Talking With Ben Vereen and Jane Monheit – May 15, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Combo Ben and Jane

This week, Ira spoke with Ben Vereen and Jane Monheit . To listen to the interview click below.

Few entertainers today are as accomplished or versatile as Ben Vereen. His first love and passion is and always will be the stage. “The theater was my first training ground. It taught me discipline, dedication and appreciation of hard work and values that will stay with me a lifetime,” says Vereen..” The stage sharpens the creative instrument and encourages you to go deeper inside and try new things.”

On Broadway, Ben Vereen has appeared in Wicked, Fosse, I’m Not Rappaport, Hair, Jesus Christ Superstar, Grind, Pippin, Jelly’s Last Jam and A Christmas Carol. Off-Broadway credits include the award-winning original production of The Exonerated. His role in Pippin garnered him both the prestigious Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for “Best Actor in a Musical.”
Vereen’s acting credits include the unforgettable Chicken George in Roots and Louis Armstrong in Louis Armstrong – Chicago Style. His television guest appearances include Grey’s Anatomy, for which he won the Prism Award, Law and Order: Criminal Intent, Tyler Perry’s House of Payne, OZ, Touched By An Angel, Second Noah, New York Undercover, The Nanny, Star Trek – The Next Generation, The Jamie Fox Show, The Promised Land, and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, as well as recurring roles on Silk Stalkings, Webster, J.J. Starbuck and Booker.

“Everything I’m singing now is a reflection of my truest self,” says Jane Monheit. “After all this time in the industry, after touring for 13 years, it’s time to just be me, with complete and utter freedom.”

Monheit’s sense of liberation is apparent throughout “The Heart Of The Matter,” the acclaimed, Grammy-nominated vocalist’s ninth studio album. It can be felt in her wide- ranging choice of material, in the unique arrangements, and in her own fearless performances and interpretations. The diverse and very personal set of songs includes both familiar standards and compositions by Lennon/McCartney, Randy Newman, two songs by Ivan Lins, recorded in the original Portuguese, and, for the first time, a Monheit original.

Talking With LeAnn Rimes and Gary Puckett – May 8, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Composite LeAnn and Gary

This week, Ira spoke with LeAnn Rimes and Gary Puckett . To listen to the interview click below.

LeAnn Rimes is one of the most successful entertainers with a career spanning more than 20 years. With album sales of more than 40 million, two GRAMMY Awards, three Academy of Country Music Awards and 12 Billboard Music Awards, Rimes has made her mark in the world of music. She was the youngest person to ever win a GRAMMY Award and was the first country artist to win the GRAMMY Best New Artist trophy. Widely regarded as one of the finest vocalists in music in the last three decades, Rimes is known for her powerful and flawless voice and a sound that is simultaneously fresh and timeless.

Gary Puckett and The Union Gap was one of the most successful musical groups of the sixties. Gary’s unmistakable signature voice garnered six consecutive gold records and top ten Billboard hits, including “Young Girl,” “Woman Woman,” “Lady Willpower,” and “Over You.” Puckett has performed on more than 30 network television shows and prime time specials during his career, even adding a command performance for the President and Prince Charles at the White House. He continues to tour nationally and internationally.

Talking With Frank Cullotta – May 1, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Frank Cullotta

This week, Ira spoke with Frank Cullotta . To listen to the interview click below.

Frank Cullotta was born in Chicago in 1938. He began his decades-long criminal career as a teenager, graduating from petty theft to burglary, armed robbery, arson and murder. While growing up he met another young tough on the streets of the Windy City: Tony Spilotro. The two boys became friends and criminal allies. Spilotro went on to become a made man and feared enforcer of the Chicago Outfit. The Outfit bosses sent him to Las Vegas in 1971 to keep an eye on their casino interests.

After getting established in Sin City, Spilotro invited Cullotta to join him. Cullotta accepted and functioned as Spilotro’s lieutenant. He watched his friend’s back and formed and ran a crew of burglars, robbers, arsonists, and killers that became known as the “Hole in the Wall Gang.”

The two men had a falling out in 1982; and at Spilotro’s request the Chicago bosses approved a contract to have Cullotta killed. Facing either life in prison for his myriad crimes or death at the hands of Outfit hit men, he rolled and became a government witness. His subsequent testimony resulted in the convictions of several of his former associates. He was preparing to testify against Spilotro in June 1986, but Spilotro himself was murdered by the Outfit just prior to the trial getting underway.

Under a new identity, Cullotta opened and ran a small business and became one of the Witness Protection Program’s success stories. In 1995 he was contacted by screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi regarding the Martin Scorsese film, “Casino.” He was hired as a technical consultant to the movie in which actor Joe Pesci played a character based on Tony Spilotro; and Frank Vincent played “Frankie,” a character based on Cullotta. In the film he appeared in several scenes as a killer, including one that was a fictionalized version of a murder he actually committed in Las Vegas in 1979.

Since then, Cullotta has appeared in several organized crime documentaries and given talks before law enforcement and college groups. In 2007, he wrote his biography titled “CULLOTTA – The Life of a Chicago Criminal, Las Vegas Mobster, and Government Witness.” His second book, “Hole in the Wall Gang,” was published in December 2013.

In February 2014, Frank launched the Las Vegas-based bus tour Casino — The Real Story Behind The Movie. He is also a consultant to the Las Vegas Mob Tour and is co-producer of Mob-Con.

Talking With Andy Martello – April 24, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Andy Martello 4-17-14

This week, Ira spoke with Andy Martello . To listen to the interview click below.

Andy Martello, a professional comedian, variety performer, and freelance writer, is the author of “The King of Casinos, Willie Martello and the El Rey Club.”.

About the book:
After a horrific blaze destroyed Willie Martello’s El Rey Club in 1962, nearly 50 years would pass before anyone knew of how that tiny casino provided a template for present-day gambling resorts, upset the Las Vegas mob, and inadvertently launched the career of Francis Ford Coppola. Were it not for the discovery of a single photo in a Las Vegas museum, the history of the El Rey Club and Willie Martello would not have been written.

About the Author:
Martello began juggling at age ten and performing professionally by age fifteen, when he won his first talent contest. His first professional booking was in 1985 and it paid him a whopping $15.00…for eight hours work.

In 1988, Martello attended Ringling Bros. Clown College and toured the world performing at theme parks, theaters, and festivals. Since then he’s appeared at numerous comedy clubs and performed for major corporations such as Microsoft & Coca-Cola.

Martello has eaten fire on NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” and spun plates on national television. He’s opened for legends like Gladys Knight and performed for President George Bush

In 2010 he began his career as a Las Vegas headliner as part of the comedy magic duo, Spike & Hammer.

Talking With Ben Jaffe – April 10, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Ben Jaffe 1

This week, Ira spoke with Ben Jaffe . To listen to the interview click below.

Ben Jaffe, the son of Hall founders Allan and Sandra Jaffe, was raised in and around Preservation Hall. Jaffe marched in his first Carnival parade at the age of nine alongside his father and parrain (godfather) Harold “Duke” Dejan. When he was thirteen, the lease on the building that housed the Hall was up for renewal. His father sat the family down and asked Ben whether they should continue. By 1984, many of the original musicians who had played at the Hall in its early days had passed away, yet the soul of the Hall remained the same. The young Jaffe replied, “Of course, you continue!”

Less than ten years later, the day after graduating from Oberlin College, Jaffe flew off to play upright bass with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in France and began overseeing operations at the Hall. He now serves as the Hall’s creative director and plays tuba (sousaphone), upright bass, and banjo in the band. Jaffe remastered and released several archival recordings of the early Preservation Hall Jazz Band, including some by Sweet Emma Barrett and Sister Gertrude Morgan. The band’s newer recordings include collaborations with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Pete Seeger, Tom Waits, Trombone Shorty, Mos Def, Lenny Kravitz, the Edge, and many others.

The Preservation Hall Jazz Band returns to The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz. celebrating its 50th Anniversary, April 11-12.

Talking With Bill Boyd – April 3, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Bill Boyd

This week, Ira spoke with Bill Boyd . To listen to the interview click below.

Bill Boyd, executive chairman of Boyd Gaming Corporation. He co-founded the company with his father, Sam. Bill has been a respected gaming figure for decades, and recognized for his extensive community philanthropy.

Bill’s father, Sam A. Boyd, came to Las Vegas in 1941 as a dealer. Through hard work and a keen business acumen, he became a stockholder in the Sahara, the Mint, and the Union Plaza hotels in Las Vegas. Bill practiced law in Las Vegas for over 15 years and was a partner with his father and others in the Union Plaza Hotel & Casino and the Eldorado Casino in Henderson. In 1973, Bill left his legal practice and began his full-time career in the gaming industry when he and his father co-founded Boyd Gaming Corporation. The Company’s first property, the California Hotel and Casino in downtown Las Vegas, opened in January, 1975.

Sam passed away in January, 1993. Bill served as chief executive officer of Boyd Gaming until January, 2008, when he was succeeded by current Boyd Gaming CEO Keith Smith.

Bill has been an active philanthropist and civic leader for decades. He was on the board of directors of the Las Vegas Downtown Progress Association and a past president of the Better Business Bureau of Southern Nevada. He was president of the Nevada Resort Association, served on the board of directors of Nevada State Bank for 20 years, founded Bank West (now Bank of Nevada) and presently serves on the board of directors for Western Alliance Bancorporation.

Bill and his wife, Judy,  Boyd Gaming and the Boyd Foundation have been major donors to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Boys and Girls Club, Boy’s Town of Nevada, National Judicial College, St. Rose de Lima Hospital, the United Way of Southern Nevada, D.A.R.E., and Nevada Blood Services, among many others. Through a significant $30 million gift that will benefit generations of future legal scholars, Bill Boyd provided funding for the creation of the nationally-ranked William S. Boyd School of Law at UNLV.

Talking With Master Chef Alex Stratta – March 27, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Alex Stratta

This week, Ira spoke with Master Chef Alex Stratta . To listen to the interview click below.

Alex Stratta, a celebrity chef and restaurateur of mixed Italian and French heritage, played the role of Iron Chef Italian on the television show “Iron Chef USA.” He was the recipient of the James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southwest in 1998 and was executive chef and owner of his famous namesake restaurant, Alex, in Las Vegas until its closure on January 15, 2011. He was diagnosed with colon cancer and became a cancer survivor.

Stratta is a fourth-generation hotelier born to parents from locales well known for their culinary traditions; his Italian father is from the Piedmont region, and his French mother from Nice along the Cote d’Azur. As his father was president of Princess Hotels & Resorts, Stratta spent much of his early life living in luxurious resorts in countries all over the world, including Singapore, Malaysia, Italy, France, Mexico, and Pakistan. This upbringing helped him become fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and English. He attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, California and graduated with honors in 1983.

Stratta began his career as a patissier-in-training at the Stanford Court Hotel. He then accepted an internship at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco; soon after, Alain Ducasse invited Stratta to join the team at his Louis XV restaurant there. After two years, Stratta returned to the United States, and at Ducasse’s recommendation began working for Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque in New York City. Both Ducasse and Boulud acted as mentors who heavily influenced Stratta’s development as both a chef and restaurateur; Stratta credits Ducasse with showing him “how to make basic, simple food taste phenomenal and Boulud for his creative influences as well as business skills.

In 1989, Stratta took on the executive chef position at Mary Elaine’s restaurant at The Phoenician resort in Scottsdale, Arizona. While there, he was featured in Food & Wine Magazine as one of “America’s Ten Best New Chefs.”

Under his tenure, the restaurant earned a 4-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide and also received critical acclaim as the best restaurant in the Phoenix area.

In 1998, Stratta became executive chef of the Renoir restaurant at The Mirage in Las Vegas after being invited by Steve Wynn. The restaurant earned Mobil Travel Guide’s highest rating of 5 stars just six months after opening.
In 2005, Stratta opened his namesake restaurant Alex – once again at the invitation of Steve Wynn, but this time for the grand opening of Wynn’s namesake casino resort and country club, Wynn Las Vegas. Stratta’s restaurant was billed as a “triumph” and has been extremely well reviewed; it received ratings of 5 stars from the Mobil Travel Guide, 5 diamonds from the AAA Restaurant Ratings, and 2 stars from the Michelin Guide.

On Facebook: Alex Stratta
On Twitter: alpostratta

Talking With David Sanborn – March 20, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo David Sanborn

This week, Ira spoke with David Sanborn . To listen to the interview click below.

Six-time GRAMMY®-winner and multi-platinum alto sax star David Sanborn will be performing at the Smith Center on March 21 in “Satin & Soul,” part of the JAZZ ROOTS Series. Also performing is platinum-selling singer/guitarist Jonathan Butler in a show that will combine elements of Africa, America, Jazz and Soul.

Having contracted polio at the age of three, Dave was introduced to the saxophone as part of his treatment therapy. By the age of 14, he was able to play with legends such as Albert King and Little Milton. Dave went on to study music at Northwestern University before transferring to the University of Iowa where he played and studied with the great saxophonist JR Monterose.

Later traveling to California on the advice of a friend, he joined the Butterfield Blues Band and played Woodstock with Paul Butterfield. Following that, Dave toured with Stevie Wonder and recorded for Wonder’s Talking Book album, played with The Rolling Stones, and toured with David Bowie with whom he recorded the famous solo heard on “Young Americans”. At the same time, Dave was touring and recording with the great Gil Evans, dividing his time between the two. After moving to New York City and studying with George Coleman, Dave started his solo career where he later collaborated with such artists as Paul Simon and James Taylor.

Dave’s solo release of Taking Off in 1975—still considered a classic—further solidified his career. His 1979 release of Hideaway became a popular hit and further propelled Dave’s ascent with the single, “Seduction” being featured in the movie, American Gigolo. Veteran bassist and composer Marcus Miller joined Dave on the 1981 album, Voyeur. The single, “All I Need Is You” won Dave his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance. In 1983, Dave released the hit album Backstreet that included Luther Vandross as a featured guest vocalist. Later albums have included guest artists such as Jack DeJohnette, Bill Frisell, Charlie Hayden, Wallace Roney, Kenny Barron, Christian McBride, and Eric Clapton.

Moving onto television, Dave hosted the show, Night Music from 1988 to 1990. Produced by Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels, the show featured films of jazz legends like Thelonious Monk, Dave Brubeck and Billie Holiday, as well as banter and memorable music jams by a remarkable list of musicians including Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, Joe Sample, Pharoah Sanders, and many others. Additionally, Dave has regularly hosted the “After New Year’s Eve” TV special on ABC. During the 1980s and 1990s, Dave hosted a syndicated radio program, The Jazz Show with David Sanborn. Dave has also recorded many shows’ theme songs as well as several other songs for The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder.

Talking With Max Robins – March 13, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Max Robins

This week, Ira spoke with Max Robins. To listen to the interview click below.

A columnist for, J. Max Robins have been covering the business of media, entertainment and technology since 1990. During that period, he has contributed to a myriad of publications, including “The Wall Street Journal,” “The New York Times,” “The Los Angeles Times” and “New York.”

In his former position as Executive Director and Vice President of The Paley Center for Media, Robins founded the groundbreaking “Next Big Thing” series, bringing together the hottest startups in the industry with top venture capitalists and thought leaders from the around the world.

Before joining the Paley Center, he was the editor-in-chief of Broadcasting & Cable magazine, where he oversaw a relaunch of B&C across platforms. Before taking the reins of B&C, Robins was a senior editor and columnist at both TV Guide and Variety.

Robins has commented on media-related issues for several major news outlets, including NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, CNBC, Fox News, “Charlie Rose” and NPR. For the last 15 years he has had a weekly live segment dubbed “Max Mondays” on WRKO’s top-rated “Howie Carr Show.”

On Twitter : @jmaxrobins

Talking With Jimmy Mulidore – March 6, 2014

FotoFlexer_Photo Jimmy Mulidore

This week, Ira spoke with Jimmy Mulidore. To listen to the interview click below.

Jimmy Mulidore will be appearing in Cabaret Jazz at the Smith Center in “Jazz For The Ages,” March 7-8, along with jazz saxophonist Eric Alexander and the New York City Jazz band.

Mulidore took up the saxophone at the age of ten, then added the classical clarinet, studying with Albert Calderone, one of the best teachers around. He spent his high school years frequenting the Cleveland jazz clubs and soaking up the influences of such greats as James Moody, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Clifford Brown. When he was old enough, his summers were spent on tour with Billy May, Hal McIntyre and Ralph Marterie.

At Ohio State University, Mulidore was chosen solo clarinetist for their orchestra. Impatient with his progress at Ohio State, he took off for New York’s Julliard School of Music where he studied theory and composition with Hall Overton.

In the late fifties, Mulidore and bassist Scotty La Faro began a trip to Los Angeles that included a stop in Las Vegas. It proved to be a turning point in his life-he stayed on in Las Vegas while Scotty went on to L.A.

Mulidore’s career blossomed in his new home. He worked with the Red Norvo Quintet; Carl Fontana’s group; a band that included Sweets Edison, Leroy Vinegar and Jackie Wilson; and with Georgie Auld. He also lent his talents to some very special recordings: “Louie Bellson “Live At The Thunderbird,” Red Rodney’s “Super Bop,” albums by Sinatra, Streisand and Nat King Cole and, a flute solo on Elvis Presley’s “American Trilogy.”

Mulidore met Elvis Presley through Joe Guercio, then the Las Vegas Hilton’s musical director. When Guercio left the Hilton, Mulidore was chosen to succeed him as musical director for both the Hilton and Flamingo Hotels. Through those years, he conducted for such stars as Louis Armstrong, Ann Margaret, Gladys Knight and Olivia Newton-John.