THE MAN WITH THE HORN! That’s how he was billed when he
played the lounges up and down the Strip and nightclubs from New York to Miami and many
stops in between. Chris Fio Rito and his horn brought audiences to life. He sang,
he danced, he told jokes and, oh, yes, he played the horn.
Much of Chris’ style and material came from Louie Prima.
But, the feeling that brought it all to life came from deep within his soul.
By the time Chris played Las Vegas, we had known each other for many
years. He loved the ponies and it was easy for him to find work at a nightclub in close
proximity to a racetrack. The winters were spent in Miami. Daytime found us at Hialeah rooting
home winners, but more often tearing up tickets and leaving dejected. In those days, the
losses used to get us down.
As we stood in line waiting for our cars, Chris would say, “Stop
by the Dream Lounge tonight. I’ve got some friends in town. Good people.
You’ll like them.”
Usually I didn’t feel like going. I was more concerned about
tomorrow’s daily double and where I’d get the scratch. But, after
a short nap, a shower and dinner, something stirred inside and I found myself heading over
to catch Chris’ second set.
When I walked in, the air was tingling. Chris was onstage and people
were clapping and rocking to the good sounds. Without fail, as soon as he spotted me, his
next number was Bunny Berigan’s classic hit, “I Can’t Get
Started.” Chris knew it was one of my favorites and he never missed a chance to play
it for me. And, he played it well. They didn’t call him the man with the horn for no
reason. By the end of the set, Chris had proven once again the power of music. My doldrums
had disappeared and life was good.
All of those memories came flooding back one day last week as I looked
at the envelope that came in the mail. The return address was Mrs. Chris Fio Rito Sr., his
mother. I hadn’t talked to her in years. Instinctively, I knew the news inside was
not good. A quick flash reminded me that I hadn’t gotten a Christmas card from Chris
His mother’s note confirmed my worst fears. My good friend had
passed away in October.
Immediately I reached for the phone. It was still difficult for Mrs.
Fio Rito to talk about her son. She passed the receiver to her husband. In addition to his
parents, Chris (Sr.) and Marie, he is survived by his long-time companion,
Delores “Darry” Monteleone, brother, Frank, and sister, Catherine
Chris, 65, had known he was very ill, but kept that information to
himself. He went on working as if everything was OK. He kept playing his horn ”” a
very special one ”” the trumpet given him by his pal, Louie Prima.
Chris spent 15 years in Las Vegas. He kept the lounges jumping at the Sands,
Desert Inn, Tropicana and Frontier. Many of those years he worked
opposite his friend, Sonny King.
Chris had a long list of show biz friends, including Wayne Newton,
Shecky Greene, Joey Bishop, Danny Thomas, Jerry Vail, Pat
Cooper, Buddy Grecco, Sam Butera, Keely Smith, Freddie Bell,
Bernie Allen, Steve Rossi, Claude Trenier, Jackie Gayle, Joey
Villa, Babe Pier, Larry Lee and Joe Castro.
In the audience often would be the likes of Joe DiMaggio, Bucky
Howard, John Moran, Jilly Rizzo, Frank Fertitta, Jr., Joe
Spinuzzi, Carmen “Minnie” Cardillo and ”” I’m happy to say
Chris was very proud of his television credits. They include a
“Paul Anka Special,” “Jerry Lewis Telethon,” “Charlie’s
Angels,” “Vegas” and “The Ray Anthony Show” from Miami Beach. He
was an opening act for Perry Como, Buddy Grecco and Pat Cooper. And, lest we
forget, wrote a column for GamingToday when it was known as Sports Form.
Chris has left us downhearted, in the words of Vernon Duke,
”˜cause we can’t get started with him no more.