May 15, 2014 Russ Tarby Uncategorized
In the 1950s, George Tortorelli was a professional boxer trained by Syracuse’s renowned light heavyweight Ralph DeJohn. In the early-60s, George quit prizefighting to work as a professional musician, although he continued teaching the sport and boxing in exhibitions.
To document his dual pursuits, Tortorelli, the 80-year-old former Syracusan who has lived in Miami, Fla., for four decades, is now writing a book aptly titled “From Scars to Stars: From the Ring to the Stage.”
Before he adds author to his list of accomplishments, however, Tortorelli will return to his old stomping grounds from the Sunshine State from 7 to 11 p.m. Saturday, May 17, for a dinner-dance and show at the Goodtime Banquet Hall, 526 Teall Ave., in Syracuse; $15 includes a buffet dinner served at 6 p.m.; 385-7073.
The May 17 event will focus on both of Tortorelli’s primary pursuits.
“First we’ll show some fight films featuring great local boxers like Mike and Joey DeJohn, Carmen Basilio and Nick Barone,” he said. “Then the entertainers take over.”
The Tommy Rozzano and the State Street Band will headline and vocalists Danielle Rausa and Tom Tortorelli will be featured. George, who has a great gift of gab, will act as master of ceremonies.
In his younger days, Tortorelli excelled at both punching and playing.
As a prizefighter, Tortorelli compiled an impressive record of 48 wins and four losses, good enough to become 1958’s Central and Western New York 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 accompanied touring stars such as Louis Armstrong, Betty Hutton, Jimmy Durante and Connie Francis.
One of his favorite places to play in the early-60s was Three Saints, at 105 First St., in Liverpool. “George Schreiner ran that club and brought in top-flight entertainers,” Tortorelli remembered. “George is still living out on the West Coast.” Orelli and his lovely wife, Rosalinda, were featured at Three Saints were featured there nightly with a combo including Ted Losito, Howard Dunning, Ed Goodness and Pete Buttaro.
“Shreiner was determined to give people wonderful shows and top-flight food,” Tortorelli said. “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, who died a few months ago, was the owner of Le Moyne Manor,” Tortorelli recalled. “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,” George said. “Pearl Bailey’s sister, Eura Bailey, was a stand-out!”
Tortorelli vividly remembers his first shows playing bass in Sax Hunter’s R&B combo at Syracuse’s Penguin Grill, 822 S. State St.
“Sax like the way I sang the blues,” Tortorelli said, “so he hired me.” For eight years 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, and that’s where I learned the music business from Sax. He was my mentor.”
One of Tortorelli’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,” Tortorelli recalled. “He was always fair and a man of his word.”
At Three Rivers, Tortorelli worked with 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 tells a hot story about that gig.