Behind The Scenes: Vinnie Falcone On Working With Frank Sinatra
In this anniversary year of Frank Sinatra’s birth, we were wondering what it was like to work with the man himself.
We’re fortunate to talk with someone who did.
Vincent Falcone worked with Sinatra in the 1970s and 80s. As Sinatra’s piano player and music director he got an intimate view into how Sinatra worked.
Falcone’s career is wide-ranging. He’s played piano and conducted for many of the biggest entertainers of our time: Jack Jones, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme, Andy Williams, The McGuire Sisters, Robert Goulet, Connie Francis, Diahann Carroll, Jerry Lewis – and many others.
On working in Las Vegas:
"I wanted to go somewhere outside of Rochester, New York. I was playing piano in Rochester, but you can't make living in Rochester being a pianist. So, the choices were New York, L.A. or Vegas and I decided to come here because I had been here once and I had seen the town, of course it was very small then as compared to now. I wanted my children to be raised in an environment outside of the New York or L.A. environment so I came here."
On his first job with Sinatra:
"When I went over to Caesars Palace in December of 1975... I got called and my first engagement at Caesars Palace was Frank Sinatra! Of course, I was the house pianist. Bill Miller was his conductor and pianist, but I played all the orchestral parts. And he eventually started taking me on the road with him as just pianist."
On what Sinatra heard in his piano playing:
"Bill Miller was a marvelous pianist and played with Sinatra for many years and did a great job. I had great respect for him, but he was a pianist of the era when piano playing was some what different from what it had come to in terms of orchestral piano playing. My approach to piano playing was more contemporary harmonically, if you will. And Sinatra liked that, he heard that."
On becoming his conductor:
"You see Sinatra was a man who believed in trial by fire, because he came up that way. So, if you were Sinatra and you were going to hire a new conductor where would you take him the first time you put him to the test? Wouldn't you do it in like Toledo, Ohio? He did it in Radio City Music Hall."
"When I walked out on stage the opening night on my first engagement with him as conductor, Leonard Bernstein was sitting in the audience and all of the heroes that I had grown up listening to, most of them were there that night. And here I am, but it worked out"
On their working relationship:
"He treated me extraordinarily well. It was definitely a father-son relationship not a buddy. He was a year older than my dad, but the way he treated me was extraordinary. I am forever thankful for that."
On meeting and working with life-long idols:
"One of the greatest things about our business, in my opinion, is the fact that you can run into someone that you have idolized your entire life, and I have run into all of them, the guys that I listened to when I was a kid growing up and find out that there maybe something that you do that they find -you know - and that's the greatest thrill and the greatest complement that can be given."
On being a good accompanist and not just a good pianist:
"I'll give you an example, and this applies to everybody, He [Sinatra] never sang the same song twice the same way. So, you had to be very aware. I never take my eyes off the person for whom I'm conducting, because if you watch them you can see what they're doing. You can see when the next notes coming."
"It became a game between Mr. Sinatra and myself where he would bait me. And see if I could catch him, and most of the time I did. We had fun!"
On playing piano for Frank Sinatra:
"When you play for Frank Sinatra, you either do it the way that he wants it or you're gone. He never ever told me what to do or how to do it. It was up to me to figure it out. He never ever gave me a word of advice as to what to do."
"I came to realize very quickly that I spoke when I was spoken to. I kept my mouth shut and my ears open, but he and I got into a lot of long conversations about things. What you have to do is: you have to read the music and play the music the way, but you have to add what you can to support the singer, give him what he's looking for."
On Sinatra's reputation for emotional outbursts:
"People who have intellect and Mr. Sinatra certainly did. Jerry Lewis is another guy, he's a genius... I can not say enough about Jerry Lewis he's a genius and wonderful man, but he is an intellect and as an intellect he has no patience, nor did Mr. Sinatra for disrespect, stupidity, ignorance and all of that. And boy if you were one of those, he could rip you apart, really, really good. But most of the time the people who were ripped apart like that deserved it"
"Also, the other side of them the generosity. I saw the generosity of Mr. Sinatra like few people have... Mr. Sinatra's generosity goes way beyond what anybody knows because he did it quietly. When he got angry at somebody -phew! But fortunately, it wasn't me!"
Vincent Falcone, Piano player and music director