Orchestra Leaders Of The Strip:
Jimmy Mulidore of the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel
With 2,200 musicians registered at Las Vegas Local 369, there are not many more than a dozen who hold the title of conductor and/or musical director in major hotels. Although they are rarely seen waving a baton on stage, their influence on the musical climate of this city’s entertainment is immense.
”Listen to this tape”’ says Jimmy Mulidore as we sit in his record and audio tape-lined study. The unmistakable voice of Elvis fills the room with the stirring “American Trilogy” and as the final notes of the flute solo trail away, Elvis’ voice cuts through the applause saying, “And how about Jimmy Mulidore on the flute?”
“I received this tape plus one with Bobby Darin singing “The Carpenter’ from the Hilton sound man for Christmas,” says Mulidore, the musical director of the largest hotel showroom in Las Vegas. “They’re both priceless, of course. Bobby also gives me credit at the end of his tape.”
“Joe Gurecio was the musical director and I was the conductor for the orchestra when Elvis was here. Elvis said he wanted the sound of someone sitting under a tree in Georgia; playing in solitude. We tried the clarinet, sax, oboe and then the flute, and the first time we used the flute, Elvis said, ‘That’s it.’ He did the same thing when we used the ‘2001’ opening for his show. We played it once, and he just said. ‘That’s it.’”
“Well, Elvis used the ‘Trilogy’ in his program every time he came to Las Vegas, and he always included my flute solo. In the piece, I’d have to reach a high ‘E,’ and Elvis would try to break me up by joking or moving the mike, but he never could.”
Mulidore also thought highly of Bobby Darin, although Bobby only played the Hilton for a few engagements. “He had that special greatness, but by the time he played here, he was in bad shape and had to keep an oxygen tank on stage. Look at the singers who keep his memory alive in their acts — Paul Anka, Tony Orlando, Wayne Newton. Yes, Bobby was something special. He had that greatness about him.
“Another performer I really felt for was Nat Cole, whose daughter Natalie is performing at the hotel now. I was working at the Sands when Nat sang there, and he’d come off the stage and have to get oxygen because his throat was burning up — but he wouldn’t miss a show.”
Besides his duties as musical director, Mulidore is in charge of and conducts the Hilton Strings which play pre-show dinner music nightly except Thursdays in the main showroom.
“I took over the group when Joe Gureico left the hotel about a month after it was organized. Conducting and playing the dinner concerts have been a real pleasure,” he says. “When guests walk into a dining room, the live music makes a very relaxing atmosphere for the meal.”
Mulidore, who plays a myriad of reed instruments during the dinner concert, says he changes the concert according to the performer engaged in the main act. “When Liberace is starred, we go heavier on the classic, and when Lou Rawls plays, we go into more modern music.”
“Usually we play a little heavier music in the first set, like Beethoven and some other classics and then go into some lighter music, featuring the violins and possibly Vince Cardell on piano in the second set. We’re constantly improving ‘and updating our selections and the audiences seem to like the sound.”
As Hilton musical director, Mulidore is in charge of the orchestras at both the Las Vegas Hilton and the Flamingo Hilton. “I don’t do much conducting,” he says, “since most performers carry their own conductor. In many cities, there are no house conductors, and if a performer didn’t bring someone, it would be like going into a new town and having to purchase a new costume for each engagement.”
Mulidore does conduct for Andy Williams, however, and Williams’ set, made of plastic and steel and rising 20 to 25 feet above the stage, has caused some consternation among his musicians. “We add French horns and extra strings for Andy,” says Mulidore, “but when the percussionist has to climb high on the plastic platforms, he’s almost afraid to give his all. We have a couple of over average-weight brass players who kind of tiptoe up there.”
Mulidore’s usual day starts around 5 p.m. unless there is a rehearsal, in which case he arrives at the hotel at noon. He plays dinner music from 6 until 7:45, and then makes sure the
orchestra is ready for the 8 p.m. curtain. Often after the first show he drives to the Flamingo to check on the “Razzle Dazzle” orchestra.
“Our production show is very successful,” he says. “There are changes in some of the specialty acts, so I have to check the music regularly. Sometimes I’ll put on the headsets and check each instrument in the orchestra. The musicians know that I do this, and they put out 100 percent. It’s kind of like a coach — if you push the players, they will perform that much better.”
Mulidore relates an unusual experience he had in hiring a new musician. “I was raised in the Cleveland area, and one of my early idols was Jimmy Moody, a sax player. I used to hitch a ride to the city, and then, because I didn’t have money for tickets, I’d hang around the stage door to try to hear Moody play.
“About eight years ago, when I was doing the hiring for the orchestra, I received a call from Jimmy Moody who wanted to come here and play clarinet. I knew that clarinet wasn’t his instrument, but I told him to come out and audition. Although he didn’t do too well, I knew that in a short time he’d be great, so we added him to the orchestra.
“Opening night for Sandler and Young found (Moody) in the clarinet section, and he was nervous. As an initiation, when he left the stage just before curtain time, we placed a penny inside his clarinet. When the downbeat came, nothing came out — not a sound — and the orchestra gave Moody the look. Finally, the sax player seated next to him told him his horn would play better if he removed the penny.
“Jimmy left here last year and is now playing in New York. He’s cut a record with George Benson, ‘Moody’s Mood For Love,’ and is doing great out there.”
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Mulidore received his musical education at Ohio State and Juilliard in New York. He came to Las Vegas in 1957 and played at the El Rancho Vegas, but lost his job and all of his instruments when the hotel burned to the ground.
“The Rancho Vegas was the spot in those days,” he says. “On a busy weekend we’d have Cary Grant, Joe E. Lewis, Elizabeth Taylor and Eddie Fisher all sitting around the lounge for an all-night jam session.”
Mulidore claims the distinction of being one of the first musicians to “triple” here. “For a short time I conducted a production show, played in the Sands showroom for the Sinatra show and played for Vic Damone in the lounge. I’d start with a 2 p.m. show and then play at 4, 8, midnight and 2 a.m. There were times when I played at Caesars for the Checkmates when the final show of the evening was at 7:10 a.m. and it was jam packed.
“But Las Vegas isn’t the all-night town it used to be,” he says. “Many of the selections we play at the dinner hour at the Hilton, we worked on during the jam sessions years ago. If you listen closely, you can hear some of the Charlie Parker arrangements — from 20 years ago — interwoven with the Mozart selections.
Mulidore feels that musically Barbra Streisand, Frank Sinatra and the late Elvis are in a class by themselves. “Elvis was not as demanding of the musicians, but he was the most powerful and awesome performer I’ve had the pleasure to work with. Paul Anka, Bobby Darin and Ann Margret also fall in that superstar range. I had the privilege of conducting for Louis Armstrong in his last engagement in Las Vegas. He was with Pearl Bailey, and they would argue like cats and dogs and then go off the stage together arm in arm.
“With Streisand and Sinatra you have to be perfect,” Mulidore continues. “They both have perfect pitch, and if you play an intro a little off, it would be very noticeable — especially to them. When my orchestra played for either one, they would put out 150 percent. The musicians really enjoy a challenge.”
When asked the procedure to become a conductor, Mulidore says there is no direct route. “The best suggestion I can give,” he advises, “is to develop one area of your craft to a high degree — whether it be playing or writing or actually conducting. A conductor must look and act like he’s the boss. He must be a leader. When the red light goes on, that’s not the time to be a nice guy.”
Mulidore also feels that a would-be conductor must be prepared for any situation and have a strong belief in himself. “It takes a good musical background, knowing the difference in shadings and changes of tempo,” he says.
When asked if there were any other type of job he would. like to have, he answers with an emphatic, “No.”
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