By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Jimmy Mulidore’s life would make for one juicy movie.
The Youngstown native and jazz great grew up in Brier Hill, moved to New York City and wound up in Las Vegas, where he worked with every big name from the late ’50s through the ’80s – a time when Sin City earned its name.
The cocky kid from Youngstown was a player in every sense of the word, moving through the wild backstage world depicted in films such as “Casino.” To say his life is a movie waiting to happen is no joke; the sax player is working with a screen writer to develop a script based on his life.
Mulidore has a million stories about the early years of Vegas, when the city was the wide-open domain of mobsters and movie stars and he was an entertainment insider who knew them all.
He shares those tales in his 2014 book “The Vegas Player” (tatepublishing.com), a page-turner rife with eye-popping tales of celebrities, sex, drugs, music and mafia.
His exploits with women there are legendary and led to a few close calls with jealous gangsters. He feels lucky that he avoided getting shot back then, but jokingly notes that his book might finally do the trick.
Mulidore worked with Frank Sinatra but saw a far different side than the one adoring fans saw. He played on some of Elvis Presley’s best-known songs, including “American Trilogy,” and hung out with Sammy Davis Jr., while bedding showgirls, singers, strippers and starlets.
Along the way, he also became one of the most-respected musicians in town, a master of the saxophone, flute and clarinet, and the band leader and music director of the Hilton and Flamingo hotels for 18 years. It was there that he worked – and played – with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ann-Margret, Liberace, Lena Horne, Natalie Cole, Barbra Streisand and Gladys Knight.
The big orchestras that backed the stars are all but gone from today’s Las Vegas, a fact that Mulidore laments. He still performs, though, but mainly on the road.
On Saturday, Mulidore will make a rare appearance in Northeast Ohio when he plays two shows at the Blu Jazz room in downtown Akron.
Mulidore will be backed by a five-piece band that includes pianist Tomoko Ohno and saxophonist Richie Cole for shows at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 and can be purchased in advance at blujazzakron.com.
Those who go will see a top-level jazz ensemble and a showman who embodies the Vegas stage.
In a phone interview from his Las Vegas home, Mulidore talked about his musical heroes and described his act.
“One of my idols was Miles Davis, but he had no rapport with the audience,” he said. “Dizzy Gillespie had the rapport. I [developed] my entertainment at the Hilton. I talk with people, keep them interested. I acquired this personality on stage. Part of the show is me, introducing the songs.”
The program will include tunes by jazz and big band greats such as Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, but played with Mulidore’s interpretation.
“The jazz afficionado will hear a blues number, a beautiful waltz, and some up-to-date modernized playing,” he said. “I am an innovator on the flute, saxophone and so on, and I feature it throughout the show. We do some ferocious tempos where you just can’t help but marvel at the teamwork of the band. It moves quick.”
How Mulidore – the son of a steel worker from a large family – became a top-rank saxophonist, is an unlikely story.
He grew up in Brier Hill, the North Side neighborhood that was known as Little Italy, with gangsters for neighbors and a future in the mill looming. But his father wanted more for young Mulidore, and one day got him a gift that would change the course of his life: a saxophone.
The senior Mulidore figured music would be his son’s ticket out, but he couldn’t have known if his son had any talent or desire to play.
It was a long shot, but it worked. The young Mulidore took a bus across town for lessons, and began playing for pay while in high school.
In those days, rollicking Youngstown was sprinkled with “black and tan” clubs, jazz bars where the races mingled – something that was not so common back then. It was at these clubs where Mulidore was most in his element.
“There was so much jazz going on in Youngstown,” he said. “That’s where I learned.”
After high school, he would study at Ohio State University and the Juilliard School in New York before heading to Las Vegas.
Mulidore was just 19 when he moved to Las Vegas in 1957.
He instantly knew he was in the right place at the right time. It was a magical era for the gambling mecca.
He admits he got spoiled by it and no longer enjoys performing at today’s corporate-run Vegas.
“I try not to do shows in Vegas any more,” he said. “I only do my own stuff now. I don’t want to play behind anyone.”
Mulidore says the city no longer lives up to the “Entertainment Capital of the World” moniker it once held.
When he was music director at the Hilton, every major casino had its own orchestra. “I was employing up to 200 musicians a week,” he said. “We gave people something they wouldn’t get in their hometown. Elvis Presley with 45 musicians. Today, it’s more likely you’ll see a three-piece backing up a Rat Pack tribute show.”