Exclusivity, proximity to star power, bragging rights—backstage has always had allure, though few actually cross the curtain’s threshold. If you were wondering how Frank Sinatra treated his big band musicians or what Sammy Davis Jr. gave to his players, UNLV Libraries’ Oral History Research Center collected interviews with the Strip’s orchestra musicians of yesteryear for its aptly titled All That Jazz project. This Sunday, the library features a panel discussion with a few of the interviewees (who will also keep their horns handy). Before the jam session, we caught up with OHRC director Claytee White to discuss the unique historical project.
Why is this history important? These guys were here playing on the Strip during those exciting times in Las Vegas history—the time before we had canned music, when we had all live music on the Strip. They can tell us what it was like behind the scenes with Frank Sinatra, with Harry Belafonte. They can give us a slice of history that we don’t have right now.
What years are featured in the project? It’s probably from the mid-’50s through the ’80s—and some of the people are still playing. As a matter of fact, a couple could not come because one was playing at a gig someplace, one was playing in Europe. So these are people who are very, very active still.
Any interesting anecdotes that stand out? I interviewed two completely different types of people, and both said that Sammy Davis, Jr. was their favorite person to play behind, because he was so kind and he always gave a party at the end. He always gave everybody a gift. That stands out.