Gina Valente - Two Ages of Genius
It’s all about the journey, and Gina’s musical journey continues today from a place of enlightenment and a state of absorption in her creative expression.

Two Ages of Genius

Everyone knows that being a child prodigy is no guarantee for growing up famous, rich and happy. Some disappear into obscurity, some quit, and some—the very exceptional—re-live the spotlight moment. Such is the case for Gina, in her second age of genius.

Gina proudly presents the first solo recording effort of a career full of passion, training and practice in her quest to master her instrument. It’s the “Two Ages of Genius,” 10 new cover recordings including her own medley arrangements and one blast from the past on dueling pianos with Bill Jordan from the mid-1950s.

  1. Minute Waltz (Chopin)
  2. Rhapsody in Blue (George Gershwin)
  3. My Funny Valentine (Rogers & Hart)
  4. Musetta’s Waltz from ‘La Boheme’ (Puccini)

News Flash

Dating back more decades than Gina would care to admit, this newly found and well-preserved footage captures Little Gina, age 5 or 6, playing Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K545, Third Movement, Rondo Form. It is a lively piece modulating through many different keys before resolving into C major, and is rated as “rather challenging” by the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music, for any student of the piano, never mind a child!

Visit us on a regular basis for updates on live performances in the South Florida area.

Thank you for visiting www.ginavalente.com.
If you’d like to join our mailing list, we’ll send you updates. Or, please send us an email if you have any questions or memories to share.

Gina is available for exclusive private or public appearances. Management:

Jay Cobbs Productions
Ft. Lauderdale, FL
954 728 8598

Gina’s Story

  1. Gina Heard Live On The Radio
  2. Gina Debuts With New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Age 8
  3. Gina & Family Move into Carnegie Hall
  4. Gina Goes To Hollywood
  5. Gina Goes On National Tour
  6. Gina On The Homefront; Brother Ralph Goes to War
  7. Gina: The Child Prodigy is Forced to Grow Up Quickly
  8. Gina And Miami Beach: Then and Now - I
  9. Gina And Miami Beach: Then and Now - II
  10. Gina And Miami Beach: Then and Now - III

Contact

Coming back full-circle to Gina’s professional career as a pianist during the height of the splendor of Miami Beach, a local journalist, Manny Meland, just spilled the beans that plans are underway to restore Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music to its former glory, at its original location: 427 22nd Street, right down to the tea garden with dance floor overlooking the canal. Best of all, it will again feature the twin pianos on a raised platform, just as Gina and Bill used to play back in the late 50s and early 60s.

No telling how Gina’s path may cross the intersection of 22nd Street this time! Or maybe even 57th Street & 7th Avenue in New York. Check back with us often!


ABOVE Gina poses here with Manny Meland, journalist, author and historian of Miami Beach.

Manny Meland, a Miami Beach jazz aficionado and writer has published three articles about Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music in MiamiARTzine.com, with another coming soon featuring Gina. He is also currently at work on a book on the history of the entertainment scene of Miami Beach.

  1. miamiartzine.com/issue19/thirdright.htm
  2. miamiartzine.com/vol2/issue30/3right.htm
  3. miamiartzine.com/vol3/issue73/3right.htm
1. Gina Heard Live on the Radio

The child prodigy is now a Master with prodigious talent. Gina’s musical journey began in New York City at the peak of live radio entertainment. Back in the day, Jack Benny and Fred Allen were involved in a famous on-air public feud that started when Allen compared the talent of an eight-year-old violinist unfavorably to Jack Benny’s skills.

Little Gina Valente was the next antic used in the plot to rile Benny. At Fred Allen’s introduction, Gina played Schubert’s “Bee,” and then Allen chided Jack, “You probably couldn’t even play on LINOLEUM at that age!”

ABOVE Gina appeared live on the CBS hit “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.” Listen to that performance on the streamed audio clip here!



She certainly couldn’t reach an octave with her tiny hands, and Allen even noted that.

A custom-made accordion was crafted for Gina’s tiny frame and tiny hands; her name emblazoned above the bellows with in-laid mother-of-pearl. Gina’s star billing was “Phenomenal Child Accordionist – Pianist.”

LEFT Gina with Fred Allen just before live radio performance where she would play Schubert’s “Bee,” at Jack Benny’s expense. She’s five years old.

CENTER Gina with Major Bowes just before her live nation-wide radio performance in the CBS hit, “The Original Amateur Hour.”

RIGHT Gina plays live on coast-to-coast radio on the Fred Allen show at the age of five.

2. Gina Debuts with New York Philharmonic Orchestra at Age 8

Having already debuted at Town Hall at the tender age of eight as the featured soloist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and receiving an emphatic standing ovation, Gina was already a veteran musician first setting tiny hands to the ivory keys at the age of one! She followed up with two more concerts at Carnegie Hall, one of the world’s most important stages for music.

LEFT Part of Gina’s Press Kit, lovingly designed by Papa Ciro, also espoused her phenomenal talents on the accordion.

CENTER Gina amazed everyone with the beauty of her music and maturity of her sound when she could barely reach the keys and pedals simultaneously!

RIGHT Gina at 3-years old on the piano.

Gifted with perfect pitch, Gina could tell you the note of the ping on a crystal champagne flute. She is a recipient of several national piano-playing awards, most notably a Paderewski and Irl Allison gold medal from the National Guild of Piano Teachers of America. At the age of five, she was the only child to receive a rating of “genius” by the judges.

3. Gina and Family Move into Carnegie Hall

Because of Gina’s rapid ascent as a child prodigy, the entire family moved from Brooklyn, across the bridge into Manhattan, and into an apartment in Carnegie Hall, where they all lived, well into her late teen years.

Under the watchful tutelage of her father, Maestro and Professor Ciro Valente, Gina studied and judiciously practiced eight hours a day in a small Carnegie Hall studio. Prince, her beloved collie, would often be found sleeping beneath the piano, near her feet while she practiced.

LEFT Proud Papa Ciro with his prodigy and progeny, Gina, with her custom-made accordion.

CENTER Gina’s parents as young newlyweds in a new country, raising five children in Brooklyn, New York

RIGHT Gina’s brother, Ralph Valente, aka “Curly Ralph,” had quite the following of young female fans as the leader of his own trio in the 1930s, in New York.

Gina’s parents, both emigrated from Italy in the early 1900s, met and married in New York. She was the last of five children; the first died as an infant. Mary, her mom, worked as a finisher in a factory, and was a member of the IGLWU, the largest labor union at the time, and one of the first with a primarily female membership. Her two sisters, Rosalie and Carmela, both worked on Wall Street, and her brother Ralph was also a musician with his own trio.

4. Gina Goes to Hollywood

Gina performed live on the CBS radio ratings sensation, “The Original Amateur Hour,” hosted by Major Bowes.

It wasn’t long before Hollywood tapped in to capitalize on her virtuosity. In a Columbia Pictures film, “Rooftop Frolics,” Gina got top billing as the child accordionist in this musical show, alongside Peg La Centra, Al Cooper and his swing band and the high-hat tap dancers, The Debonaires.

After also appearing in a Warner Brothers’ short, “Trouble in Toyland,” Papa Ciro led the family back home to Carnegie Hall and Gina returned to her grueling daily practice schedule.

LEFT Along with all the good, even back then, kidnapping plots for Gina were revealed. In the challenging decade following the Great Depression, it seemed as if some folks thought she must have been making a forutne, so ransom for her release would be a sure-fire path to that pot of gold!

RIGHT AND INSET “Rooftop Frolics,” the Columbia Pictures film, shows Gina front and center with her accordion in this set shot.

The family had to keep close watch over Gina. There were rumors of kidnapping plots, as everyone wanted a piece of her and the presumed “action.” The child was relegated to attend private schools, and was chaperoned wherever she went. She even had to give her communions in private. No playgrounds, no friends and certainly nothing that would put her hands at risk. It was not your typical childhood. The protection of Gina was the family’s duty, heightened by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping some years earlier.

5. Gina Goes on National Tour

The next major booking was the national tour of “Naughty Marietta,” a Victor Herbert operetta, following the monumental success of the movie starring Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy. Papa Ciro was the conductor of the show, and Rosalie, Gina’s sister, was her chaperone for the duration of the bus tour around the country.

LEFT Sister Rosalie chaperoned Gina on the “Naughty Marietta” tour and also introduced her live on coast-to-coast radio for “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scout.”

CENTER In city after city on the “Naughty Marietta” tour, Gina stole the limelight and was the center of attention in all the reviews.

RIGHT Here’s the cover of a Playbill for one of the venues on Gina’s National Tour of “Naughty Marietta,” in Erie, Pennsylvania.


Gina got rave reviews and upstaged all the actors, much to the chagrin of the Director, Reed Lawton. “Little Gina Steals the Show,” read the headlines from one state to the next. Jealousy was the alleged motivation for the disappearance of Gina’s custom-made accordion, with fingers pointing at Mr. Lawton’s brother, the driver of the bus. Lack of instrument prevented Gina from playing for a few days before another accordion was obtained, but she quickly returned to overwhelming accolades for her musicianship.

6. Gina on the Homefront; Brother Ralph Goes to War

The success of “Naughty Marietta,” however, was bittersweet for the Valente family. While in mid-performance onstage at a venue in Texas, they received a telegram from the War Department. Their beloved only son and brother, Private Ralph Valente, serving under General Patton’s 3rd Army in the 318th Infantry, was just 23 years old when he was killed in the line of duty in Nancy, France. The tour had to go on, but for the Valente’s, with heavy heart, consuming grief and utter devastation. Rosalie returned home to be with their mom and sister, Carmela.

LEFT Vmail stood for Victory mail, the system for delivering mail between home in the US, and the troops overseas during WWII. Gina wrote this Vmail to her brother Ralph for his birthday, including the music for the “Happy Birthday” song.

CENTER Inset Private Ralph Valente was awarded the Purple Heart for his heroic efforts serving under Gen. Patton’s 3rd Army.

RIGHT Ciro Valente, the patriarch, professor, mentor, musician, conductor and papa.

RIGHT INSET Private Ralph Valente left for his tour of duty at the age of 23, never to return.


Soon after, Gina made her own contribution to the homefront efforts by entertaining the troops. It must have been quite the site when a large canopied military truck pulled up in front of Carnegie Hall to pick her up for an engagement playing for the boys. New York City’s Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia introduced Gina onstage. She went on to Birmingham, Alabama to play another show for the troops.

Then, following another live radio performance on yet another CBS hit show, “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts,” Gina began her formal Juilliard School of Music education on a full music scholarship.

Gina: The Child Prodigy is Forced to Grow Up Quickly

As a young woman already trying to cope with the loss of her beloved brother, Ralph, Gina and her family were dealt another devastating blow that most certainly altered the course of her future. While Gina was practicing in the studio with her father Ciro standing near the piano, he suddenly fell forward in front of her, hitting the piano, breaking his tooth, and fatally collapsing with a massive coronary. Aside from the overwhelming grief, the family’s financial status was now endangered with the loss of his teaching and studio rental income. Each remaining family member went her own way in supporting herself. Her mother Mary continued to work as a seamstress and rented out two studio spaces to students needing a place to practice, one with a piano and one with a Hammond organ. Gina continued doing what she always had done, practicing in her little studio, but now having to supplement her income with nightclub gigs. She would no longer be billed as the “child prodigy.”

One steady customer rented the organ studio several times a week next to Gina’s studio and the family’s apartment in Carnegie Hall. He recalled being in awe of the sounds emanating from that room. Curiosity got the best of him after hearing what he could only describe as some “other-worldly talent with supremely gifted technique.” He just had to know who the musical genius was behind that door. He peeked through the keyhole and first saw a beautiful collie sitting by the pedals. Then he saw tiny feet, tilting up to see small, delicate hands, and then ringlets of curls. He couldn’t believe she was just a young woman and playing like a seasoned master. Gob-smacked. Love at first sound. Just a few years later, this gentleman would become Gina’s husband and father of her two children. Eddie Jacobs was already an accomplished pianist and organist himself, but that’s a whole other story!

Her extraordinary talents have since been showcased at the finest venues in the country: The Waldorf-Astoria, Hotel Ambassador, Les Champs Restaurant, St. George Hotel, New York Hilton, Brooklyn Academy of Music, The New York World’s Fair, The Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, Americana, Deauville, Doral, Boca Raton Hotel & Yacht Club and The Breakers to name a few.

LEFT Eddie could have been on the cover of GQ back then, if it was around then!

CENTER A dapper Eddie in New York City. How could Gina resist?

RIGHT Having already made a name for himself in the music business, Eddie was enjoying a successful career and traveled the world playing the piano.

INSET Gina’s “Hollywood Headshot” was featured in lobbies of the finest hotels and on the marquees of the best music showplaces in the country, whenever and wherever she appeared.

Before passing, Ciro had already orchestrated the next logical steps in Gina’s brilliant career as a concert pianist. Three mentors were targeted to take on Gina as their own protégée to move her up to the next level. The first was another child prodigy, Rudolf Serkin, who made his debut as a guest artist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra at the age of 12. Austrian-born American Serkin amazed audiences with overwhelming talent. As well, plans were also in the works for Gina to study with the charismatic Arthur Rubinstein, widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, and coincidentally also another child prodigy having made his public debut at the age of 7. Although he never did much teaching, Mr. Rubinstein expressed an interest in Gina’s career. Then there was Vladmir Horowitz, and he only worked with a select group of young pianists, accepting Gina for study. The excitement of Horowitz’s playing remains legendary to this day. However, all three illustrious plans were derailed with Ciro’s passing and Gina moved into her professional career as a musician in New York City, and then on to Miami Beach.

8. Gina and Miami Beach: Then & Now - 1

A resident of South Florida for many decades where she raised her family, Gina played right through the dark era of racial and religious discrimination in Miami Beach. While the country endured the fiasco of the Cuban Missile Crisis, she faced Bill Jordan on twin pianos at his Bar of Music, the first venue to feature classical music in a nightclub setting. It was the place to escape, to dine and enjoy a cocktail while enjoying a bit of Mozart or Tchaikovsky played on dual pianos. After years of headlining with Bill Jordan, they released an album together. You’ll hear the duality of their supreme talent on her new CD release, “Two Ages of Genius,” cut #11, “Ritual Fire Dance,” directly from that album. Gina and Bill were also featured pianists on “The Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Telethon,” broadcast from Miami Beach, as well as the headliners for a huge Shriner’s event.

Eddie Jacobs, still a home-based New Yorker, felt the tug of the fishing lure pulling him to Miami Beach once he found out Gina had committed to a contract with Bill Jordan. He was, after all, an avid fisherman. And, he had just finished up a world wind tour as the musical conductor for the handsome, popular Irish-American tenor, Phil Regan. So, he packed up his belongings in his car and headed south, where he set out to land the big fish.

Gina and Eddie kept playing through the “glitter and glitz” years when Miami Beach was the epicenter of the wealthy and famous, filled with decadence and opulence. In the Grand Lobby of The Fontainebleau Hotel, Gina was featured on the Steinway beneath the infamous “stairs to nowhere.” The sole purpose of the spiral staircase was for the ladies to make an entrance showing off their gowns and jewels to the accompaniment of the enchanting background styling of Gina’s piano solos.

Right next door to the Fontainebleau, at the Eden Roc Hotel, husband Eddie was the bandleader at world renowned Harry’s American Showroom, another gathering spot of famous celebrities. Gina and Eddie were the music power couple of Miami Beach for a time, yet no one knew the connection since Gina always used her maiden name. The girls grew up privileged with the good fortune to go to all the rehearsals and shows and meet of all the top name entertainment of the time.

LEFT Gina is (on the right) with her very tanned eldest sister, Carmela (Lilly) Johnson, under the marquee at Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music. Gina’s name is featured on the billboard outside the club in Miami Beach, mid 1950s.

RIGHT Society pages were always sure to catch a star-watch moment at Bill Jordan’s Bar of Music. On this night in 1954, Gina is with Bill Jordan, Guy Rennie, Beth Chalis, Fred Thompson and Harvey Bell.

In 1956, Gina and Eddie were married in an outdoor ceremony at the lavish estate of Carl and Cynthia Twitchell on the exclusive Sunset Island; she, the heiress to the A&P grocery chain fortune. Bill Jordan served as Best Man, saying, “I wouldn’t have allowed Gina to hook up with a trumpet or piccolo player.” “Naturally, Eddie is a pianist,” quoted the society pages of all the local papers covering the event of that summer.

“From the sun and fun capital of the world, Miami Beach, it’s the Jackie Gleason show!” In 1964, Jackie Gleason moved his show to Miami Beach from New York. Besides Jackie and his Honeymooners, star sightings were commonplace as the top celebrities were headlining at the hotels: The Rat Pack, Elvis, Jerry Lewis, Lucille Ball, Connie Francis, Bobby Darin, Frankie Avalon, Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Paul Anka. Even the big Mafia bosses were calling the Beach their home. Not surprisingly, many of them took in Gina’s shows. She was frequently booked at the famed rooftop nightclub on top of the Doral, The Starlight Roof.

9. Gina and Miami Beach: Then & Now - 2

The fun in the sun destination, along with the rest of the country, was marred by a particularly nasty democratic convention, several tragic and traumatic political assassinations and then an ugly, unpopular war overseas. When the political fire subsided, a new form of entertainment emerged and Disco took over the beach and everywhere else. Gina was still playing at the Sheraton Bal Harbour, one of the few hotels still offering live entertainment.

Once Miami Beach got back its groove with the re-emergence of South Beach as a magnet for the entertainment and fashion elite, Gina, never having lost her groove, found a new audience at the Doral’s exclusive Saturnia International Spa Resort.

LEFT This sleek “for hire” brochure features Gina as a solo artist, or leading her trio and available for bookings.

CENTER Eddie was the bandleader at the world-famous Harry’s American Showroom at the Eden Roc Hotel, while Gina played next door at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

RIGHT Eddie with their daughters Julie and Janice at the Eden Roc Hotel.

The Mariel Boat Lift of the early 1980s forever changed the demographics and landscape of South Florida with an influx of immigrants. Moving with the times, Gina added spicy Salsa and beautiful Spanish ballads to her repertoire. She was honored with a personal invite by then-Governor Bob Graham to entertain for an event at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee. Other political extravaganzas followed, notably two fund-raisers for VP Walter Mondale and one for President Ronald Reagan. Her music remained bi-partisan.

10. Gina and Miami Beach: Then & Now - 3

The condo scene started its climb into the gentrified demographics, with a slightly older audience, yet culturally very active. Her piano playing is still enthralling audiences at yacht clubs, condo auditoriums and exclusive private parties. Gina provided the background music for Miami Dolphin linebacker Zach Thomas’s proposal to his now wife at a private, romantic dinner prepared by a personal chef at his home.

LEFT Gina on the left, is enjoying a family moment with her two sisters, Carmela (Lilly) and Rosalie (Sally).

RIGHT Gina entertained Gov. Bob Graham at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, Florida at his personal invitation.

INSET Gina still dazzles audiences with her gifted melodies, interpretations and repertoire of the classics, transcending genres and generations.

Gina still maintains a rigorous practice schedule. She has been preparing for her “second age of genius,” her second “15 minutes of fame,” so to speak, for all these years. It’s the slow-burning model of success. She has fully achieved her excellence, yet still dreams of reaching new heights. At this point, she has the tools, experience and confidence to keep going from this place of passion. She has already proven she can do it; but now she’ll show that she can do it better. In recognition of reaching her full potential, now wiser, more realistic yet still idealistic, more humble and more grateful for all the blessings that have come her way, her family and friends enthusiastically support her ebullient endeavor to reach that second pinnacle. She deserves it.





  "));