Friday, April 4, 2003 | 8:45 a.m.
Jerry Fink's lounge column appears on Fridays. Reach him at [email protected] at (702) 259-4058.
By George, Bugatti can sing.
The 36-year-old song stylist is a mix of Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and other legendary crooners who have set the standard for musical taste in this country.
A native of Brooklyn, N.Y. (and a graduate of the High School of the Performing Arts in New York), George Bugatti is a lot like Harry Connick Jr. in style and appearance. And, similar to Connick, Bugatti has carved a career out of paying homage to the masters of music.
Bugatti has been singing in the lounge at the Ritz-Carlton since the upscale hotel opened in February at the exclusive Lake Las Vegas (think Celine Dion's neighborhood).
To call it a lounge hardly does it justice. After all, this is the Ritz.
When I think of a lounge, the image that first pops into my mind is a dark, cramped, smoke-filled room where loud music pounds the eardrums while overworked bartenders pop the tops off longnecks and squirt water into shots of bourbon.
But the room at the Ritz is spacious, bright and airy, congested with sofas and overstuffed chairs that surround coffee tables where guests gather to chat and relax as they listen to music that is not an assault on the senses.
Bugatti and his backup crew, including pianist Howie Gold and former Pearl Bailey bassist Rudy Aikels, perform from 8 p.m. to midnight Tuesdays through Saturdays.
"This room is a funny animal," Bugatti said. "It's very comfortable, like being at home in my living room where friends drop by and I play for them."
The Ritz, which will open a casino in a few weeks, isn't the first out-of-the-ordinary venue Bugatti has played.
He came to Las Vegas from Los Angeles to open the Fontana Lounge at the Bellagio on Oct. 15, 1998, along with Michael Feinstein and John Pizzarelli.
"The Fontana is almost like a showroom," Bugatti said. "I was to be there for 30 days, but then they asked me to stay for a year."
Then he moved into the Bellagio's Allegro Lounge, where he performed for two years, mixing that gig with an occasional concert in other cities.
Bugatti is scheduled to be at the Ritz through May 11. Last December he performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City. He will have a repeat engagement there on May 14, when he will be featured in the 300-seat Weill Recital Hall.
After his New York gig he plans to go on a national tour of seven or eight cities, put the finishing touches on a yet-to-be titled CD (due to be released in a few months) and then return to the Ritz.
Before coming to Vegas, Bugatti performed for seven years at the Peninsula Beverly Hills in Los Angeles, where he became friends with the late Steve Allen. Bugatti's first album, "Oh, What a Night for Love, The Steve Allen Songbook," was produced by Allen.
While at the Bellagio, Bugatti also became friends with Paul Anka, who produced his second CD, "Bugatti: Live On The Strip."
Anka got him his first main room headlining gig, in the Sands' 750-seat Copa Room in Atlantic City, where he appeared for three weeks in the summer of 2001.
Bugatti has performed at every sort of venue, large and small, smoke-filled and fresh-aired, sophisticated and crude.
He likes it all. His music is more than just about earning money.
"This is a business, sure," Bugatti said. "But I try not to think about that too much. I try to focus on my art, my craft. I like the varied aspect, I like to record, I like the performing arts center tours. I like being here at the Ritz because I enjoy getting close to the people and speaking to them -- their faces are right there. In a large concert hall, you can't see the faces."
Bugatti probably could make a splash in New York or Los Angeles as easily as anywhere else, but he likes Las Vegas, despite its reputation for glitz and schmaltz.
"I love Vegas," he said. "It's unfair for people to compare it to something else. Every city is its own city -- and this is what it is."
And Bugatti is what he is, a talented singer and gifted pianist who likes putting it on at the Ritz.
Dance from 10 p.m to midnight Sunday at the Palms' Palapa Lounge. The Metropolitan Club Orchestra, starring Mike Shane and Jessica Marciel (with arrangements by Joe Escriba), will provide the music. The lounge is usually dark on Sunday nights, but if enough fans show up, this could become a regular gig for Shane and Marciel, so put on your dancing shoes and head for the Palms.
Singers, musicians and stand-up comics are invited to join saxophonist Tommy Alvarado for an open-mike jam session at 9 p.m. Sundays at the Bootlegger Bistro on Las Vegas Boulevard South.
Australian vocalist/pianist Shane Stephens has moved from MGM Grand's Craftsteak's Lounge to the larger Showbar Lounge. Stephens performs a blend of jazz, soul and pop fusion. Showtimes are 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays and from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Vocalist John Gardner, who has opened for such entertainers as Ray Charles, will perform at the Imperial Palace's Kabuki Lounge from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. through April 12. Gardner is equally adept at singing standards, oldies, country or rock 'n' roll and playing piano, guitar, drums, bass, banjo and harmonica.
The Fremont Street Experience's Seventh Annual Mardi Gras Celebration will be held April 11 to April 12. The free two-day event will include entertainment on three stages, parades, light and sound shows and food and drink specials. The entertainment lineup includes Theo & the Zydeco Patrol and Louisiana Sue, Lil' Brian and the Zydeco Travelers and Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. Parades will include colorful Mardi Gras floats, stilt walkers, jugglers, mimes and Dixieland bands.