Vincent Falcone Interview
( Frank Sinatra's Musical Director)

He’s a local boy who made quite a name for himself in the music world.

Vincent Falcone started out playing piano in various clubs in Syracuse, New York.

He went on to become Frank Sinatra’s Musical Conductor and Musical Director for such artists as Tony Bennett, Andy Williams, The McGuire Sisters, Robert Goulet, Al Martino, Connie Francis, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme just to name a few.

Mr. Falcone chronicles his life in music, in the book “Frankly Just Between Us, My Life Conducting Frank Sinatra’s Music” (Hal Leonard Publishers).

We spoke to Vincent Falcone about his early days as a Musician in Syracuse, New York.

Q – Mr. Falcone, before reading your book, and seeing some local publicity on you, I had never heard about you. You’re probably Syracuse’s Best Kept Secret. Why didn’t we ever hear anything about you?
A – I have no idea. I was surprised that anybody would be interested in my book. If it weren’t for Bob Popyk, who is a Syracusan…..he’s an author himself. He writes for many of the music trade magazines around the country. He’s the one that convinced me to do this. I’ve known him for years and years. He used to own a music store in Syracuse called North Syracuse Music. If it’s a kept secret, it’s a kept secret. That’s the way it is. I don’t expect people to be talking about me. (Laughs). So, I appreciate your comment.

Q – I don’t think people understand or appreciate the talent that has come out of Syracuse.
A – Oh, absolutely. Well, young people only relate to those things that have happened within their lifetime. So, that’s easily understood.

Q – They should take some pride in the community they live in.
A – Oh, you’re absolutely right. That’s the problem with our youth today. But, they don’t know what went on before them.

Q – What high school did you graduate from? There was never any mention of that in the book.
A – I was a student at Nottingham High School before it moved to its new location. I only went to the old Nottingham. Then in my junior year of high school…..before my junior year of high school, my father got employed at I.B.M. down in Endicott. We moved from Syracuse to the Triple Cities area where I graduated high school there. Then I came back to Syracuse and went to Syracuse University.

Q – You write, “I grew up in Syracuse, New York. It’s not the music capital of the world, but it’s a nice place to be from and a wonderful place to grow up”. Why wonderful?
A – Well, in those days Syracuse was right in the middle between a small town and a city. It was small enough to be able to get around and know people from all parts of town, and yet it was big enough to provide the niceties of a city. In those days, Downtown was bustling. That was before the days of shopping malls out on the edge of town. Everything was Downtown. There were 3 or 4 very fine movie theatres Downtown, good stores. It was really Americana, you know. Very much a family oriented, high morality area of the country and it was a good place to grow up.

Q – You parked cars at the Hotel Syracuse at one point. Did you ever park a car for someone famous?
A – No. When I parked cars at the Hotel in Syracuse-----I had to earn enough money to go to college. My first year at Syracuse University I was a full-time student, but then I ran out of money, so I went to work at General Electric out in Electronics Park on the television assembly line. That was like 7 till 4 in the afternoon. Then I would go to school from like 5 to 7, 5 to 8 and go to work at the Hotel Syracuse from 11 at night till 6 in the morning, (laughs) and park cars.

Q – When did you sleep?
A – I slept when I could. At night, they had a cot in the room. Between parking cars I would be able to grab some sleep. Then on the weekends I went up to the Adirondacks and played piano in one of the hotels up there. I did that for a year to earn enough money to go back to school. That’s why I never met anybody. That’s why I never saw anybody. All I did was park the car.

Q – You played the Civic Follies from 10am to 10pm six days a week.
A – Well, that’s when I got out of the Service. I got dis-charged from the Army and came back to Syracuse and was offered that job. As a matter of fact that is where I was when President Kennedy got shot. I was across the street, I think it was called The Brown Derby, having lunch, and I looked at the t.v. and boom there it is. I had to go back and play for the strippers the rest of the afternoon.

Q – Did you know that this club you played? The Clef, later became a strip club called The Clef A Go Go?
A – Yes.

Q – And now it’s called The Bottom Line?
A – Yeah. It was owned by a very dear friend of mine, Pete Procopio, who’s a wonderful drummer and still lives in Syracuse. He owned it when it was the jazz club and we used to perform down there. Some great music came out of there. That’s where I met my first wife.

Q – You mentioned quite a few Syracuse clubs in your book. Can I ask you where they were located?
A – If I remember. (Laughs),

Q – Let’s test your memory then. The Clover Club.
A – That was downtown, in what was then considered to be the Black part of town if I remember correctly. That’s where all the good stuff went on. Most of my influences were the older Black musicians in Syracuse who were very good and very generous in those days with their talent. They used to let me come up and sit in with them. I have fond memories of many of those fine gentlemen.

Q – The Bel-Mar?
A – I think it was out near the airport somewhere.

Q – The Casablanca?
A – It was on the corner of Erie Blvd. and something. It was owned by the Genovese Family. Teddy Genovese and his brother. Anna-Marie was the sister and such a great singer. She was confined to a wheelchair her entire life because of infantile paralysis in her youth, but boy, there was a girl who taught me. I talk about her in the book. She was a wonderful, wonderful singer. If she had not been confined to a wheelchair I’m sure she would have been a big jazz star. She was a great singer. Billy Rubenstein who was a great pianist from Syracuse, accompanied her until he went to New York and she grabbed me. She taught me everything I knew in those days.

Q – Art’s Townhouse?
A – North Syracuse, if I remember correctly.

Q – The Embassy Club?
A – The Embassy Club was downtown also. That was another club in the Black section.

Q – Luigi’s was on Burnet Ave?
A – That’s correct.

Q – And, The Birches was in East Syracuse, but where in East Syracuse?
A – I don’t know. I don’t remember. Too long ago, my friend. (Laughs). The one club you didn’t mention, was for me, probably the most important one of all and that was the Coda.

Q – That was on North Salina Street wasn’t it?
A – It was originally. Then it moved to Fairmount, way up on West Genesee Street. It took over a building that was previous to the Coda called Andy’s Inn. Andy’s Inn was a restaurant way out in Fairmount. Norm Coleman and Sam Traino, both of whom are now passed, were partners in that club, the Coda. I worked there for several years under Sam and Norm with so many great musicians that were from Syracuse. We had a wonderful, wonderful time. Great people. Jimmy Cavallo used to do Sunday afternoon jam sessions with me there. That was really a wonderful place. Both Norm and Sam have a permanent spot in my heart. They were two fine, fine gentlemen. I owe them. They contributed greatly to the history of Syracuse. The Coda had constant music and it was an excellent restaurant.

Q – Your Uncle John was a music promoter in Syracuse for years? Where did he promote concerts and who did he promote?
A – He brought in many of the classical artists. They would perform at Lincoln High School in the auditorium down there. That was the big venue in those days. That was before the ( Syracuse) War Memorial was built. He was an impresario. He was in the insurance business, but he loved music. He was my mother’s brother. Their family and the whole family was musical. He used to bring these people in. He would take me down as a young man. There was a very famous and well-known conductor that came to Syracuse and my uncle took me backstage after the show. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 years old, and he made me play for him. The gentleman was so kind and he sat next to me and said, ‘My boy, my advice to you is-----practice, practice, practice. (Laughs),

Q – Well, that’s not bad advice.
A – No, certainly not.

Q – You must’ve followed his advice, ‘cause look what happened to you.
A – Yeah.

Q – Page 184, “My favorite tough guy was Dominick Bruno. Dominick was the owner of Three Rivers Inn”. Dom Bruno was a tough guy?
A – Yeah, he was. He was tough to get along with. Tough to do business with, but, a sweet guy too. He was a dichotomy. He was a unique man. He was a Damon Runyan character, if you will.

Q – You write, “For those who didn’t agree with him, he had friends who could help them come over to his way of thinking”. What does that mean? What “friends” are you talking about?
A – (Laughs). It means exactly what it says. You can take it anyway you want. The statement was made with tongue in check. I was sure that people would understand that. He was just a guy that had to deal with a lot of different people. He ran into people, I’m sure, in his business, who would always try to take advantage of him. He learned how to be a tough guy to do business with. There’s a lot of people like that.

Q – When you left Syracuse for Las Vegas you really had to pound the pavement for work didn’t you?
A – Yeah. In those days there was a Union regulation also to protect local musicians that you could not work at all for 3 months and then for the next 3 months, the only thing you could do would be casual engagements. You couldn’t do anything steady. It was a 6 month period before I could make any money to speak of as a musician. I had learned how to tune pianos when I was a younger man. Henry Steinway, who has been a friend of mine all my adult life and thank God is still alive, whom I still have a relationship; called the Steinway dealer here in Las Vegas and introduced me by name to them. When I went in to ask them if I could get work as a tuner, they knew who I was and they had a personal recommendation from Henry Steinway so they put me to work. So, I was able to make some money as a piano tuner in town and then would go around and sit in everywhere I could to get heard and get known. That’s how I served out my time so to speak until I got my first job at the old Thunderbird hotel working in the lounge.

Q – How often do you get back to Syracuse?
A – Well, let’s see since I left Syracuse in 1970 I have been back I think, maybe 5 times.

Q – Let’s say you don’t get anywhere in music in Las Vegas, what would you have done then?
A – I would’ve stayed in Las Vegas and found another way to make a living. And that’s nothing against Syracuse. I’m a desert rat. I love the desert climate. I love the dryness of it. My physical make-up does not do well in the climate of Syracuse; the winters, the humidity. I don’t fair nearly as well physically as I do in this dry warmer climate. So, that’s why I would’ve stayed in this area rather than come back to Upstate New York.

Q – You say, “I think too many people today give up too easily in becoming what they really want in life”. Are you talking about show-business or non show-business?
A – I’m talking about anything. I’m talking about any career or vocation. I fee that, and, it’s my personal opinion, and this is only a personal opinion, that speaking very generally now about the generation that’s in high school and college now, perhaps even the one that pre-ceded them. I feel that they have had life way too easy. It’s not their fault. It was paid for by the people who fought the Second World War. They gave us a great forty, fifty years after that of prosperity. The people who were raised in that period experienced a great deal of affluence and they don’t know, in my humble opinion what really hard work is. Life has come fairly easy and of course that’s fine, but, it does diminish I believe peoples’ desire to achieve and to excel. Not everyone obviously. But, over all I think we have dumb-downed our educational system. I think we have dumb-downed our culture. I think we are more complacent today. Just look at the way the attitudes are about how we’re fighting the war on terror in this country. We have so many divergent opinions. We don’t seem to be a united country anymore. That’s because in my view life has become too easy and so therefore I don’t think people strive as hard and work as hard for what they could be as they did during the Second World War and following the Second World War. That’s the reason I say that. I think if people work hard and want something bad enough… this country if you can’t get want you want by working hard then you don’t deserve it. I think in this country you can achieve anything you want to achieve if you work hard enough for it.

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