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the otto files

where the classics never go out of style

Heartbroken yesterday to learn of the passing of Vinnie Falcone, pianist, arranger, and musical director of some of the greatest interpreters of the Great American Songbook.

Mr. Falcone was born and raised in Syracuse, New York. He played in clubs in small combos and large aggregations starting in the 1950s. In the early 1970s he decided to try his hand at the next level and moved to Las Vegas to establish residence before being eligible to join the Musician’s Union, Local 369, of  that city. He began playing house piano at the old Thunderbird Hotel where he came to the attention of Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme. He was hired to play second keyboard for the couple at a Caesar’s Palace engagement. He so impressed the management at Caesar’s that he eventually became the house pianist there.  The first headliner who used his services at Caesar’s was Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was the biggest act in Vegas and one of the most demanding. He was a perfectionist when it came to the music. Mr. Falcone passed the test for Mr. Sinatra and within a couple of years Vincent Falcone Jr. was Frank Sinatra’s Musical Director traveling all over the world with “The Chairman of the Board.”

In 1970 when Vinnie Falcone made his way to Las Vegas I was six years old. I had never met Mr. Falcone and had absolutely no idea who he was. However, by 1970, my Uncle Bob had known Vinnie for a few years. Both had, at one time or another, worked for a gentleman named Guido Singer in Syracuse, New York, selling pianos. I don’t think either had any idea when they met in the 1960s that they would enjoy a close and devoted friendship for the next 50+ years of their lives.

In 1976 my father died. I was 12 years old. A few years before his passing, I had begun to dig around in my dad’s big band albums and I liked what I heard. He also some some Sinatra albums and I liked those as well. In car trips he would play Sinatra on the 8-track tape player which is where I first heard a full sampling of the Sinatra repertoire via the “Sinatra: A Man and His Music” album that originally came out in November of 1965. When my dad died, I comforted myself with all the things that had brought him happiness including his music. Not long after, Falcone started playing regularly with Frank Sinatra and my Uncle Bob took a trip to Las Vegas to attend a Sinatra show. When he came back he regaled me with stories of hanging out with Vinnie, Mr. Sinatra, and one of my dad’s and my favorite comedians, Flip Wilson. I was beyond impressed. I wanted so badly to hear and meet Frank Sinatra. One day I said to my uncle, “Uncle Bob, I need to see Sinatra before either he or I die.” It sounds like a rather silly thing for a 12 year old to say except when you consider that my dad’s sudden departure had left me somewhat shell-shocked  and rather obsessed with death. Those early days after my dad’s passing had left me with a rather fatalistic sense of reality. In truth, that fatalism has never completely left me.

In early April of 1980, my uncle told me that “WE” ( he, my mom and I) were going to see Sinatra at Resorts International Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on April 11, 1980. I was thrilled beyond words. And so it was that a short time later on a bright and crisp Friday morning we drove down the New York State Thruway to Buffalo where we caught a commercial jet to Philadelphia and then a small prop plane to Atlantic City. The whole experience was exciting but I was so consumed about what was ahead and seeing Frank Sinatra live in concert that I was unable to focus on much of anything else. You need to know that by the time we took this trip, I had spent a solid four years listening to Frank Sinatra’s music almost exclusively. At that point in my life I listened to Frank, Dean, Sammy, Bing and some Ella. Beyond that, I listened to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and some of the music of my siblings’ generation like the Beatles or the Supremes. That was it.

My recollection isn’t perfect but I know we saw Sinatra on a Friday night. They did two shows – one at 8:00 p.m. and another at either 11:00 or 11:30 p.m. We attended the late show. When we entered the showroom, we were shown to a table right in front of the stage. I’m sorry. Let me repeat that so I can be sure you understand. We were seated at a table RIGHT IN FRONT OF THE STAGE.  I was seated at the very end of the table, or head of the table, depending on how you look at it. What I did not realize at the time was that we were seated at “The Sinatra table” with people like Barbara Marx’s son Bobby Marx, a former police captain of the city of New York and other invited guests.

In April of 1980, Frank Sinatra was in fine voice. He had just spent the past year recording what he thought might very well be his last great album, a three record set entitled Trilogy: The Past, Present, and Future. It was an imperfect album to be sure but there’s no denying that it included some really fabulous recordings. I would learn years later from Vince that Sinatra had treated himself and his vocal chords a little better in those days leading up to and during the recording of that album. I’ve always assumed that was why when we saw him just a few months after recording on Trilogy had been completed (they finished in December of 1979), he was still sounding great!

The repertoire that night consisted of songs I knew well such as “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” Street of Dreams,” and “Lady Is A Tramp,” as well as songs that were not as familiar to me at the time like “You and Me, We Wanted It All,” “More Than You Know” (verse included), and the spectacular new arrangement of “The Song Is You.” Prior to entering the showroom, I had been suffering from a pounding sinus headache, no doubt due to the cold and windy April walk on the beach and the change in pressure experienced during the up and down of my two different plane flights that day. That said, when the show ended I felt better than ever before. I can only imagine the amount of adrenaline that was coursing through my body during the performance. All I really remember about the performance other than the songs themselves was thinking to myself, “I’m sitting here and Frank Sinatra is right there. Frank Sinatra is 10 feet away from me singing ‘I’ve Got You Under My Skin.'” I was extremely conscious of the unbelievable circumstances of what I was witnessing. And extremely grateful.

***Next post will include our time with Vinnie after the show and the meeting of his employer. 🙂


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