If music is born in the soul, then Jason Danieley is living proof. Long before this sterling-voiced tenor burst onto the Broadway stage — winning a Theatre World Award for his 1997 debut in the title role of Leonard Bernstein's Candide, directed by Hal Prince — the Missouri native was learning how to let his voice soar in the heartland.
"I'm from St. Louis, where I had a real diverse musical background," says Danieley, who currently plays a featured role in the Broadway musical Curtains.
"My father's a Southern Baptist minister, so I grew up singing gospel in his church. Then at 15 I started singing professionally — everything from river boat Dixieland revues to concerts with the St. Louis Symphony. There was a very diverse repertoire. But the way I initially heard most music was in my grandmother's basement. She plays piano, my mother plays organ and my grandfather played guitar, banjo, mandolin and a washtub bass! So, anything we'd hear, we would play. When I first heard Hello, Dolly!, it was when we played it in the basement with piano, banjo and mandolin backup. It did have a front porch quality. Not country, not folk, but a homegrown Americana sound."
On July 30, Danieley will put his deeply rooted musical tastes to a New York cabaret crowd, when he and his five-piece band (including mandolin!) plus one backup singer do a one-night jam at Joe's Pub. Danieley's show — with musical direction by Dan Lipton (a co-creator of the popular Don't Quit Your Night Job) — is entitled Love: A Work in Progress, and it's actually the third time he and his crew have performed this song cycle of, yes, love songs. Having played one-offs at the Metropolitan Room and the Zipper this past spring, Danieley says the idea for the show began a couple of years ago when he and his wife, the Broadway performer Marin Mazzie (currently starring in Monty Python's Spamalot), had a ball performing together in the benefit concert "Broadway Meets Country" at Carnegie Hall. "Marin and I had been doing a duets act for a while, and I felt I wanted to come up with a solo show as well. After the show at Carnegie Hall, which was very 'country,' of course, I started realizing that whenever I was just singing around the house I was doing it in that style I grew up with. So I started to explore." Also inspired by his friend Melissa Manchester, whose most recent album, "When I Look Down that Road," was born of her time reinvigorating her songwriting in Nashville a few years ago, Danieley's new show includes bluegrass, gospel and, as he says, "a new face" on such standards as "All of Me," "What Kind of Fool Am I" and (surprisingly) the old Mario Lanza hit "Be My Love."
Often incorporating a four-part harmony from band and backup, Danieley says the show's theme is certainly drawn from both his upbringing and his marriage to Mazzie. "We've been together ten years this year, and I've found you're always negotiating your way around love," he notes, "which is why it's called a 'work in progress.'" Still, it is the singer's very roots that dictate the show's most basic origins of love. "I guess the reason that I'm so excited about this particular show," Danieley concludes, "is because, not only do I think it's so positive about love, it comes from my deep passion for making music. This music that I'm singing is ingrained in my DNA. And I want to share that with everyone."