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Jerry Vale: An appreciation

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He didn’t leave the hit-laden legacy of fellow Italian-American 1950s male pop vocal stars like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Perry Como and Al Martino, but Bronx-born Jerry Vale, who was born Genaro Louis Vitaliano and died yesterday in Palm Desert, Calif. at 83, earned his own devoted following.

“Heartbroken to hear about the passing of Jerry Vale—a man who was like a brother to my dad and a second father to me,” wrote Martino’s daughter Alison Martino, via Facebook post.

“It seems like just yesterday they were on tour together singing their hearts out, or we were all sitting around the dinner table with Morey Amsterdam or telling joke after joke at Cafe Roma,” added Martino, also a journalist/TV producer and creator of the popular Vintage Los Angeles Facebook community page.

“Jerry's warmth, talent and humor will be forever missed,” she continued.

Notes John Alexander, former senior editor/producer at Reader’s Digest Music: “Jerry Vale's body of work epitomized the term underrated. He was the consummate artist for his time, a suave, smooth and sophisticated singer, actor and performer.”

Alexander cites Vale’s 1956 version of the standard "You Don't Know Me" as not only his biggest charting hit (No. 14), but “the definitive version of a song covered by an endless list of artists including Eddy Arnold, Ray Charles and Elvis Presley.”

Vale’s 1962 recording of "Al Di La," “though it never charted, can be found on virtually every compilation of Italian favorites,” says Alexander. “While crooners like Sinatra, Como, Martin and Martino are celebrated for promoting their Italian heritage in song, Jerry Vale certainly deserves credit for helping to popularize Italian-American music during the '50s and '60s.”

Music archivist Gregg Geller recalls an encounter with Vale when he served in 1977 as director of Columbia Records’ East Coast A&R department in New York—at a time, of course, when the veteran Columbia artist, along with his contemporaries, was well past his hit-making prime.

“None of my superiors were available when he showed up one day, so it fell on me to listen to an acetate of his latest recording--a full-bore disco version of ‘Toot Toot Tootsie (Goodbye)’!” recalls Geller.

“The record was every bit as awful as you might suspect, but as it played I recalled that I had heard Jerry sing the National Anthem at a Yankees game only a week before. So, having no desire to offend a revered artist—after all, in the 1950s and well into the ‘60s, he, along with Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams had been the backbone of the Columbia roster--I immediately started talking baseball as the record faded out, and for the next 40 minutes we happily passed the time discussing Billy, Reggie, Thurman, Gator, et. al. I then took the acetate off my turntable and handed it back to Jerry who, as he was leaving my office, reached into his jacket pocket and tossed me a baseball. The ‘Jerry Vale Ball’ has occupied a place of honor on my desk ever since that day!”

Now, “when I think of Jerry, I remember a gentleman, a baseball fan, a very nice guy,” Geller says.

As for “Toot Toot Tootsie (Goodbye),” well, “we never discussed it—and Columbia never released it,” concludes Geller. But this in no way diminishes his stature, as Martino recognized.

“They will never make them like this [Vale] again,” she asserted.

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