Syracuse rock legend, Jimmy Cavallo, dies at 92

Local News

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Syracuse has lost a pioneer. The man credited with bringing rock-and-roll to Central New York, saxophone legend, Jimmy Cavallo, died Monday in Florida at the age of 92. He made music that captivated fans for more than 70 years.

Legendary DJ Alan Freed introduced Syracuse’s Jimmy Cavallo to the world in 1956, in the movie musical, “Rock! Rock! Rock!” It was a style of music heavily influenced by the rhythm and blues that Cavallo first heard when he served in the Navy at Fort Bragg, North Carolina in 1948, before Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, even before Elvis. He told Bridge Street in 2010 that he loved the big band music of the day, but it just wasn’t for him.

“I felt restricted in a big band. I’m reading these parts. I didn’t have the freedom to play what I was feeling. I had to read these notes,” Cavallo said.

Jimmy Cavallo got his start with what was thought to be one of the first white R&B bands in the country, and he fronted the first all-white band to play Harlem’s Apollo Theater when “Rock! Rock! Rock!” was released. Cavallo brought the sound back to Syracuse when he left the Navy, and he eventually became known as the godfather, and later grandfather, of Syracuse rock-and-roll.  

In 1993, Jimmy Cavallo was the very first artist inducted into the Syracuse Area Music Awards Hall of Fame.

Cavallo said, “When I came back from the Navy, the bands at the Hotel Syracuse were playing da ta da ta da, and I hit them with ‘Fanny Brown’ and they didn’t know what hit them!”

Later in life, Jimmy Cavallo shifted operations to South Florida, where he continued to play the saxophone past his 90th birthday. He always considered Syracuse home, and returned often to perform at Festa Italiana, the Turning Stone Casino, and the New York State Blues Festival. He recorded several new CD’s on those trips north, and even won another Sammy Award for best rhythm and blues in 2006.

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