagine, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get 15 professional musicians coordinated in the same room at the same time, making sure they’re on the same page at the same time,” he said before the show. “So it’s hard to do the prep work for that.”
Regardless, the show drew raves – naturally – and set Ross on a path that led him from the church to the Living Room to South by Southwest to Rockwood Music Hall to Pianos (where he was granted a residency) to the famed Mercury Lounge (where he has been endowed with headlining honors).
For the Saturday night performance – by a long shot the biggest one he will have played – he will be backed by a nine-piece band and a horn section, and weave new material into the set.
“The goal, the next six months or so, is really to rise in the New York music scene,” Ross told me in September of last year.
And now – just as Danny Ross tends to accomplish much of what he sets out to do – it would be an understatement to say that he has done exactly that.
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