Friday, Oct. 17, 2003 | 4:42 a.m.
WEEKEND EDITION: October 19, 2003
Kitschy lounge performer Cook E. Jarr, a local luminary for the past 21 years, has become a favorite guest of talk show host and Las Vegas native Jimmy Kimmel.
That's just one example of the type of fame afforded the Las Vegas institution.
The best friend of Righteous Brother Bill Medley is one of six entertainers who will be inducted into the Casino Legends Hall of Fame this afternoon during a by-invitation-only ceremony at the Tropicana.
Other inductees are singer/actress Connie Stevens, vocalist Frankie Valli ("Sherry"), impressionist Bill Acosta and comedians Jack Carter and Breck Wall (producer/director and star of "Bottoms Up" at the Flamingo).
Murray Hertz, creator and executive editor of What's On magazine, will receive the Joe Delaney Award for Distinguished Journalist in the Las Vegas community during the event at Tiffany Theatre.
Jarr, who performs from 12:30 a.m. until 2:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays at Harrah's Carnaval Court, recently discussed his unusual name and the under-the-radar career that has made him a Las Vegas legend.
Las Vegas Sun: What's your real name?
Cook E. Jarr: My real name? I never tell.
Sun: How old are you?
CJ: I never tell.
Sun: How did you get into show business?
CJ: I was raised in Philadelphia with five older sisters and an older brother. South Philly was a breeding ground for entertainers back then -- Frankie Avalon, Fabian, tons of others. Our family had very little money so we had to entertain ourselves. I was always goofing off, entertaining my brother and sisters.
Then in high school, which was actually half high school and half technical school, I formed some groups with me as the lead singer. I wasn't much on harmony, so I had to be the lead singer.
Sun: Did you pursue your entertainment career right out of high school?
CJ: After high school I started working for Boeing as an aircraft mechanic, working on helicopters. I did that for about six years, but I did some recording and entertaining on the side. It was always in the back of my mind to go to Vegas.
Sun: Where did your name come from?
CJ: When I started in the business there was a local singer by the name of Tony Carr, and there was a baseball player by the name of Cookie Rojas. I was always mistaken for Carr and I liked the name Cookie, and Carr rhymed with Jarr -- Cookie Carr became Cook E. Jarr.
Sun: How was your career launched?
CJ: I had done an album in '70 for RCA Victor. From there everything took off real quick, like within six months.
I was booked that year at Nero's Nook at Caesars Palace. But I just wasn't really ready. I loved the excitement, but it was a little scary. Nero's Nook was a 500-seat room. The Checkmates were the headliners. I was hired to fill in for them 12 weeks a year, when they were off.
I came in with a 9-piece band, the Crumbs, but we reneged on the contract.
Sun: What did you do then?
CJ: The band and I flew back to Philly. We performed locally. Cook E. Jarr and the Crumbs were the most popular band in Philly back then.
Sun: Why and when did you leave Philadelphia?
CJ: We were hired to perform at the Briton Hotel in Atlantic City. One night during my act I was goofing with this table of people and, unbeknownst to me, it was Ed Pratt and members of his family. Two weeks later the hotel was bought by the Pratt family.
Ed Pratt hired me and I worked steady at the Briton for 60 weeks, and then, in '82, they bought the Sands here in Las Vegas. Pratt said to me, "Listen, we really need you out in Vegas." Two weeks later, on June 2, 1982, I came out and never went back.
Sun: How did you like Vegas the second time around?
CJ: These people let me do what I wanted to do. They wanted me to do the showroom, but I said, "Nobody knows who I am. I'll get buried. There's a lounge at the front door, a piano bar. Stick me there and I'm going to be right in their face."
Pratt said, "I need four hours from you, from 11 at night to 3 three in the morning. I don't care what you do."
Sun: How long did that gig last?
CJ: I was 55 consecutive weeks at the Sands. But they had a lot of money tied up in Mexico. So when the peso went south, the casino got murdered and it went back to the Summa Corporation.
The Pratts left Vegas, but I stayed. I went to the Sahara and a lot of other places.
Sun: Describe what you do.
CJ: I do off-the-wall stuff, spur-of-the-moment things. I spoof. I like to stay fresh doing the newer songs. I have stayed current, with whatever song is new. I've started getting a younger crowd that wants to dance.
I do a lot of black music, hip-hop and rap, soul music. My best friend is Bill Medley, the blue-eyed soul brother of the Righteous Brothers. In high school I did a lot of Frankie Valli -- like everybody I had a falsetto voice when I was a kid. When I lost the falsetto and my voice got deep, I thought, "No more for me." Then the Righteous Brothers came out and Bill was like one of my idols, with that deep voice of his.
Sun: You used to do a lot of impressions.
CJ: Yes, but never as a show. I would do them in the show. It would be boring for people to come and watch me do Dean Martin or Sammy Davis Jr. all the time.
Sun: You don't do them during your present gig?
CJ: At the Carnaval Court, it's pretty much all dancing.
Sun: Does it bother you not to be able to use the older material?
CJ: It's frustrating in a way, suppressing some of the talent. I stay up with all the new stuff, but sometimes I still do old material.
Sun: Are you sorry you didn't pursue a career that could have put you in the big-time, like your friend Bill Medley?
CJ: No. To me, I've made it.