Jun 08, 2010 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
From Scars to Stars’
George Tortortelli leads a life of vigor and verve.
In the 1950s, he was a professional boxer trained by the renowned Ralph DeJohn. In the early-60s, George quit the fight game in favor of working as a professional musician, although he continued teaching the sport and boxing in exhibitions for many years.
To document his dual pursuits, Tortorelli’s writing a book aptly titled From Scars to Stars: From the Ring to the Stage.
He excelled at both punching and playing.
As a prizefighter, Tortorelli compiled an impressive record of 48 wins and 4 losses, good enough to become 1958’s Central and Western N.Y. Golden Gloves Middleweight Champ.
And as a bandleader — using the stage name George Orelli — he worked at all of Central New York’s top nightclubs, from Andre’s Tic Toc Club to Lorenzo’s to Three Rivers Inn where he often accompanied stars such as Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Durante and Connie Francis.
The 78-year-old former Syracusan who has lived in Miami, Fla., for four decades, returns to his old stomping grounds from 8 p.m. to midnight this Friday, June 11, for a dinner-dance and show at the Ramada Inn, 1305 Buckley Road; $20 includes 7 p.m. dinner; 299-8716. The reunion will feature the Tommy Rozzano Band, vocalists Danielle Rausa, Nick Mulpagano and Tom Tortorelli, a dance contest featuring Arthur Murray champions Josh and Heather, and Orelli will act as master of ceremonies.
“It’s going to be a tribute to yesterday’s nightclub and supper club owners,” Orelli said. “It’ll be a throwback to the kind of entertainment that we don’t have now.”
For several years in the early-60s, Orelli and his lovely wife, Rosalinda, entertained right here in Liverpool at Three Saints, run by George Schreiner at 105 First St.
They were featured there nightly with combo including Ted Losito, Howard Dunning, Ed Goodness and Pete Buttaro.
“Shreiner was determined to give people wonderful shows and top-flight food,” Orelli remembers. “We had stars there like Derby Wilson, Leon Bibb and Anne Marie Genovese.”
He also played regularly at Le Moyne Manor, 629 Old Liverpool Road.
“Frank Montanaro was the owner and builder of Le Moyne Manor,” George recalls. “He ran a world-class club and was a wonderful person to work for. He was like a brother.”
Another favorite gig was at Florento’s in North Syracuse, owned by George Saccamano. “George was a terrific cook and he brought North Syracuse some very good entertainment,” Orelli remembers. “Pearl Bailey’s sister, Eura Bailey, was a stand-out!”
George won’t be trading punches here Friday but he’ll trade a few musical licks with the band and share stories from the good old days when cover charges were just three bucks and dinner started at $3.95.
He’ll surely reminisce about his match against soon-to-be world champion Carmen Basilio in a mid-50s exhibition. “When it was over,” wrote Boxing World columnist Irv Abramson, “everyone knew that had there been a decision, George Tortorelli would have been the winner.”
Orelli will also recollect his first gigs playing bass in Sax Hunter’s R&B combo at the Penguin Grill, 822 S. State St.
“Sax like the way I sang the blues, Orelli remembers. “So he hired me.” For eight years in a row, he played at the legendary 800 Club with Sax, pianist Doc Mears and drummer Steeple Jenkins. “That 800 Club, operated by Rachel and Sarah Hyman was always packed,” George says. “And that’s where I learned the music business from Sax. He was my mentor.”
One of Orelli’s favorite club-owners was the late Dom Bruno at Three Rivers Inn on Route 57. “He was called ‘The Silver Fox’ because of his gray hair and the brilliant way he conducted his business,” George recalls. “He was always fair and a man of his word.”
He also has vivid memories of Three Rivers headliners such as Bobby Darin, Della Reese and Liberace, who would cook a post-performance supper in his suite for the local musicians on the show.
The George Orelli Orchestra played some of Syracuse’s most prestigious parties. For instance they entertained at Mayor Lee Alexander’s initial Inaugural Ball in September 1970 at the Hotel Syracuse. Ten to one the loquacious bandleader has a hot story about that gig!