BMHOF Class of 1999
Tony Carnevale was born March 5, 1916. His father, Anthony, was a noted musician. It is said that Anthony Carnevale Sr., as well as jazz fret Coleman Hawkins, introduced the tenor saxophone to the world. Factually we know that the senior Carnevale introduced that instrument to the then toast of Broadway, Al Jolson, who came to Buffalo to perform back in the early 1900's.
Tony, following in his Dad's musical life, began his illustrious career in 1934 at the age of 18 in a way that has long since vanished; playing piano on tourist lake boats that visited American cities along the Great Lakes.
He then toured with many orchestras traveling throughout New York State to such locations as Syracuse, Troy, Albany, Cornell University, Watertown, Massena and the Thousand Islands region. He also worked in Hershey, Lancaster and Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and in Ocean City and Wildwood, New Jersey. In late 1934 he joined the Chauncey Cromwell Orchestra and toured until the spring on 1935, when he returned for his first engagement at The Glen Casino in Williamsville. It would be almost two years before Tony would return to Buffalo to join Jack Valentine's Orchestra at the Hotel Statler.
In 1941, while leading an orchestra at the Park Lane, Tony met and accompanied the soon to be famous Frank Sinatra, who after finishing his stint at Shea's Buffalo came to the Park Lane repeatedly - not only to sing the romantic ballads of that day - but to sing the praises of Tony Carnevale. When Sinatra broke from Tonny Dorsey, he unsuccessfully prevailed upon Tony to leave Buffalo and accompany him on the road. But Tony, even at this early age, had decided he would stay in Buffalo for all of his musical life.
Also in 1941, during his tenure at the Park Lane, he had the pleasure of meeting a young man who played piano during Tony's breaks - a quiet, unassuming fellow who listened intently as Tony entertained each night, who would become a superstar in the near future - Lee Liberace.
In 1942 Tony became "Maestro" at the Hotel Statler and stayed for 23 years. In doing so, to our pride and delight, Tony Carnevale became famous as the "Wizard of the 88" while based in Buffalo.
It should be noted that his admirers were diverse. Among them, in addition to Sinatra and Liberace, were Count Basie, Isaac Hayes, Carmen Cavalero, Victor Borge, Florian Zabach, Al Martino, The Metropolitan Opera's Helen Oelheim, Jerry Vale, Jaye P. Morgan, Lenny Herman, comics George Gobel, Larry Storch, Pat cooper and numerous others.
After departing the Taltler, Tony played every prestigious venue in Western New York, including Buffalo's M&T Bank Plaza Suite, the Executive Hotel and Charter House Restaurant and in Niagara Falls; John's Flaming Hearth, the Parkway Ramada Inn, The Niagara Hotel and Holiday Inn. In addition, over the years, Tony played for the Society Set entertaining for many years at the "Snow Ball", numerous fashion shows and engagements at every Country Club and private venue such as the Buffalo Club, Saturn Club, Garrett Club, Montifiore Club, Trap & Field Club, Tennis & Squash Club and Buffalo Yacht Club.
Such was the demand for Tony's talents, that over his 50 year career, it was not uncommon for him to have 4, 5 or 6 bookings per weekend night. Even if he couldn't be there himself, Tony's clients were confident and appreciative of the musicians he would send for their affairs.
Tony's immense talent and prodigious bookings, most more than a year in advance, were a testament to his providing "The Most Danceable Music in the Land". Throughout his career, whether it was his trio, 6 piece band, 18 piece orchestra (for which he wrote all of the arrangements) or a solo engagement, Tony was revered for his musical ability, gregarious personality and his uncanny knack for remembering his followers names and favorite songs.
In addition to performing, from 1961 to 1962, Tony and violinist Paul Muni, operated the Brighton Acre Supper Club and from 1976 to 1977 Tony operated the lounge, restaurant and banquet facilities at the Airways Hotel.
Over the years Tony was asked to record his piano styling both locally and in New York City. However, like his decision to remain rooted in Buffalo, he never followed through on these requests. However, he did decide to tape record some of his performances from 1958 to 1971. These remain as his legacy and a treasure for us to enjoy.
Tony Carnevale died unexpectedly on August 7, 1983. He was 67 years old. Fortunately his music will live on.
Back - 1999