Thursday, December 14, 2017
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Actor Danny Aiello brings singing career, movie stories to Ruth Eckerd Hall

Clearwater holds a special place in Danny Aiello's heart, although Tuesday's concert at Ruth Eckerd Hall is only the actor's second visit.

The first time was 40 years ago, making his movie debut in the baseball drama Bang the Drum Slowly, filmed at Jack Russell Stadium.

"My first movie!" Aiello, 78, exclaimed in a telephone interview when reminded of the past. "Let me tell you what happened," Aiello said. "You remember (the late character actor) Vincent Gardenia? I'm in Clearwater — first time there and I haven't been back since — at the Phillies complex where we're filming. I'm sitting in the corner by myself — I'm not really a mingler — I've got the baseball uniform on, maybe a jock strap on my finger and I'm talking to myself, reading lines."

"All of a sudden Vinny Gardenia walks over and asks: 'What's the matter, kid?' I said: 'Mr. Gardenia, I'm having a little difficulty. You know it's forever when you say a line (in a movie) and I'm not quite sure how I want to say it.'"

"He told me: 'Don't worry, kid, you're probably never going to work again, anyway.' "

Luckily for Aiello's fans that wasn't true. He's approaching the century mark in film and television roles, including an Academy Award nomination for Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, and memorable characters like Mr. Johnny Cammareri, the neighborhood fixer dumped by Cher in Moonstruck.

Aiello spoke with the Times about his second career crooning vintage pop standards, which he'll do Tuesday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, backed by his eight-piece band. Aiello has recorded four CDs, with throaty expression often compared with his idols, Bobby Darin and Tony Bennett. Not bad for someone who began singing professionally at age 70.

"I was intimidated by singing before that," Aiello said. "When I play a character as an actor I can hide behind that; blame it on the character if I stink. But singing was always difficult because it's you, and you're judged by what you're doing. I acclimated myself to it, and found out that I'm not too bad. I seemingly get away with it."

Aiello is just beginning to take his musical act on the road. Audiences hear jazzy standards like One for My Baby (And One More for the Road) and Save the Last Dance For Me, at turns jaunty and confessional, Sinatra style.

They also hear more about Aiello's movie stardom that he originally planned.

"I tried at first to talk very little (between songs)," Aiello said. "But then I was told people feel something is being stolen from them if you don't talk a little about your movie career. ... Now I come out, very selfish but not at all cocky, and within two songs they know I can sing. So I can talk about stages of my life, what the music meant to me then. It just sort of swings right by with no problem."

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