UTG INTERVIEW: Danny Petroni Discusses The Blue Project

the blue project

We’re pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with Danny Petroni, the founder of The Blue Project, which he describes as his own “little micro economic project to get local musicians and music production in play.” After the tragedy brought forth by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, many local venues in New Jersey were destroyed and spirits were at an all time low. Petroni started this project to give musicians a kind of community to help music thrive once more in his area.

Danny recently took some time to speak with us about his involvement with music over the years, his various travels and studies, and how The Blue Project came to be, so read through the jump and get all the details from Danny Petroni himself.

Before getting heavily involved with music through schooling, did you have any kind of musical background growing up that led you to want to be a musician?

My grandfather was a working mandolin player. I hail from an Italian American family that lived in Trenton, NJ, music was always a part of our daily life. My family vacationed in Atlantic City one summer. The Atlantic City Pop Festival took place in 1969 in August, at the Atlantic City racetrack, two weeks before the Woodstock Festival. My sisters and I went to see the show which had Iron Butterfly doing “In A Gadda Da Vida,” some of the other artists performing were Joni Mitchell and The Chamber Brothers.

That was it, I wanted to play music…I was hooked. I came home that summer and started to take guitar lessons from a guy name Frank E Hipp. His left hand finger tips where flat and callused, they looking like little hammers and he smelled like old furniture, but man, he was a great first guitar teacher. In my neighborhood a few friends and I started a rock band — we played all sixties stuff at the collages and local clubs. I loved music and always wanted to get better on my instrument and write music. I wanted to learn how the music was put together. I wanted to be a musician. My fate was sealed.

And you went through various musical studies and programs eventually and even ended up in Vienna and Italy continuing with music there as well. That’s quite the dedication. What kind of effects do you feel that those experiences had on your love for music and your following careers?

In high school I started to study guitar/composition with Dennis Sandole of Philadelphia. He was the Maestro, John Coltrane, Pat Martino and many other great musicians studied under.

He looked like a little shoemaker, he would hand write each lesson tailored to a guitar fingering and tonal center. I had to practice about eight hours a day then show up at Dennis’ little South Philly studio and burn through his lesson. There was no bullshitting, if I flubbed a fingering he’d just look up, his eyebrow would pitch, and he start writing next week’s lesson. It took dedication and I will always be grateful for his lessons. He opened my ears and chops to a new level of music awareness. I could now hear #9th flatted 5th minor major chords, any combination of complex tonality. At the end of my third year at Rutgers University Livingston collage Jazz program I received a scholarship to study advance music theory in Vienna. I love Vienna, the strange thing about being an accepted artist or composer in Vienna is generally, you have to be dead for about 100 years before they think you are cool.

After leaving school I started picking up gigs and playing in the street. I must say, being a street musician was one of the best educations I had ever got. It taught me that you have to engage people with your music otherwise your hat will be empty. When you play for six hours at a time your music chops get strong. After awhile I ended up in Rome where I met the great clarinetist, Tony Scott. Tony was a great mentor and put me to work right away. He was the godfather of new age music with his record Music for Zen Meditation. We played jazz standers at local clubs by the gates of Rome. After being in Europe for two years I came back to New York and starting working with Luther Thomas’ Dizzaz Band. It was 1979, a small moment in NYC music history when no-wave music was being created; a mix of avant-garde, jazz, punk rock, and hip-hop all mashed up.

After so many years of traveling and exploring, how did you eventually land in New Jersey?

I guess I am just a Jersey guy. I like to say, “I played every shit-hole from here to Saipan, but Trenton takes the cake.” I was born in Trenton New Jersey, lived in New Brunswick, New Jersey while going to Rutgers and stayed well after school. I presently live in Asbury Park NJ, which is a music and art seaside town. On any given night you can go to hear punk, blues, rock, hip-hop, acoustic, singer-songwriter etc. Hey, you might even see The Boss walking on the boardwalk. Asbury Park, New Jersey is a great location, and besides it’s between two great cities, New York City and Philadelphia.

So when you were younger and developing your talents as a musician, were there any particular artists that had a profound effect on you or that inspired you to keep with it? Do you find yourself still inspired today by any bands or musicians in particular?

I met Frank Zappa in Munich at a Club after sitting in with the great jazz saxophonist, Johnny Griffen. After the gig, Frank invited me back to the hotel where the band and I were hanging out. Frank handed me a music part and asked if I could sight-read it. I can sight read but this part had some crazy stuff. It looked like fly shit on a wall, and a lot of it. “Nope,” I replied, “but it will make a killer bass clarinet part.” Frank laughed and was very encouraging.

I had many musical mentors, but the artists that had a profound effect were guitar players, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Christian, Hector Berlioz, Jimi Hendrix, Django Reinhardt, Albert King, Buddy Guy, Joe Pass, John McLaughlin, Frank Zappa, Segoiva, Jeff Beck, and Charlie Parker (Alto Sax) — the list is endless.

I am at heart a guitarist. I find myself inspired today by bands like American South, Charles Bradley, Beck, and Jimmy Hiland. Hell, I love a great song or band, doesn’t matter what style.

After being in other bands in the past, what made you want to start your own project as opposed to joining more acts that were already in progress?

It’s good to be King. I guess at one point I had to make a decision. To play or not to play my music, that was the question. It’s not easy having an original music band especially down on the Jersey shore where cover bands rule. I have always written original music. Before super storm Sandy, I had started a blues jam session at a club in Asbury Park Chico’s House of Jazz. The great thing about the blues is that after you learn the form and the basic licks, anyone could play the blues. This jam was open to all players no matter what musical level. The hard thing about playing the blues is making the emotional connection to the music and the audience. You can’t play the traditional blues like you approach be-bop or metal. I guess there are no rules, but if you aren’t reaching into your heart and soul, ya ain’t playing the blues.

And how did this all come together? Was it you and Frank initially?

Initially it was Frank Lacy, and Gary Oleyar, Gene Boccia and Dave Halpern. I added a horn section and The Danny Petroni Blue Project started gigging around the New Jersey shore and the tri-state area. The band had different configurations, at times just a guitar trio to a thirteen-piece band.

After Sandy, most of all the Jersey shore venues were destroyed or needed to be rebuilt. There wasn’t a place to perform. It was overwhelming; people’s houses were gone, neighborhoods gone. We played a few benefits but musicians were out of work, people lost jobs and their homes. I didn’t know what to do, I felt so powerless.

The Blue Project was born. It was my little micro economic project to get local musicians and music production in play.

So your new self-titled album is out. How would you say it differs from albums you’ve worked on in the past? Was there any specific goal you had for it when you started writing and recording?

This album is a mash up of many musical experiences. It’s blues, jazz and rock from Louis Jordan to retro sixty rock and them some. My main goal was to get musicians working while creating a blues record with my original songs and have Frank’s killer vocals. I’ve recorded on jazz, avant-garde, R&B and rock sessions but this is my first blues album. This is my first album in many years. I recorded DP and The Greys’ If You Really Love Me, You Will Kill Yourself in 1984. I just listened to it awhile ago while doing a radio interview at WRSU Rutgers radio…the songs still hold up. Maybe I will record a few tunes on our next project.

You have a lot of musicians involved on the album, too. How much of the writing were you in control of? Was it pretty much all you or was this a very collaborative effort?

I wish I had a bigger budget to add more jersey musicians. I wrote the words/music and did all the arrangements. Frank did the brass arrangements and the horn orchestration. John Allen who produced, recorded and played drums on all but one track had an important impact on the overall high production quality of the album. I wrote the parts for the songs, but hired artists who could interpret and add his or her vision to the track.

And lyrically, would you say there are any specific themes throughout the record?

It’s like a micro blues opera; it has love, lust, love lost, war and humor, and would make a great musical. If you listen closely you will hear the idée fixe (fix musical theme from the jazz song “Blues in the Night,” “My Momma Done Told Me”).

I’d imagine it being difficult to get everyone involved on the road at once but are there any touring plans currently or being developed in support of the album?

I am working on developing a tour and finding the right agent/management company to support the band. Yes it is a bit difficult — Gary works with Loggins and Messina, Frank has the Mingus Big band in NYC, and Dave is working with John Eddie. It takes a bit of planning to lock everyone in.

Besides this band right now, are you involved with any other projects currently or will this be your main focus from here on out?

I have another album of new songs that I’d like to record. The Blue Project is my main focus now, as I mention it’s time to start getting our gigs lined up for this spring and summer.

And now that the album is finished and released, besides trying to tour, what are your next big plans for The Blue Project?

I have been working on The Blue Project videos and I’d like to get them edited and out. We need to build our fan-base and get the word out about The Blue Project and give the people something to dance to and make them forget ’bout their own blues.

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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