Theatre Organist: Frank Cimmino

CLOSING CHORD

Frank Cimmino
Frank circa 1982-1983

Charter member Nicholas Francis Cimmino, Jr. (Frank cha-ME-no) passed from this life in Florida on July 22, 2008 after a long struggle with colon cancer. He was 69. Born in northern New Jersey in March of 1939, Frank grew up in Wayne. He was educated at Wayne High School, William Paterson University, and at a subsidiary of Carnegie Institute on Fifth Avenue in New York.

Frank began his musical training under the tutelage of his mother, Ethel, a pianist, composer and instructor. He started with the drums at age 3. By age 7 he was playing the piano, and by age 26 he had mastered 14 instruments. His “ah-ha” Theatre Organ moment took place when at age 14 his parents took him to hear the Radio City Music Hall Wurlitzer. He first realized his dream of playing that instrument at age 22. Frank became widely known throughout the New York/New Jersey area as a theatre organ concert performer, a popular entertainer, an organ teacher of popular and theatre organ, and an organ designer, technician, and voicer for both pipe and electronic instruments. He also served as a choral director for several choirs, including the First Army Company Choir when he was in the service at Fort Dix, N.J.

Frank served for a time as house organist at the Beacon Theatre on Broadway in NYC, where he performed at the 4/19 Style 250 SP Wurlitzer for shows featuring Bob Hope, Peggy Lee and other famous entertainers. He also spent 12+ years, beginning at age 33, as a substitute organist at the Radio City Music Hall 4/58 Wurlitzer.

Frank also appeared on Frank Blair’s “Sunday” TV show on NBC playing the Brooklyn Paramount /LIU Wurlitzer, and had played that organ on other special occasions.

But he is probably most remembered for his 13 years of entertaining diners and dancers at the popular Suburbian Restaurant in Wanaque, NJ. He started there with his Rodgers 33E Electronic Theatre organ in 1968. Beginning in 1971 he played for 10 more years at the 3/17 Style 260 SP Wurlitzer which he arranged to have installed in the Suburbian’s new dining room. It was there at the Suburbian that the organizational meeting for GSTOS was held in 1972.


Frank Cimmino
Frank at the Suburbian Wurlitzer Circa 1980

After the Suburbian Restaurant and organ were destroyed by fire in 1981, Frank entertained at his Rodgers 33E for several years at Marcos Restaurant on Hamburg Turnpike in Wayne, and later at the Triangle Hofbrau Restaurant on Route 23 in Wayne.

He recorded 4 LP records, 3 at the Suburbian, and 1 at the Beacon Theatre Wurlitzer and at Rahway’s “Biggest Little Wurlitzer” (See discography below).

Frank was an accomplished theatre organ designer, technician, and voicer. He had a great ear.  Immediately after graduating from Carnegie in 1961, Frank started working for a pipe organ company in Pennington, N.J. where he learned the trade.  Soon after, in May of 1962, he purchased a vintage 1932  2/4  Moller pipe organ from the Gorny and Gorny Funeral Home in Bloomfield, N.J. The instrument had been damaged by a flood several months earlier. Frank then began collecting parts to expand the instrument and turn in into a hybrid theatre organ. As of April, 1965 he had six ranks (flute, solo string, soft string, vox, diapason and trumpet) playing, with plans for two more ranks. The Westervelt Pipe Organ Company of Pompton Lakes fabricated a new limed oak 2 manual console with black and gold trim for the instrument. A 1928 Xylophone and Glock were obtained from the Roosevelt Theatre in Flushing, N.Y. A set of 1932 chimes which came with the funeral home Moller were installed. The 1924 toy counter, including snare, bass, and kettle drums, wood block, triangle, tom-tom, tambourine, castanets, sleigh bells, train bell, boat whistle, siren, and bird call came from the Sunnyside Theatre on Long Island. The 1922 vintage swell shades were obtained from the State Theatre in Jersey City. The organ played in a soundproofed garage at Frank’s home in Wayne, N.J.  What became of this instrument is unknown, but 11 years later Frank embarked on another home pipe organ project. 

In November of 1976, during his time at the Suburbian, Frank purchased, restored, expanded and installed Wurlitzer Opus 1416 in his Wayne, N.J. home.

The organ, originally a 2/4 Style B with Trumpet, String, Flute, and Vox Humana ranks was first installed in 1926 at the 650 seat Pastime-Osborne Theatre in the Bronx. The instrument was later repossessed and set up as a demonstrator at Wurlitzer’s 42nd street showroom in Manhattan.  In September, 1935 it was installed at the Fordham Skating Rink, and three years later in January, 1939 it moved to the home of GSTOS Charter Member Quinby DeHart Gurney, M.D. in Hawthorne, N.J.  The instrument was subsequently damaged by a flood and became unplayable. At this point Frank bought it, restored it, expanded it to 6 ranks, and had it playing in his home. In February, 1979 he sold the Wurltizer to Harold Benz of Morris Plains, N.J. who installed it in his basement. In September of 1987 the instrument, still the 2/6 that Frank restored, moved to its current home, the Roxy Theatre, Northampton, Pa, where it plays today.

As a technician,  Frank is also remembered for the education he gave founding GSTOS member Joe Vanore, as they took a pile of organ parts and assembled “the monstrous jigsaw puzzle” into Joe and Jinny’s 2/3 Estey Minuet. He was also responsible for the stop respecification on the Martin’s Griffith Beach when Bob Martin added a second stop rail.

In the early 1960’s Frank worked as a demonstrator at DeWaard Brothers, the local Rodgers organ franchise, just across the New Jersey border in Monsey, N.Y. While there, he had the Rodgers factory build him an electronic theatre organ to his own custom specifications. The factory liked the instrument so much, that they turned it into a regular production model – The Rodgers 33E. The Rodgers wood slat music desk and dogleg bench were other innovations inspired by Frank’s custom design.

Frank also left his mark as a theatre organ instructor. He is known as mentor to talented professional organists Ralph Ringstad, Jr, and Greg Owen, and several members also took lessons from him including Michael Cipolletti, and John Becica.

After the death of his father, Frank and his mother, Ethel, moved from their home in Wayne to a Condo, also in Wayne. Several years later they relocated to the Cape Coral area of Florida. Ethel predeceased Frank by several months at age 103 in March of 2008.


Ethel Cimmino
Ethel Cimmino entertains at the piano in Florida
She was reportedly age 101 when this photo was taken!

A charter member of both the New York and Garden State ATOS Chapters, Frank will be remembered not only as a musician, but also as a person who was always positive, optimistic, outgoing, generous, friendly and kind. An extremely upbeat and outgoing personality – a true entertainer and showman, not just an organist, Frank will be greatly missed.

Frank Cimmino Discography

Frank Cimmino
“GOLDEN MOMENTS WITH FRANK CIMMINO” HMR 932
 
Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.

Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel
 
Side 1
Beacon Theatre 4/19 Wurlitzer
, Broadway, New York City

Style 250 SP Opus 1891, Shipped June 6,1928
Live Concert  recorded November, 1974
 
Tracklist
A1 Italian Medley
         Speak Softly Love
          I Have but One Heart
          Finiculi-Finicula
A2 Medley d’Amour
          My Way
          So in Love
A3 Tea for Two
A4 September Song
 
Side 2
Rahway Theatre 2/7 “Biggest Little Wurlitzer”
Rahway, N.J.
Style EX Opus 1923, Shipped August 3, 1928
Live Concert recorded February, 1966
 
Tracklist
B1 Sunrise, Sunset
B2 Somewhere my Love
B3 Three Coins in a Fountain
B4 Hernando’s Hideaway
B5 My Own True Love
B6 Poincienna
B7 Bye Bye Blues


Frank Cimmino
"DINING AT THE SUBURBIAN" HMR 1082

Frank Cimmino plays the Suburbian Wurlitzer

Released 1977.


Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel

Tracklist

A1 Tonight
A2 If
A3 Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree
A4 Today
A5 Spanish Eyes
A6 The Way We Were
 
B1 All Because of Spring (Ethel M. Cimmino, composer- Frank’s mother)
B2 Beer Barrel Polka
B3 And I Love You So
B4 Loco Locomotive
B5 Bridge Over the River Kwai
B6 The Party’s Over


Frank Cimmino
“CHRISTMAS JOY” HMR 1083
 
Frank Cimmino at the Suburbian Wurlitzer
 
Release date – Not printed on Album  (Circa 1977-1981)

Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.
Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel

Tracklist

A1 Christmas Joy (Ethel M. Cimmino, Composer – Frank’s Mother)
A2 I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm
A3 Star of Bethlehem
A4 Winter
A5 Jingle Bells / Ring Merrily Bells
A6 Winter Wonderland
A7 Song of Joy
 
B1 Adeste Fidelis
B2 It Came Upon a Midnight Clear / Deck the Halls
B3 O Holy Night
B4 Hark the Herald Angels Sing
B5 Silent Night


Frank Cimmino
“THE SUBURBIAN WURLITZER” HMR 1084
 
Frank Cimmino at the Organ
 
Release date – Not printed on Album  (Circa 1977- 1981)

Recorded by HMR, Productions, Inc.

Scotch Plains, N.J.
Harry M. Randel


Tracklist
A1 S’ Wonderful
A2 I Don’t Know Why
A3 From This Moment On
A4 Moonlight in Vermont
A5 I Could Have Danced All Night
A6 Feelings
A7 In the Mood
 
B1 Moonlight Serenade
B2 You Made Me Love You
B3 Remember
B4 Military Medley
        Marines March
        Caissons Go Rolling Along
        Army Air Corps
        Anchors Aweigh
        God Bless America
B5 Always
B6 Till Tomorrow