John Katsilometes

[The Kats Report]

Life is a Cabaret: Top local acts gravitate to the Smith Center’s jazz room

Frankie Moreno is one of several acts who should attract locals to Cabaret Jazz.
Photo: John Knopf

Myron Martin has been saying it from Day One, and maybe even before Day One, as Cabaret Jazz has grown in prominence at the Smith Center for the Performing Arts: “The role of Cabaret Jazz is to bring national and international touring artists into Las Vegas to perform for smaller audiences in a room designed for live music,” says the Smith Center’s president and the center’s leading recruiter of talent.

Long after Day One, as the Smith Center celebrates its third birthday on March 10, Cabaret Jazz is the sort of venue Martin has long described. Just this year, the list of headliners has popped with stars like Broadway standout Cheyenne Jackson, trumpet great Arturo Sandoval and Marilyn McCoo & Billy Davis Jr. These shows, and this flavor of nationally recognized performers, are the highlights among a busy programming schedule at Cab Jazz.

But what about those artists based in Las Vegas? Is Cabaret Jazz a suitable home for them, too? For the best of the best, the answer is yes.

Though it started to gain an identity comparatively slowly among Las Vegas entertainers, Cabaret Jazz has bolstered its lineup of local headliners over the past year—and particularly as spring arrives. The venue’s strength has long been Clint Holmes’ monthly appearances, terrific every time, and the monthly (or so) Composers Showcase performances hosted by Jersey Boys music director Keith Thompson. Lon Bronson’s All-Star Band has been announced as a recurring headliner, along with David Perrico and his formidable 22-piece Pop Evolution show band.

The latest headliner at Cab Jazz is none other than Frankie Moreno—a cinch to deliver a high-caliber performance—who has started locking in gigs in Las Vegas after a series of outside dates. Those away-from-home dates have included shows in Vienna and Paris on behalf of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. Moreno starts a series of a dozen monthly, Tuesday-night shows on March 17.

The titles of these shows, as dubbed by Moreno’s girlfriend Lacey Schwimmer, are “Under the Influence,” meaning each show will be a tribute to a different artist each week. One week it’s Ray Charles, another it’s Elvis, then The Beatles, like that. It’s a different show than Moreno will perform at his March 7 debut at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort. That show will be more in line with the originals-laden show Moreno performed at the Stratosphere. He follows with a second show at Rocks Lounge on April 11, and is set up at Cab Jazz through June 9.

Ben Hale of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah’s performs at Cabaret Jazz on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, in the Smith Center.

Ben Hale of "Million Dollar Quartet" at Harrah’s performs at Cabaret Jazz on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015, in the Smith Center.

The Holmes-Bronson-Perrico-Moreno lineup gives Cabaret Jazz an impressive quartet of Vegas performers that should attract plenty of business from locals. For Smith Center officials, gaining a grip on the Vegas entertainment scene has been a process. Martin’s early signing of Holmes was expected, the quintessential no-brainer, as Holmes has developed a loyal Vegas fanbase since his days headlining at Harrah’s. Bronson, too, was an easy call; this year he’s celebrating his 25th year performing in Las Vegas. Just Friday night, Bronson sold out Cab Jazz for a night of soul fronted by ex-Tower of Power vocalist Larry Braggs.

Prior to his debut at Smith Center in September 2013, Bronson was strictly a no-admission experience, dating to the days Steve Schirippa presented the band at the Riviera. Those who had followed Bronson over the years, from the Riv to the Golden Nugget to such mid-level venues as Ovation at Green Valley Ranch and the Railhead at Boulder Station, wondered if his fans would pay $20 to see him play at the Smith Center. But Bronson has filled or nearly filled the room in an octet of performances, and has offered something special in those shows—inviting Braggs (twice), Brody Dolyniuk of Yellow Brick Road and members of Bella Electric Strings to join him onstage. Bronson is seeking a late-April return to Cabaret Jazz, where he just sold out his latest show on Saturday night with Braggs at the front of the band.

The Cab Jazz schedule is further reinforced by the Composers Showcase events, and not just because they have grown into regular sellouts. The late-night shows have forged a connection between the Smith Center and many top-level performers in major Strip productions. Those who have performed regularly at the Showcase and also appeared in solo showcases at Cabaret Jazz include Travis Cloer of Jersey Boys, Ben Hale of Million Dollar Quartet, Philip Fortenberry of Jersey Boys (as the show’s associate music director) and Kristen Hertzenberg of Million Dollar Quartet.

“The fact that Cabaret Jazz is a room built for live music is very appealing to many artists, and the audiences are there strictly to see a performance,” Martin says. “They sound better, and frankly I think they like playing Cabaret Jazz better and from a true artistic sense it is better than playing a casino lounge.”

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