Playing Politics

A musician leads a double life

By Ben Ehrlich

Published July 16, 2007, issue of July 20, 2007.
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Although former president Bill Clinton fooled around with, among other things, a tenor saxophone, politics and music are nonetheless strange bedfellows. But Danny Ross doesn’t care. The 23-year-old singer/songwriter, who just released his first album, “Introducing Danny Ross!” also works as a staffer for New York City Congressman Jerrold Nadler. “I run the office operations,” Ross told the Forward, “and I’m also the congressman’s scheduler.”

In his writing of the five pop-sized, radio-ready tracks on the album, the Long Island native is precise and organized. The album is a clean-cut, double-breasted, professional debut by a serious and capable musician whose refreshing enthusiasm permeates everything he does. Ross has been writing songs since around the time of his bar mitzvah, and in May he graduated from Cornell University as a popular music and performance major — a program he created himself. But he also gives his office job credit for providing him with some of the skills he uses to orchestrate music. “The organization of the congressman’s office has led to rigid, disciplined scheduling with music,” Ross said.

After the workday ends, Ross diligently divides his time among band rehearsals, piano and vocal practice, and song writing. The fruits of his discipline bloom onstage — Ross’s nighttime office — where he wears a shirt and tie to every performance. “I actually consider what I’m trying to do with music an extension of what I’m trying to do with working for a congressman,” Ross said. “I try to approach my musical career with the same sort of professionalism.”

Ross displays a precision of pitch consistent with the rest of his craftsmanship, with enough gusto to match his energetic melodies. The main vein of the album, featuring Ross along with his backup band, pumps pure piano pop (think Ben Folds in a perpetually major key), but country and jazz influences prove that Ross’s orderly approach does not stifle his creativity.

Although his music is aided by the presence of politics in his life, Ross keeps the two endeavors on opposite sides of the bed. When asked if he might one day occupy political office, Ross said: “It’s an option I would like to keep open… after [I’ve] fulfilled a successful music career. But [music is] where my head is right now.” Nadler, Ross’s boss, has yet to see him live. But Ross believes that might change soon enough: “I’m his scheduler, so I have some say.”

Ben Ehrlich is a freelance writer studying literature and creative writing at Middlebury College.

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