Joe Vento continues to be a player in Las Vegas
August 13, 2013 3:00 AM
by Mark Mayer
“Sing us a song, you’re the piano man. Sing us a song tonight. Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody.And you’ve got us feelin’ alright.”
“The Piano Man” – Billy Joel
Joe Vento had just finished playing “Twilight Time” on the piano, but at 94 he isn’t even close to reaching the end of his legendary career.
“I never felt I had a gift,” Vento said after finishing one of his weeknight performances at the Royal Resort on Convention Center Dr. “People stand up and want encores and that embarrasses me. I don’t deserve that.”
One article on the man doesn’t do him justice. You can’t possibly include all the people he knows or situations he’s experienced. Suffice to say he’s met them all from Howard Hughes and Al Capone to Frank Sinatra, Elvis and Toscanini. They asked, and Vento delivered.
“I worked with Victor Borge, Bob Hope, Martha Raye, Mario Lanza, Dean Martin. Did the Godfather soundtrack…so many I can’t remember,” he said during a break. “I’ve worked professionally since I was 6 and have been in Vegas for 70 years.”
Vento worked the longest with the Three Suns, beginning a 27-year relationship in 1955 including a regular, stay at the Sahara. As for the best entertainer he’s seen, Liberace comes up but his answer may surprise you.
“Ann-Margret. She was effervescent, beautiful, a very fine singer, vocalist and actress,” Vento said. “An excellent dancer, bubbly like champagne. She didn’t carouse. She was friendly and made you feel welcome in her presence.”
Vento played for Sinatra at the Sands. He performed at Caesars Palace, the Flamingo, wherever he was needed.
“I knew all the songs, note for note,” he said. “When someone was sick, I was there. Back then we had people in Vegas with class like Harry Belafonte. Today the stars act like children. They don’t sing, they just have real good personal managers.
“The Four Freshmen, the Modernaires, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys. I worked with all of them,” Vento said. “They had talent. Kids today cannot conceptualize. You don’t even know where the melody is. In Vegas today, you have to worry about bad language. Not so in the old days.”
Vento is a Grammy Award-winning musician who has a house full of photos to start a museum. Presidents, mob figures, recluses, show business legends or just regular folks. Vento just enjoys people and they enjoy him.
“I’ll be doing the Jimmy Kimmel show in late September as part of the San Gennaro Feast,” he said. “I’ve been doing the Kimmel show for a while. Done lots of TV, over 2,000 productions. Worked with the likes of Steven Spielberg, Jay Leno, Mike Douglas, Merv Griffin. One after another.”
Requests from onlookers who see Joe play at Royal Resorts may ask for anything from Beethoven’s Fifth to Eartha Kitt and the Beatles. Whatever they want, Joe can do. And why not, since years ago he played for the Mob.
“My dad once said never get involved with the Mob or you will never get out,” Vento said. “I liked playing for them here, in Lake Tahoe and Chicago. That goes way back from the 1930’s to the 60’s. They would tell me, ‘Here’s $100 to play,’ or say, Here’s $100 not to play.’”
Vento performs now not only because he likes to, but because he has to.
“I lost my money in the stock market crashes,” he said. “Music, this is my life. I wouldn’t want to do anything else.”
• Studied violin, piano and accordion by age 4 in New York City.
• Won a scholarship to Julliard at 13.
• Played in the US Army band near the end of World War II.
• A fixture at MGM studios where he made over 500 movie and TV appearances with such stars as Joan Collins, Elvis, Charlton Heston, Dean Martin, Mario Lanza, and Frank Sinatra.
• Studied medicine and had an active practice for many years.
• Beginning in 1955, performed for 27 years with the Three Suns, appearing many times on The Tonight Show, Ed Sullivan Show, Mike Douglas Show, Kate Smith Show, Frankie Yankovich Show and Jerry Lewis Telethons.
• Appeared in command performances at the White House, Imperial Palace in Tokyo and Beijing as well as performing numerous times for the USO in Asia, Europe, the Mideast and Vietnam.
• Conductor of many performers, including Victor Borge, Nelson Eddy, plus Broadway shows and on cruise ships.
• Appeared at the Paris resort hotel in Las Vegas and conducted the Veteran Tonight Show Big Band in Los Angeles every Wednesday night.
• Currently playing weeknights at Royal Resorts on Convention Center Drive.
Mark Mayer has over 35 years covering sports events and is the sports editor at GT. Reach him at MarkMayer@GamingToday.com.