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At 71, Aiello's jazzing
up his career
By ROBERT DOMINGUEZ
DAILY NEWS FEATURE WRITER
Friday, February 11th, 2005
Danny Aiello is finally enjoying the career he always wanted.
The veteran character actor, an Oscar nominee for 1989's "Do the Right Thing," has reinvented himself as a crooner.
"This isn't about vanity," says Aiello, who performs Sunday with his eight-piece band at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village. "It's just something I always wanted to do, and I felt like now was the time to do it."
Lest anyone start making ugly comparisons to the singing careers of Telly Savalas, Bruce Willis or Eddie Murphy, Aiello says he isn't cut from that mold.
His album of standards, "I Just Wanted to Hear the Words," reached No. 4 on Billboard's jazz chart last year, and he has received good reviews for his smooth, strong voice.
"When I became an actor, people said to me, 'Why are you starting so late after doing so many things in your life?'" says Aiello, a former comedy-club bouncer who made his film debut at age 40 in the 1973 baseball drama "Bang the Drum Slowly."
"And now, 30 years later, I'm a singer," he adds, laughing. "It's no big thing, but I am making good money doing it."
What prevented Aiello from fulfilling his dream earlier, he says, was the way his old pal Savalas was ridiculed after the "Kojak" star released a pair of albums in the '70s.
"I didn't think he was that bad," recalls Aiello. "I actually thought he was good. But I saw the way [the press] treated him. I said, 'Wow, this guy's a star, and I ain't s-. They'll treat me even worse than they did him.'
"That knocked me back a good 15 years."
Aiello was approached several years ago to do an album of Italian songs, but he refused. The material was wrong for him, and, he admits, he lacked the confidence to sing in public.
The stage fright persisted even after he started touring.
"I actually used to come out on stage and apologize," says Aiello. "I'd say, 'Look, I'm really not a singer, I'm an actor.' But then I said, 'F- that, I'm not doing that anymore.'"
Aiello says he's taking a cue from his singing idol - fellow Bronx boy Bobby Darin.
"I learned something from Darin, which is to come out with this attitude that I'm doing the best I can, and if you don't like me there's nothing I can do about it," says Aiello.
"Now I go out there completely relaxed," he adds. "I love acting. It's what I do, and I've been very fortunate. But if I had to make a choice, this is what I'd do. It makes me feel so free."