In 1987, 28-year-old Broadway starlet Linda Sabatelli was enjoying a relaxing dinner out with the cast of 42nd Street when she caught the eye of Gerard Carelli. The talented young trombonist, back from a 10-month stint touring with Ray Charles, had in 1980 relocated to Manhattan and began subbing in the orchestra pit for the production. “I was invited to that dinner, and sat across the table from Linda, but we both had come with other dates,” Gerard says. “A little time went by, and I asked my hairdresser, Bobby, about this beautiful brunette dancer. Bobby knew immediately that I was talking about Linda, and helped me to deliver a note to her.” Soon after, Gerard and Linda began dating. They tied the knot in 1989, and, for the occasion, Gerard wrote Linda a song entitled “Beautiful Dancer,” which would eventually become the title track for his 1993 album.
Although the Carellis now live with their 14-year-old son Marcello in the quiet hamlet of Bedford Hills, far removed from Broadway’s bustle, over the past 30 years, the couple have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments in the worlds of music, film, and dance. Gerard has worked as a bandleader at New York City’s Rainbow Room, performed alongside some of the greatest crooners of our time—including Frank Sinatra, Rosemary Clooney, Johnny Mathis, and Mel Torme—and even released two of his own albums, Beautiful Dancer and Lucky to Be Me, the latter of which he wrote soon after Marcello’s birth as a tribute to his son. For her part, Linda has performed alongside the Broadway greats Jerry Orbach and Tammy Grimes, starred as principal dancer on camera for scores of soft-drink and fast-food commercials during the 1980s and 1990s, and became a renowned choreographer, with work that has included choreography for the 1989 Academy Awards. And, though they both gained renown in separate fields, Linda’s and Gerard’s paths to success share similar traits of the talent, tenacity, and luck that got them there.
In the commuter town of Wayne, New Jersey, located 30 minutes outside of Manhattan, Linda’s father, who worked in manufacturing, and mother, an accountant, hoped for college and a nice, traditional career path for Linda. But her father set into motion a very different path when he sent 4-year-old Linda to the local dance school in hopes she would learn to channel her boundless energy. Her teacher, Gloria Frances, quickly realized Linda was a gifted dancer. “After a few years, Gloria believed she had given me all that she could offer, and began to bring me into the City with her on weekends to take classes,” Linda recalls. “Then, when I was 13, she brought me to see my first Broadway show: Pippin. That show decided it for me!” With a razor-sharp focus on making it to Broadway, Linda, who in 1973 was still just a teen, began taking classes at the prestigious (Henry) LeTang studio in Manhattan, where she met another talented kid, Gregory Hines. “He was a genuine and multi-talented performer with no ego who truly inspired me to follow my dreams,” Linda says of Hines, who would become a dance partner at LeTang and her lifelong friend.
Linda with lifelong friend Gregory Hines, who recommended her for 42nd Street
“When I graduated from high school, my parents weren’t happy with my decision,” she says of her plans to pursue a career in entertainment. “They said they would give me a maximum of two years to prove I could really establish myself. If not, I would go to college. And I had to do this while supporting myself.”
Linda didn’t need two years to prove she could make it. Six months after graduating from high school, she booked her first big job: Dancing in a TV spot for No Nonsense Pantyhose. “I flew to LA, where I met Robert Redford on the set,” she says. “I got my union card, which meant I could begin auditioning for the big union jobs only open to members.”
A few months later, Hines recommended her for an audition for 42nd Street. “I became part of the original cast, and I was part of a small group of dancers that the director and choreographer [Gower Champion] put together to help him mold, sculpt, and create the final show,” she recalls. “Some days this was done on our feet while dancing, some days while sitting around a table. Gower thought that the creative process brought life to the show.”
The Carellis on the Great White Way, where they met
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Like his future wife, Gerard faced similar challenges convincing his family he could make it in the business. The son of a stay-at-home mother and business-minded father from Ledgewood, New Jersey, Gerard received his first musical instrument—a trombone—when he was 9 years old. “My father was a salesman,” he says. “He sold everything from meat slicers to liquor. So when my older brother started playing the saxophone and doing quite well, my father started telling everyone about my brother and his sax. One day, my father’s boss said, ‘I have this trombone just lying around; maybe you want to buy it.’ I think my father paid $10 for it. When it was my turn at school to pick an instrument to play, I was ready to pick the trumpet, but my father said, ‘No, we have a trombone.’”
It was love at first sound. “I knew as a freshman in high school that I really wanted to be a professional musician, but this caused a battle between me and my father; I won that battle when I went to North Texas State University for music. I told my father that it was really his fault because he passed on his love of jazz to me.”
Upon graduation, Gerard earned a degree in music education and a job offer to teach in Texas, but, with no other prospects on the horizon, he rejected the position and held fast to his dream. “My brother Bert was living in California and working in the music business, so I packed up and drove to California,” he says. “He and I were playing with a very successful disco band when I heard that Ray Charles was looking for a trombone player.” In 1979, at age 26, Gerard went out on the road with Ray Charles, the Raelettes, and a band made up of 16 guys from all over the country. “Listening to a master sing night after night gave me the desire to become a singer,” Gerard admits. “I think my true calling was to be a bandleader, so, after touring for 10 months with Ray, I flew back to New York. I started subbing on some Broadway shows. That’s when I met Linda.”
In 1992, Gerard achieved his ultimate goal of launching his own band, the Gerard Carelli Orchestra. “In the last 20 years, we’ve done close to 2,000 events.” Recently, he has expanded his business, launching his own company, Carelli Collective, an entertainment agency that provides some of the most sought-after bands, entertainers, DJs, and performers for different events. “I’m drawing on all of these years of experience,” he says. “I know so many musicians in the business.”
Linda’s work has also evolved. Most recently, she’s discovered a new calling to share her passion with adult students. She teaches dance classes in spaces she rents at Union Hall in North Salem and The Studio in the Saw Mill Club in Mount Kisco. “These classes are made up of students who range from those who danced in college, to those who came from Broadway, to those who approach dance as therapy,” she says. “But, of course, I also love my work with theater kids, who are going through the same things I did as a kid.”
And speaking of kids in the business, Gerard and Linda’s son, Marcello, dreams of one day performing with the New York Philharmonic. At just 14, Marcello shows unusual promise and focus as a talented percussionist. “I tell him that if this is really his dream, he needs to be versatile,” says Gerard. “He needs to write, arrange, teach, and he needs to be able to play jazz, rock, and classical music. And I tell him that to be a professional musician, there is the creative aspect of your art form, but there is also the creative aspect of making a living. It’s a matter of constantly reinventing yourself.”