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August 20, 2014

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UNLVino boosted by all that jazz; Vegas violinists prepping for a disco-rama

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Mona Shield Payne

Associate Professor and Director Dave Loeb is shown in the rehearsal room on the UNLV Campus prior to leading students for an upcoming jazz performance as the UNLV Jazz program reaches its 40th anniversary in Las Vegas Friday, March 1, 2013.

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Led by Co-directors Dave Loeb and Nathan Tanouye (right), pianist Jason Corpuz, 19, joins fellow students of the UNLV Jazz ensemble in rehearsal for an upcoming performance on the UNLV Campus as the UNLV Jazz program reaches its 40th anniversary in Las Vegas Friday, March 1, 2013.

The UNLVino is in full swing at the moment, with the annual barbecue rolling out Thursday night at Garden of the Gods Pool at Caesars Palace. Often this event is a true blowout – the winds have been a problem. But what blew me away Thursday was the performance by the UNLV Latin Jazz Ensemble.

The performance marked where a swanky late-night Vegas hang blends with some of the top artists at UNLV. The ensemble is directed by Uli Geissendoerfer, whose regular gig is at Dispensary Lounge on the southeast corner of Trop and Eastern, where on Fridays and Saturdays he massages the keys behind such great Vegas vocalists as Pascale Elia, Michelle Johnson, Karen Jones, Ronnie Rose and a host of others. This is the scene graced by Wynton Marsalis about a year ago after his performance at the Smith Center. He just showed up and played with the band, on that softly lit stage next to the famed water wheel.

No, the Dispensary is not exactly a classroom, but Geissendoerfer is a veritable professor of jazz during these late-night sessions, spiriting away on the keyboard in a lounge where you never know who you will run into. Sometimes it’s Marsalis, or Pia Zadora, or Clint Holmes and his wife, Kelly Clinton-Holmes. Sometimes, as was the case about a month ago, about a half-dozen of the city’s top drummers were hanging at the bar. Totally random. It was like a drum circle waiting to happen.

Geissendoerfer was spotted at the UNLVino event, too, and not just to sample the cocktails offered by Southern Wine & Spirits of Nevada, long a UNLVino backer. Geissendoerfer is director of the UNLV Latin Jazz Ensemble, which took second place in the open college combo division at the 2014 Monterey Next Generation Jazz Festival March 29-30 in Monterey, Calif. The competition is among the most prestigious jazz showcases in the country, and UNLV placed behind the USC ensemble. The school’s UNLV Jazz Ensemble I, conducted by the artistically (and, I believe, physically) tireless Dave Loeb, turned in a third-place performance in the College Big Band Division.

In each instance, the UNLV ensembles were in competition against some of the greatest student jazz groups in the nation. Daniel Alameda, a graduate student in the UNLV Latin Jazz Ensemble, also won an outstanding soloist award in the open college combo division.

As you might expect, the UNLV program is not flush with funding, but such artists and instructors as Geissendoerfer and Loeb have developed fantastic performers and ensembles mostly through their pure personal passion for the music. These awards are to be applauded, and we’re doing that now.

More raking from the scene:

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Members of Bella Electric Strings, with founder Nina DiGregorio (kneeling), performing live onstage.

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The electric violin group Bella Electric Strings performs during the "Our Town for Newtown" benefit Jan. 6, 2013 at Railhead at Boulder Station.

• If you don’t now Bella Electric Strings by now, get to know this group of violinists founded by our favorite firecracker from Buffalo (with apologies to Holmes and the Scintas, among others), Nina DiGregorio.

The all-female, strings-attached lineup is now in a business partnership with UD Factory, which headed up by Seth Yudof (the surname is the UD reference, BTW). UD Factory is the management company that has recently signed Blues Traveler and is producing Jason Alexander's new stand-up show at Harrah’s.

In development is the stage show “Bella Bottoms,” which features a quartet of performers in 1970s disco-era costumes replete with tall wigs, thigh-high leather boots and sequined skirts. Three of the Bella Bottoms cast members are violinists; DiGregorio, a great violinist, will instead haul out the bass, another instrument she has mastered. I think she plays bagpipes, too.

The music is written and the show is almost fully realized; all that is needed is a showroom on the Strip. DiGregorio is also producing a fully electric corporate party band, featuring longtime Las Vegas vocalist Christine LaFong, and another Bella Strings stage show that will incorporate a fun and shticky script and up-close interaction with the audience.

A longtime performer in Las Vegas, especially with Lon Bronson’s All-Star Band, DiGregorio has spent ample time and energy mired in business issues. Yudof’s company is now picking up that responsibility. That “Bella Bottoms” show, especially, is loaded with talent and potential. These are real artists, ready to take a ride on the Soul Train ....

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Jeff Timmons of Men of the Strip.

Men of the Strip

Men of the Strip. Launch slideshow »

• Jeff Timmons threw down something of a challenge to existing male revues with his “Men of the Strip” production at House of Blues on March 29. The one-night showcase of an octet of gyrating, buff, warbling male dancers pulled in about 1,000 fans. Delirium ensued; the place went bonkers, believe me. It was like taking that 300 or so crowd from Chippendales at the Rio and multiplying it threefold. The show’s staging was advanced, the use of video (and social media interaction) inspired, and the choreography was obviously rehearsed exhaustively.

A founding member of 98 Degrees, Timmons brings celebrity and stage credibility to the show. He sings a couple of 98 Degrees numbers but is not one who dons the G-string. Good for him, I say. He joins the man dubbed “The Dancing Entrepreneur” Glenn Douglas Packard and “Money Mike” Foland, a former UFC fighter with dollar signs dancing in his eyes, as the creative and financial horsepower behind this production.

On May 26, E! Network is airing a 90-minute, behind-the-scenes episode of what is planned to be a docu-series about the show (expect a lot of conflict centering on the show’s growling emcee). Timmons says he’s still looking for a room. Really, aren’t we all? But there are plenty of venues if you have a show that can sell tickets, and as long as there is a bachelorette party loaded with highly energized women looking for a safe place to go nuts, “Men of the Strip” will have an audience.

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Jason Aldean performs at the 49th Annual Academy of Country Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Sunday, April 6, 2014, in Las Vegas.

• We’ve not a shortage in VegasVille of new venues catering to top acts, with Brooklyn Bowl and the Chelsea at Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas opening this year. But what about Laughlin? The hamlet across from Bullhead City on the Colorado River is going big-fly with its programming, as tonight Rascal Flatts is playing Laughlin Events Center, which opened in February about a half-block west of Casino Drive and next to Edgewater. The amphitheater seats 9,000 for concerts (and gets points for versatility by adapting to hold 21,000 for boxing) and is luring some major touring acts. Jason Aldean is booked April 24, two days ahead of Lynyrd Skynyrd (and what’s great about a Skynyrd show is, when someone shouts, “Freebird!” the band does play it).

Down the line it’ll be Alan Jackson, Pat Benatar with Neil Giraldo co-headlining with Joan Jett (stars of a Maxell UR 90-minute metal tape I mixed long ago), Toby Keith, and the “Laughlin Comedy Fest” starring alumni of “Saturday Night Live” (Dana Carvey, Chris Kattan and Tim Meadows) and Larry the Cable Guy.

What this means, of course, is: Road trip to Laughlin, soon.

• You know who opened for Skynyrd the only time I’ve seen them, in 2003 at Orleans Arena? Franky Perez.

Perez is still firing the vocals, today fronting the Dirty, a new horn-fueled band that played Thursday night at Rocks Lounge at Red Rock Resort. Keep an eye for this band. Perez and the boys debuted at Fizz at Caesars Palace in February and is set for alternate Thursdays at Red Rock.

Station Casinos entertainment head Judy Alberti was at Thursday’s show, which was jammed (no-admission policies always help bolster the house), and she seemed pretty pleased.

The Dirty’s next gig? It’s tonight, actually at the UNLVino Grand Tasting at Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health. I have long said that all roads in VegasVille lead through Larry Ruvo …

• Charity note so pay attention. E Bunny, a 24-year-old volunteer organization, is holding its annual Easter Basket Drive for Kids in Need and has a need. The organization is asking for packaged Easter baskets to deliver to at-risk children on Easter Sunday. Buy a basket, drop it off at the Nevada Foreign Trade Zone at 6650 Spencer St., Suite No. 110, (at Sunset Road and Spencer Street across from McCarran Airport). The deadline has been extended to Thursday. Anyone making a donation will receive a pair of free tickets to Frank Marino’s “Divas Las Vegas” show at the Quad, or Murray Sawchuck’s comedy/magic show at the Tropicana’s Laugh Factory.

The offer is available only at the Nevada Foreign Trade Zone drop off location Monday through Friday between 9 a.m.-4 p.m., and the office is closed from noon-1 p.m.). Need more info? Hit the organization's Facebook page, email [email protected] or call 702-498-9808. Do it now, because this reading session is over.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow Kats With The Dish at twitter.com/KatsWithTheDish.

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